Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Strong leadership and wise heads required to finalise Brexit deal

Editor's Viewpoint

The complexities surrounding the Brexit negotiations have become even more complicated for Northern Ireland, following the latest moves from Brussels.

The EU draft proposals suggest a common regulatory area which would keep Northern Ireland in the customs union, if no other solution to the border is found.

In practical terms this would create a border down the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Already the Prime Minister has opposed this idea strongly, and the DUP has rejected it out of hand.

The negotiations are so complex, with so many people putting forward different interpretations of the same facts, that it is difficult for ordinary folk to make sense of what is happening.

There is the added complication of party-political rivalries, and national and international considerations, which further muddy the pool.

In simple terms, however, it is abundantly clear that one of the immediate results of the new draft proposals from the EU is to unite the unionist family, and other pro-union supporters, in a rejection of anything which would redefine the constitutional status of Northern Ireland.

The unionist family has long had a serious inherent weakness because of its obvious divisions, but in one sense Brexit has now united, and indeed galvanised, unionism at all levels.

However, while not all unionists voted for Brexit, the decision was the result of a democratic UK-wide poll. We are part of that, and it is something that we must not forget throughout this difficult period.

This newspaper has been pointing out strongly, even before the referendum took place, the very real problems for Northern Ireland which a Brexit would create.

There are very deep economic concerns and, significantly, the future of the union itself is now a major factor, whether we like it or not.

In every sense these are very high stakes indeed, and it is no exaggeration to say that the constitutional position of this province is now in the melting pot, as it has been on various occasions during the last century.

The continuing, and at times acrimonious, fall-out has made the relationship between unionism and its neighbours in the Irish Republic much trickier recently than it has been for a number of years.

This is most unfortunate indeed, when set against the severe political disruption in Northern Ireland during the past year and more.

To add to the complications, we find ourselves in politically difficult territory at a time when there is no sitting Executive.

However, we can only speculate how an Executive would deal with this if it was in session. Would it have a positive or divisive influence on events? Sadly, recent history shows that the latter scenario is more likely.

These are challenging times for everyone on both sides of the Irish Sea and in greater Europe in general, and for Northern Ireland unionists in particular.

So often the essence of progressive politics is not just about seizing hold of the past, but being able to visualise the future, to understand what it might look like, and to try as far as possible to make this a reality.

The many thousands of people who vote unionist will be looking for, and expecting, strong leadership with an attendant wisdom, pragmatism and cool-headedness.

In this time of immense challenge and change, that is not too much to ask for.

Belfast Telegraph

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