Unionist views on Brexit were aired at ballot box last year

Letter-writer says UUP support drained away in the 2017 election, causing leader Mike Nesbitt (a Remainer) to quit
Letter-writer says UUP support drained away in the 2017 election, causing leader Mike Nesbitt (a Remainer) to quit

This was is a response to a Financial Times piece suggesting Brexit has increased support for Irish unity, is an “own goal” for the DUP, and figures show “60% of northerners favour entering a political and economic alliance” with the RoI if it would aid the economy.

It was surprising that the Financial Times should publish a long triumphalist critique of Northern Ireland by the economist David McWilliams without comment from other economists (‘Why the idea of a united Ireland is back in play’, December 2).

Most of the article was either wrong or arguable yet was presented as fact.

He claims that most people in NI want to stay in the EU. It is true that 56% voted for the UK to remain in the EU. McWilliams echoes Sinn Fein in claiming that this meant many unionists would prefer a united Ireland to do so.

The answer from Unionists (unmentioned by McWilliams) came loud and clear in the 2017 General Election when the DUP vote rose by a huge 10 percentage points while the remain-supporting UUP lost a third of its vote and has since changed its tune on Brexit.

Subsequent opinion polls using volunteer panels under-represent DUP supporters and are not at all reliable.

Nor is McWilliams’ demography reliable. He claims Catholics will soon be a majority, but ignores the difficulty of knowing the religion of the large numbers who nowadays refuse to answer religion questions. Also ignored are the large numbers of Catholics who are Poles, Lithuanians or Portuguese rather than Irish republicans who remember 1916 as though it were yesterday.

The last reliable poll (The Life and Times Survey in late 2016) showed 20% support for Irish Unity with half of Catholics preferring the UK, no doubt because of its NHS, free education, well-paid public sector jobs and low housing costs.

Also ignored by McWilliams is the calculation by the eminent Dublin economist Prof John Fitzgerald that living standards are 25% higher in the north than in the south due to lower taxes and fees plus much better public services.

He lauds the economic growth of the south without mentioning its rip-off tax-haven basis. Like many, he misinterprets the high public spending of the

north as reflecting weakness in the private sector economy. The truth is different and lies in the UK’s past response to a higher local birth-rate than could be employed in the context of a sedately growing UK economic union.

The UK response was to support public services and jobs rather than letting migration slowly solve the problem of excess population.

Dr Graham Gudgin, Chief economic advisor to Policy Exchange, and academic at the University of Cambridge