Northern Ireland’s Unionists Threaten to Rebel Over Brexit

The unionists don’t want any separation from the United Kingdom, but that may require a hard border in Ulster.

The skyline of Belfast, Northern Ireland, April 13
The skyline of Belfast, Northern Ireland, April 13 (Allan Leonard)

Northern Ireland’s conservatives have threatened to withhold their support from Theresa May’s 2019 budget proposal if the prime minister crosses their “red lines” on Brexit.

May needs the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland for her majority in Westminster.

Too far

Open Europe reports that the DUP fears May will sign a deal that keeps the whole United Kingdom in a customs union with the EU but only Northern Ireland in alignment with the single market. That could create regulatory disparity between the province and Great Britain, when Northern Ireland does most of its trade with the rest of the union.

The reported proposal also goes too far for Brexiteers in May’s Conservative Party, who want a clean break with the EU.

But from the EU’s point of view, it doesn’t go far enough.

Michel Barnier, the bloc’s Brexit negotiator, has cautioned that Britain cannot remain in the single market for goods only. That would create a “single-market system à la carte,” he told the European Parliament on Wednesday, and give British companies a “huge competitive edge.”

Backstop

The priority for the EU — which includes the Republic of Ireland — is avoiding the return of a hard border in Ulster, where the absence of one has helped keep the peace between Catholics and Protestants for twenty years.

The United Kingdom has already committed to keep Northern Ireland in alignment with EU rules unless another solution can be found.

The Telegraph reports that Northern Irish businesses are happy with this so-called backstop.

But the DUP and the Conservative right have suggested Britain could renege on this agreement if it doesn’t secure a favorable Brexit deal.