Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Time to dial down rhetoric on Brexit

'Unfortunately Northern Ireland, without a functioning Stormont Executive, finds itself at crisis point' (stock photo)
'Unfortunately Northern Ireland, without a functioning Stormont Executive, finds itself at crisis point' (stock photo)

Editor's Viewpoint

In the run-up to tomorrow's crucial Westminster vote on Brexit, tension is rising further in Northern Ireland. More than 50 members of the local CBI have warned bluntly that a no-deal would stifle the opportunities of our next generation.

They also claim that it would result in significant damage to export markets, supply chains, consumer spending power and commercial competitiveness.

Despite predictable and strongly-worded criticism of these claims by the DUP's Sammy Wilson, the signatories to the letter, including such big names as Coca-Cola, Bombardier Aerospace and Norbrook Laboratories, must be taken seriously. The Ulster Bank has underlined how Brexit has led to continued fears and uncertainty, and that our economic output is at near-stagnation.

With little possibility of agreement only 24 hours before a 'meaningful vote' at Westminster, this is a critical time for Britain and Northern Ireland, where we are in unique circumstances.

In truth there was little attention paid to here before the Brexit poll, but since then the worrying implications for all of us have been revealed unsparingly in their stark reality.

As these implications have become more apparent, the shrillness of discordant voices has risen too. Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald used aggressive language in warning: "If Britain wishes to Brexit... they won't take the North with them, and they are not going to wreck the Irish economy and upend our peace process".

Many might ask: who is she to talk in this way about what happens here? But Sinn Fein's brazen and opportunistic call for a border poll has set unionist nerves jangling. It is also worth noting that while Taoiseach Leo Varadkar wants to protect the Republic's interests, some of his rhetoric has been unhelpful.

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Unfortunately Northern Ireland, without a functioning Stormont Executive, finds itself at crisis point. The views of business experts, and unionists' fears of being separated from the rest of the UK, cannot simply be dismissed.

Cool heads and commonsense are needed to find a way to broker a settlement which will bring the best deal for Northern Ireland, its current business interests, and the welfare of future generations.

This may require some form of reassurance to unionists, rather than a ratcheting-up of tensions. It is a time to think constructively and reasonably about what form this reassurance might take, and to leave the damaging rhetoric aside.

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