Belfast Telegraph

Alban Maginness: Short-sighted DUP tactics on Brexit will only weaken the unionist cause in the long run

Party's opposition to Theresa May's deal has potential of leading to break-up of UK, writes Alban Maginness

The DUP’s Nigel Dodds and Arlene Foster
The DUP’s Nigel Dodds and Arlene Foster

Last week was a great one for the DUP. Media-wise it played a blinder in the parliamentary drama at Westminster. It was on every TV channel and reported in every leading newspaper in Britain and beyond. It played a key role in the humbling of Prime Minister Theresa May over her Brexit deal and then patronisingly rescued her from Jeremy Corbyn's motion of no confidence.

The humiliating defeat in the House of Commons of May's EU withdrawal deal is regarded by the DUP and other Brexiteers as a great victory. However, they are deluding themselves, for if this is a victory, then it is a Pyrrhic one, and one that they will live to regret.

For Northern Ireland as a region of the UK, it is particularly damaging, as the defeat of the PM's plan paves the way for a no-deal Brexit, which will be a disaster for our local economy and businesses.

It is the nightmare scenario for farmers, food exporters and industry. The business community is simply bewildered by the tactics of the DUP.

As a result of last week's Commons defeat, the Irish government has now moved to activate its no-deal Brexit plans.

Similar contingencies have been activated by other European Union governments.

The DUP and other Brexiteers say they do not want a hard border, nor a no-deal Brexit.

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But in response to them Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that words are not enough to avoid a hard border. He said what was required was an agreement on the customs union and regulatory alignment. That, of course, is the substance of May's deal with the EU.

He declared in Dail Eireann: "It's not good enough to say there won't be a hard border because nobody wants one."

Arlene Foster, with her incredible anti-Midas touch, dismissed all this by ludicrously saying that there never was a hard border during the Troubles.

Truly, what planet is Arlene living on? Does she not realise how idiotic and provocative her remarks are?

The DUP, by its hardline stance on Brexit, has succeeded in alienating all shades of reasonable political opinion in the south and also in the north, save for the hapless UUP, which has once again painted itself into a corner for no discernible political advantage.

This at a time when the DUP, from a position of considerable electoral strength (but with an eye to the future), should be avoiding political instability and start building bridges with other parties, in particular Alliance (de facto a non-sectarian unionist party) and even the SDLP.

However, the DUP myopically spurns such imaginative opportunities and isolates itself in an ill-judged and economically damaging hard Brexit campaign.

The DUP is once again highlighting the issue of the border and placing it centre stage.

As a result it will simply further aggravate ill-feeling among nationalists towards the DUP and create toxic resentment, which will progressively corrode the unionist position in the medium term.

This in turn will create a growing body of nationalist opinion that will become not just vaguely sympathetic to the idea of a border poll, but actively in favour of campaigning and agitating for such a referendum. Secretary of State Karen Bradley was on the ball when she raised this in Cabinet as a potential consequence of the rejection of May's soft Brexit deal.

Similarly in Scotland, the worse the current Brexit crisis gets the greater the case builds within politics there for another independence poll.

But at least in Scotland, the Scottish Conservatives are unionist to the core but, unlike the DUP here, have had the good sense in the main to support May's soft Brexit deal.

They at least realise that a hard Brexit deal would only play into the hands of Nicola Sturgeon, the dynamic leader of the Scottish National Party.

The SNP wants May to fail and to exploit the negative consequences of her failure in order to push for independence.

Here, the DUP has clumsily played into the hands of its political opponents by undermining May's efforts to get a workable deal with Europe.

The lack of foresight is bizarre. The DUP seems to concentrate solely on day to day tactics (which it is good at), but has no thought-out strategy for preserving or strengthening the unionist position in the medium or long term.

All that the DUP has succeeded in doing by its actions over Brexit is to weaken the unionist cause by resurrecting the border as a central issue here and to weaken the political unity of the UK by pushing Scotland much nearer to an independence poll that could easily cause the break-up of that very same UK.

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