Belfast Telegraph

Alban Maginness: Facing into the disaster of a 'no deal' Brexit, we should be seeing more leadership from SF and DUP

The normally loquacious trade unions' silence over EU exit would shame a Trappist monk, writes Alban Maginness

Angela McGowan has emphasised uncertainty of Brexit has hit economy
Angela McGowan has emphasised uncertainty of Brexit has hit economy
Alban Maginness

By Alban Maginness

Like Bob Cratchit's family in Charles Dickens' brilliant fairy tale A Christmas Carol, we happily tucked into our Christmas dinner at home, oblivious to the cares of the gloomy world outside. But in the real world of Christmas Present there was a ghostly feeling of unease and doom in the realpolitik of hard economics and financial truth.

The ghost of Christmas Future, in the shape of a 'no deal' Brexit, haunted the minds of many worried politicians, exasperated bureaucrats and anxious business people, who grimly anticipate the potential catastrophe of the UK failing to reach a deal for the deadline of March 29, 2019.

Since the beginning of the parliamentary debate on Theresa May's draft withdrawal deal it is very clear (bar a miracle) that her deal is doomed to failure.

Her own Conservative Party is so divided on this issue that, for her deal to pass in the House of Commons, the support of a substantial number of Labour members would be required to back her position.

Frankly, that support is not likely to happen as Eurosceptic Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is more interested in bringing about a general election than solving the greatest and most pressing political crisis to affect Britain during peacetime.

Our own Westminster representatives in the DUP prefer to defy the consensus opinion of our local industrialists, business people and farmers that May's deal (imperfect though it is) is the best deal available for the Northern Ireland economy.

In blunt terms, business has said that the backstop is better than a 'no deal' scenario, yet the DUP stubbornly says it knows better and absurdly wants May to remove the backstop altogether.

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As Angela McGowan, Northern Ireland director of the CBI, has emphasised: "Uncertainty is throttling firms and threatening jobs, not in the future, but right now." Ulster Farmers' Union president Ivor Ferguson has also warned: "A 'no deal' Brexit is a very risky outcome and would have disastrous consequences for farming in Northern Ireland."

The reason for this gloomy assessment is because a 'no deal' Brexit means the indefinite closure of agri-food exports to Europe for our local producers.

Despite these alarming messages from business, the DUP - and, absurdly, the Ulster Unionists - are in denial.

One would have thought the Ulster Unionists would have had the wit to listen to industry and astutely outflank the DUP on this issue, but it has chosen instead to shoot itself in the foot.

It is also curious that the normally loquacious trade union movement has taken a vow of silence that would put a Trappist monk to shame. Why is this so?

Sinn Fein, meantime, affects to be horrified by a 'no deal' Brexit that will bring about a hard border in Ireland, yet it fails to do the most effective thing of all at its own disposal, namely to vote strategically for May's deal on the floor of the House of Commons.

It has abdicated its primary political responsibility to the people of Ireland with its archaic policy of abstention from Westminster.

Abstention was always a tactic to highlight the principle of Irish independence, not a principle in itself.

Maybe Sinn Fein's hidden goal is to bring about a 'no deal' so that a super-hard border is engineered on the island of Ireland.

In those circumstances its members can express faux horror at such a development, while at the same time rub their hands in glee at the prospect of a permanent point of political aggravation in the shape of a combustible, physical infrastructure 310 miles long.

This would provide a continuous source of political agitation and stir nationalist discontent that has hitherto been tempered by the Good Friday Agreement.

Such a strategy of continuous tension would so infect our political process that Sinn Fein could indefinitely exploit the resultant discontent.

Succinctly, a 'no deal' would mean that the UK would crash out of the EU without any withdrawal arrangements and no safeguards.

It would leave our own local businesses - already in a state of uncertainty - at the mercy of the World Trade Organisation's rules and regulations and, all importantly, WTO tariffs.

This will inevitably lead to huge jumps in prices for many goods, particularly food.

In turn, this will lead to massive inflation and impact negatively on our local agri-food producers and a wide spectrum of businesses and jobs. This will continue until the UK manages to establish new trade deals with the rest of the world.

And this is only a brief sketch regarding tariffs: there are many other unresolved issues negatively affecting a wide range of legal and civil issues, such as travel, health, drugs and even simple issues such as driving in Europe.

On the cusp of disaster, we really deserve better - especially from the DUP.

Belfast Telegraph


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