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UUP councillor launches group aimed at bolstering NI-UK unity


Message: former Unionist MLA Philip Smith has founded Uniting UK

Message: former Unionist MLA Philip Smith has founded Uniting UK

Message: former Unionist MLA Philip Smith has founded Uniting UK

A former Ulster Unionist MLA has launched a new pro-Union group to grow support for Northern Ireland's continued position as part of the United Kingdom.

Philip Smith, who previously represented Strangford in the Assembly, says Uniting UK aims to promote the many benefits of being part of the four nations.

Mr Smith, now a UUP councillor for Ards and North Down, has stressed that while the group is not a political party, it welcomes support from all who share the same values and goals.

"Our focus is on people who feel left behind by traditional unionism such as young people, liberals and minorities," the Comber councillor said. "We support devolution and driving down decision-making to the most appropriate levels and want to help build a Northern Ireland for all its citizens," he added.

"The Union is under pressure from Brexit, the Scottish independence movement and a growing sense of disunity amplified by the disjointed response across the UK to coronavirus.

"A border poll is increasingly on the political agenda, with a number of pro-Irish unity groups campaigning for a referendum.

"The Irish government's Shared Island Unit has added to this momentum. There has also been the recent launch of interim proposals on how a referendum would be delivered by academics in the Working Group on Unification Referendums on the Island of Ireland which has added to the growing debate. Even with all this activity, there is still no imminent prospect of a border poll and, even if there were, the consensus is that the status quo would win comfortably," he said.

Former DUP leader Peter Robinson recently warned those in favour of maintaining the Union that they should not be in denial and must prepare for a future referendum.

Cllr Smith added: "Despite his warning, Mr Robinson seems to share the same approach as many others within the pro-Union camp, that 'someone should do something'. Uniting UK has been formed 'to do something' but our focus is different. We understand that there are changes taking place in Northern Ireland.

"More of us are refusing to be constrained by traditional political labels. Our attitudes have evolved on social issues and our voting patterns are more fluid.

"We see people all over Northern Ireland, and young people in particular, wanting to change our country for the better."

Cllr Smith believes traditional unionism has failed to adapt to or engage with these voices in a meaningful and positive way and he wants to offer a new direction.

"The Union is a two-way street and we need to promote Northern Ireland's contribution to the Union in Great Britain. The UK's future direction may well be decided in Scotland or England as much as on the island of Ireland.

"By working with other groups across England, Scotland, and Wales we aim to develop greater constitutional, cultural, social and political linkages to promote and grow the many benefits of the United Kingdom," he said.

"'NI IN' is our key message and our purpose is to educate, communicate, research and campaign to grow the Union and prepare for any future referendum."

Belfast Telegraph