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Why have none of the unionist leaders opted not to stand for Westminster at such a crucial time?

 

There are no unionist leaders standing in the 2017 General Election. None. They have chosen not to stand.

Not one unionist leader will be elected to Westminster for the centenary of Northern Ireland. None. What does this say about their commitment to the Union with Great Britain?

If nothing else, how can unionists criticise Sinn Fein for not taking their seats in Westminster when the abstentionist unionist leaders - Arlene Foster, Robin Swann and Jim Allister - won't be there either?

When the boat sailed for Westminster, all of the unionist party leaders were arraigned along the quayside waving Westminster goodbye.

In fact, the only party leaders standing for election to Westminster appear to be Naomi Long of Alliance and Steven Agnew of the Green Party.

Crucially, for the next two years, as Westminster negotiates Brexit, there will be no unionist leaders in the chamber to negotiate on behalf of Northern Ireland.

This is important, because Stormont and all the unionist party leaders have been sidelined by Sinn Fein for the duration of the Brexit negotiations, while their bete noire, the Sinn Fein president and his team of 23 TDs, are in the Dail Eireann chamber, arguing their case. It's debatable whether Sinn Fein arranged this by design, or just got lucky.

And there's one further twist to the unfolding saga. Instead of triggering Article 50, with its onerous two-year deadline, after the 2017 General Election, the Conservative Party leader deliberately triggered Article 50 before calling the General Election.

During the election campaign, none of the Brexit ministers will be negotiating with the EU, because they will be on the campaign trail (and civil servants respect purdah) and then post-election holidays put negotiations off until everyone returns after the break.

In effect, seven months of the two-year period allowed to negotiate Article 50 will have been wasted; whether by design, or by accident, who can say?

In two years' time, the three Brexit ministers are likely to be standing there, having failed to secure any deal.

BERNARD J MULHOLLAND

Belfast

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