Belfast Telegraph

Alban Maginness: How is it with Brexit dealings that the DUP has learned nothing and forgotten nothing as well?

Message sent out by big business about cost of a hard border should set alarm bells ringing, says Alban Maginness

The high profile visit of the European president Jean-Claude Juncker to Dublin last week was a deliberate and timely demonstration of the solidarity of the European Union with the government and people of the Irish Republic.

Not only did he meet with the Taoiseach and senior ministers, but he also addressed Dail Eireann - a privilege rarely granted to foreign leaders or heads of state - and he also formally met with President Michael D Higgins. It was akin to the visit of a head of state with all the usual formality and ceremony.

In his speech to the Irish parliament and at his press conference, he strongly emphasised the unity of the 26 member states of the Union with Ireland. He stressed that a solution to the Irish border question was a top priority for all the member states, not just Ireland.

It was not a bilateral matter to be dealt with between the Irish government and the United Kingdom government. This was a fundamental matter to be dealt with by the EU collectively and the UK government.

Jean-Claude Juncker pledged that the EU would not leave Ireland "isolated and alone" over the Brexit impasse.

He declared to the Dail that: "Ireland would come first."

Furthermore, he devastatingly dismissed the UK government's current proposals regarding Brexit. There could not have been a gloomier piece of political theatre for Prime Minister Theresa May to observe.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, basking in the uncharacteristic sunshine of the GAA Ulster Championship final in Clones, Arlene Foster was feted and greeted by top GAA officials and Irish politicians as she witnessed the 'Ernemen' from Co Fermanagh being beaten by a superior Donegal team. This was an imaginative - though overdue - step by the DUP leader, but one that ranks with Sinn Fein's recent Royal 'love-in', and which together adds to the lessening of political tensions.

For once the DUP leader has played clever gesture politics and created cross-community goodwill, an aspect usually absent from our current political discourse.

While all of this is to be welcomed, the DUP's aggressively pro-Brexit policy adds more grief than relief to local politics.

The DUP, like the Bourbons of old, have learned nothing and forgotten nothing, as far as dealing with Brexit is concerned.

Instead of embracing innovative ideas about a soft border - to which they notionally subscribe - they continue to pander to the worst elements of the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative Party. This does not serve the economic interests of the people of Northern Ireland, nor does it serve the objective interests of the DUP as a unionist party.

Brexit, especially a hard Brexit, will actually weaken the union between Northern Ireland and Britain by creating serious and persistent unsolved problems over our local economy and the border itself.

Their ill-thought out position seems to be driven by political emotion, rather than political reality. All of this plays into the hands of their political opponents. The unionist cause should be working intelligently to encourage and to bring about a practical agreement between the UK and Europe, if for no other reason than to preserve the stability of the union with Britain.

Whether unionists believe it or not, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's European stance is the best position for unionists to adopt and support. His position is that this region be treated as a special case and that we remain within the customs union and single market. This is the best position economically for Northern Ireland and it coincidentally accords with the objective political interests of unionism. The DUP's hostility to this sensible and pragmatic position is truly baffling.

Time is now running out on the Brexit negotiations and the worst possible scenario of a 'no deal' on Europe looks increasingly likely, if there is not a substantive change in the British government's position.

There are indeed ominous signs coming from big business that there may be a serious investment flight by big hitters in the industrial sector. The warnings from Airbus and BMW that investments in the UK could be jeopardised by the uncertainty over Brexit could not be clearer or starker. Airbus said it could leave Britain if Britain were to leave the EU's single market and customs union without a transition deal.

These alarming comments need to be taken seriously by the British government in its political calculations, and fresh effort be put into finding an acceptable solution to the Irish border question and other critical issues.

Withdrawing from Europe was always going to be a problematic course of action after 45 years of being embedded in the complex structures of the EU.

But to Theresa May it must seem like floundering haplessly in a huge lake of treacle. In these circumstances, the pivotal DUP should assist, not hinder a workable solution.

Belfast Telegraph

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