24 November 2018 | OPINION
Ever since Theresa May gave formal notice to the European Council that the United Kingdom intended to withdraw from the EU, the issue of Northern Ireland’s place in the Union of the United Kingdom has been critical to the subsequent negotiations. This is hardly surprising, given Northern Ireland’s sensitive relationship with the neighbouring Republic of Ireland and the potential impact that Brexit could have on the Good Friday agreement. Shockingly, it was an issue that was hardly mentioned by either side during the referendum campaign. It is vital that we keep our precious union of four nations together following our withdrawal from the EU – and this deal does not guarantee this.
The current deal on the table would by no means secure the future of our United Kingdom. Admittedly, this deal does deliver a guarantee that there would be no hard border on the island of Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 is sacred and has maintained peace between the UK-ruled north and the Irish Republic for over a decade. Nevertheless, it is also crucial that the Northern Ireland’s position in the union is not jeopardised at any costs – and the ‘backstop’ arrangement currently part of the deal would not guarantee this. In fact, if the backstop does become a reality, of which the UK would not be able to prevent should the EU decide against agreeing an alternative arrangement, then effectively there would be a trade border down the Irish sea. This is simply not acceptable to the people of Northern Ireland and threatens the integrity of our union.
As the DUP Deputy Leader Nigel Dodds told his party’s conference yesterday, our union is “non-negotiable”. There are many things that the DUP advocate which are wholly wrong. That said, they represent the people of Northern Ireland and they are right to say that this deal is not in their nations interest. Were a backstop to come in to effect, Northern Ireland would be separated from the rest of the UK and aligned with EU regulation. This would isolate Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK and could lead to other constituent nations seeking a special relationship with the EU, jeopardising the whole of our United Kingdom.
Any deal that goes through parliament must respect and protect our sacred union of four nations. A deal that fails to deliver on this would be wholly unacceptable. It is vital that we respect the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland, protect our union, and ensure that all four nations are treated equally. If this cannot be delivered, then perhaps we need to have a serious rethink about the consequences of Brexit.