The impact of brexit on Northern Ireland

assembly-election-2017

Well the results from the NI election are in and the result isn’t going to make great reading for either the Unionists nor the brexiters. The one thing that was never supposed to happen in Northern Ireland has happened – the Unionists have lost their majority.

While the DUP are still the largest party, in theory they and the UUP can now be outvoted on any issue…such as whether or not to hold a border poll. Now granted, Sinn Fein don’t hold a majority either. They’d need support from the smaller non-unionst parties. And all “non-unionst” means is that they don’t go on orange parades, nor is their pin code 1690. While they aren’t against the idea of a border poll, they aren’t in favour of one either, it doesn’t make them flag waving Irish nationalists.

However in the event of a hard brexit, one that starts impacting on the Northern Irish economy, they could be persuaded to back a border poll, to settle the issue. In short there is now a path to a border poll, that did not previously exist. And its very difficult to tell, particularly against the back drop of a hard brexit which way such a poll would go.

The unionists can block a border poll even without a majority. Rules written into the Northern Irish constitution allow a minority of delegates to veto legislation. Ironically, these rules were inserted to protect the nationalists, something the DUP originally objected too! But the DUP cannot do this alone anymore, they’d need UUP support too. Also blocking a vote and standing against the rest of the assembly raises the risk of the pro-poll parties pulling the plug again, declaring a new election and an electoral alliance in which they don’t stand in each other’s constituencies, effectively turning the election into a defacto border poll.

Now like I said, the other smaller parties aren’t automatically going to go along with Sinn Fein on this. And there’s no guarantee even if a border poll was held that it would be a Yes vote. But the point is that its now a plausible option. The unthinkable (from a unionist point of view) is actually possible now. And the unionist have to look to the moderates in the centre ground and on the left, to save them from a mess of their own creation.

While many unionists are generally euroskeptic (and often to the right of UKIP on many issues) the UUP backed Remain in the referendum, precisely because they feared what is now playing out in NI might happen in the event of a leave vote. But the DUP very stupidly backed leave. Arlene Foster may go down in history as having done more for Irish reunification (through a combination of arrogance, stupidity and incompetence) than Gerry Adams or Martin McGuiness!

But either way, the cost of brexit for unionists is not that they are going to “take control”, its that they’ve lost control and their fate is now in the hands of others….something the rest of the UK will soon discover when brexit negotiations start and they realise its the EU, US and other powers who will decide the UK’s future.

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