Thursday 19 September 2019

Gerard O'Regan: 'DUP fails to realise playing hardball on Brexit could kill union with UK'

'Nigel Dodds needs to be careful what he wishes for. Events could lead to a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government in power.' Photo: AFP/Getty Images
'Nigel Dodds needs to be careful what he wishes for. Events could lead to a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government in power.' Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Gerard O'Regan

The backstop is a calcul- ated risk - and I have never made any pretence about my love for the backstop. But without the backstop we would not have been able to get the Irish Government to take part in negotiations. It's very seldom mentioned - but the backstop is not just for the Irish Republic. It's also necessary for the reassurance of the moderate nationalist community in Northern Ireland.

"I think for them to understand there is no possibility of a return of a hard Border is one of the ways we underpin the stability of the union."

Such an aside from Liam Fox - leading Conservative Party MP, ardent Brexiteer, and unabashed unionist - was swamped in the swirling verbiage of a toxic Westminster week.

Yet coming from such a source, it provides soothing balm for Irish ears.

Despite much Brexit-fuelled hyperbole and hysteria, there is a growing strain in British life with an awareness of the profound nature of the Irish peace process.

Meanwhile, the choice confronting the House of Commons is increasingly stark. Eat humble pie and accept the middle-ground deal on offer - because that's all the UK can afford - or up and leave the Brussels club on your own terms. But the price will be widespread job losses for your constituents.

However, it is still possible to despair at the utterances of some of the more blinkered set. A classic example is former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith.

This week he disparagingly referred to "the Irish". We are at fault for insisting on that backstop which, as far as he's concerned, is scuppering the entire Brexit process.

Such is his zeal to be done with Michel Barnier and his ilk, Duncan Smith would leave the EU at any cost; from his perspective, concerns over the Irish Border are but an annoying irrelevancy.

But this must be balanced with the views of politicians such as Fox - and indeed British Prime Minister Theresa May - who are aware the return of Border checkpoints would be an ominous step back in time.

All the while, the DUP plays hardball. The old mantra 'Ulster Says No' remains the party's default position as it remains swamped in a sea of uncertainty. Opinion polls show the thinking of its MPs is out of line with a clear majority in Northern Ireland, who wish to remain in the EU.

Not only that, but the biggest cleavage in unionism for years is the sharp divide between the higher echelons of the DUP and some of its traditional base in business and farming.

MPs in the Commons indulge their "not an inch" strategy, but out in the unionist heartlands there are those who see such grandstanding will mean less money in their pockets.

Many DUP-supporting business people and farmers realise the May plan would provide them with the best of both worlds.

They would remain part of the UK - while still availing of various EU perks and payments.

There is also a risk for DUP MPs when throwing in their lot with Brexit extremists. It is pulling them away from the Westminster political mainstream.

The Jacob Rees-Mogg cabal has a tendency to shout loudest - but it is destined to remain on the sidelines.

As the battle rages, May is on the ropes. However, there is no overall Commons majority that would back the UK simply upping sticks and departing the EU without agreement.

And so Nigel Dodds, Sammy Wilson, et al, need to be careful what they wish for.

Events could lead to a general election, with a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government in power.

Lost in myriad words spoken over the past week was an aside from leading Labour front-bencher John McDonnell.

"I have always believed in a united Ireland," he said.

It was a throwaway remark as he sought to amplify some point he was making.

But for Dodds and Wilson, it should be a wake-up call.

Turfing out Theresa May has its risks. Behind all the bluster and brinkmanship, they just might overplay their hand.

Irish Independent

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