Belfast Telegraph

David Lidington: Today, I look forward to seeing the benefits of our Union first-hand

David Lidington
David Lidington

By David Lidington

Yesterday, the Prime Minister set out her vision for the Union. It's a topic she feels passionately about - and so do I.

As Minister for the Cabinet Office, working to maintain the integrity of our Union has been one of my most rewarding responsibilities.

Today, I am here in Northern Ireland to see the benefits of the Union first-hand and talk to local people about what it means to them.

Northern Ireland has a unique place in the Union. As the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement enshrined in law, the people of Northern Ireland can be British, Irish or neither.

It also protects the principle of consent, ensuring that on the constitutional question of whether Northern Ireland should remain in the UK or become part of a united Ireland, there would be no change without the consent of the majority.

So whoever succeeds the Prime Minister in Number 10 must honour those principles, and ensure that the Union remains at the core of their vision for this country. It's fundamentally important that the next Prime Minister demonstrates, in both words and actions, his unqualified commitment to every aspect of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. And that includes prioritising the restoration of an executive.

In order to maintain and strengthen the Union, the next Prime Minister will need to take action, not just offer warm words. They will need to act on the recommendations of the review, led by Lord Dunlop, announced by this Prime Minister, which will look into how the structures of the UK government can help the Union work as effectively and efficiently as possible.

They will need to build on the existing culture of joint working and constant conversation between the nations of the United Kingdom.

For decades, Stormont, Holyrood and Cardiff Bay have worked alongside the United Kingdom Parliament, not as separate entities, but as parts making up the whole.

As the Prime Minister has stated, and as I have said, our vision for the nations of the United Kingdom is of strong, devolved parliaments within a strong United Kingdom. Because devolution is not something that sits in opposition to the Union. It goes hand in hand with it.

However, the absence of an executive in Northern Ireland means there's more work to be done.

A strong devolved government is vital so that we have proper local decision-making, helping to strengthen the economy and build a more united community.

The United Kingdom is already a remarkable success story. So as we navigate global challenges, including the UK's exit from the European Union, we must continue to champion and strengthen the bonds we share.

We must reflect on what we represent together - as four nations - on the world stage through our top-tier economy, our armed forces, our renowned diplomatic network, and our international aid programme.

Because the Union has never been about uniformity. It has always been about finding the strengths in our differences - a United Kingdom in which we can all feel prosperous and proud.

David Lidington is Minister for the Cabinet Office

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