Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Brexit turmoil created a threat to the Union

Arlene Foster
Arlene Foster

Editor's Viewpoint

If ever any Tory audience was in doubt about what the Union means to Northern Ireland unionists, Arlene Foster delivered an unequivocal explanation last night. In essence, she said it was part of unionists' DNA.

To ensure that there was no misunderstanding the position of her party she said that the "protection and promotion of the Union" is more important than any other political cause.

That was a clear warning to either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt when one or other becomes the next Prime Minister that Northern Ireland will not be a bargaining chip on Brexit.

No doubt she is well aware that some Tories have expressed a feeling that the UK would be well shot of Northern Ireland or that it is expendable if required to deliver Brexit.

And with the contenders for the keys to 10 Downing Street still not convincingly nailing their colours to the mast on how they will deliver Brexit, Mrs Foster is reminding them that her party still holds the balance of power at Westminster and will not be bought on this issue.

Earlier, former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown had warned that the Union was more at risk now than at any time in the past 300 years. And he blamed the rising tide of narrow nationalism in England and Scotland for pitting the nations against each other.

There is no doubt that Brexit has caused a major upheaval in British politics and even if it is delivered the ramifications may well be felt for decades to come, both economically and politically.

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There is a clear and present need for the road ahead to be navigated with extreme caution. The Brexit at all costs wing of the Tory party does not seem to even countenance the disquiet felt in other regions of the UK, while the clamour for a second referendum leading to a possible remain vote is equally divisive.

The ill-prepared nature of the Brexit campaign once the vote to leave had been achieved has caused untold damage, not least to the reputation of the UK. Seldom has politics and politicians' stock in the public at large been lower and, of course, Northern Ireland's voice on Brexit has been one-sided since only the DUP takes its seats at Westminster and that party does not reflect the majority view in the province on this issue.

The longer the uncertainty continues, the more damage is caused to business and the more strident becomes the call from some quarters here and in Scotland for the break-up of the Union. The stakes could not be higher.

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