Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Now is the time for clear heads, not a unionist backlash

Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Editor's Viewpoint

The last few days have seen a simmering anger mixed with confusion and deep hurt across unionism. Those of a more liberal bent may not want to acknowledge it, but there is talk of betrayal and being stabbed in the back by a Prime Minister whom they thought was a good friend to Northern Ireland.

There are also worrying mutterings of civil unrest and street protests, and of our history in darker times - a prevailing mood among some that it is time to circle the wagons.

PUP councillor Dr John Kyle is right when he says that loyalists who talk up the threat of violence amid the ongoing uncertainty of Brexit are "very misguided, wrong and foolish", and that such a course of action would be counter-productive to the interests of Northern Ireland within the UK.

What unionism needs now is a cool-headed, thoughtful and strategic response to the crisis it finds itself engulfed by.

The DUP exacted revenge on Boris Johnson in the House of Commons at the weekend, but only the most myopic unionist would regard the events that unfolded as a 'Super Saturday'.

Talk of being betrayed by Tory grandees might play well in the abstract, but it is quite a shock when the bedsheets are pulled back to reveal the party tucked in beside Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, implacable enemies of the Union.

The severance of unionism from its natural friends, the Conservative Party, which is wholly united and riding high at 36% in the polls, is a dangerous and concerning one. What Northern Ireland needs now is clear. It needs stability. It needs the restoration of the Assembly. It needs the promise of investment. It needs partnership working internally and externally. Most of all, it does not need yet another decade of recrimination, backs against the wall posturing, as the main unionist party finds itself at loggerheads not only with any future Labour administration - as it surely will - but with any current and future Tory one.

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The biggest risk to the Union is if it fails to retain the consent of those who live within it. That has been the case for 20 years and has not changed.

A few years ago there was talk of the DUP reaching out towards Catholic voters; indeed surveys showed that a sizeable number among the nationalist population showed some sympathy for or, at worst, acceptance of the Union.

That's the real challenge for any political party keen on promoting the very obvious benefits of the Union and building mature, modern relationships with neighbours, including the Republic, as well as other economic markets.

Such an approach requires courage and daring, but it should also be the hallmark of mature, confident, 21st century unionism.

It is encouraging to hear Sir Jeffrey Donaldson say that the party will be back in Westminster today for intensive talks with the government aimed at achieving the changes they need to back the deal.

It is time to roll the sleeves up and find a way to pitch in with the PM to make Brexit work for the benefit of the whole United Kingdom and especially for Northern Ireland and its unique circumstances.

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