Belfast Telegraph

After heated debate, why cool heads must prevail for NI's future

Editor's Viewpoint

Even by the sometimes extraordinary standards of Anglo-Irish communications, the developments in Brussels, London, Belfast and Dublin yesterday take some beating.

In a few hours it appeared that the basis of a Brexit agreement had been established in Brussels to allow all sides to move forward to more substantive talks.

However, before anything was officially announced in Brussels, the DUP placed a huge spanner in the works by firmly repeating that they wish to leave the EU fully as part of the UK, without any special arrangement on the Irish border which would dilute the current constitutional position of Northern Ireland.

The obvious question at the end of such a dramatic day is simply this: "Why was it all allowed to happen?"

There will be much point-scoring for such political bungling, but inevitably a great deal of blame must rest with the British Prime Minister, who seems to have not understood fully the unionist mindset so clearly represented by the DUP.

It is not as if Mrs Foster and her colleagues had a sudden rush of blood to their heads as the developments in Brussels gathered apace.

On the contrary, the DUP has made it crystal clear for some time now that they wish to exit from the EU on the same terms and conditions as all other parts of the UK.

This raises the question as to whether or not Theresa May was listening to the DUP or was understanding their message.

If not, this is a remarkable stance for a Prime Minister who depends utterly for the DUP's support to retain power at Westminster.

A withdrawal of support by the DUP and an almost inevitable general election is the last thing she wants in the middle of crucial Brexit negotiations. She and the Tories must also be acutely aware that the Labour Party is waiting gleefully for such a development.

Perhaps the only excuse to be made for Mrs May is that she has an almost impossible task, but that said, she really should have kept the DUP's position as one of her major priorities.

Down in Dublin there was similar chaos. Leo Varadkar is an experienced politician who has managed to secure the top job as Taoiseach and he must surely have been aware of the strength of unionist feeling, even if his deputy Simon Coveney has won few unionist friends since he took over as the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs.

The Irish have said repeatedly that they are not using the Brexit situation to manufacture a back door to Irish unity by stealth. However, they now know the full ire of unionists who will not budge an inch on the position of Northern Ireland in the UK.

Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Northern Ireland's history must be clear about that.

Mrs May and the EU leaders have stated that there is still time to square this problematic circle before the summit next week.

This is a hugely complex situation, and people across Europe, as well as everyone in the British Isles, must be wondering how the politicians can produce a communique which pleases everyone.

It is said that politics is the art of the possible, and people must be given a sense of hope that an agreement can be reached between all the main parties.

This is a tall order, but failure at this stage is unthinkable. In the meantime, cool heads and measured language should be the order of the day.

Belfast Telegraph

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