There is a simple, popular, practical, democratic solution to the Brexit border impasse. The citizens of Northern Ireland should be given the option to vote for their own future.
Do you want special status for Northern Ireland to remain, uniquely, a member of the EU and the UK?
Perhaps it could be phrased more colourfully. Is the need to flash a passport when crossing the Irish sea worth the benefits of continuing membership of both unions?
Perhaps: Does being the only citizens in the UK with access to all the benefits of EU memberships sound advantageous?
Northern Ireland has long demanded various forms of special status for itself, so this basic conceptual framework is much more consistent with the constitutional history of the place than any pretense that there can be “no clear blue water” between Belfast and London.
Most recently, prior to the Brexit vote, we had the DUP, in partnership with SF and others across the island, lobbying London for a special status. In that case, the DUP wanted a corporate tax rate for Northern Ireland aligned with the Republic of Ireland and wholly out of line with the rest of the UK.
Indeed, the only consistent operating principle Northern Ireland has ever had is the demand from its leaders for various forms of “special status”. Long seen as home to the UK’s most intransigent politicians, the reality is the opposite. No other region in the UK has so a long a history of cherrypicking which constitutional and legal principles are most easily side-stepped when it suits.
And the pragmatic majority of Northern Ireland’s voters will recognize that the real “cake and eat it” Brexit option has only ever been available to them, alone.
Continuing membership of both unions, thereby removing the need for a new land border, represents a stunning opportunity for Northern Ireland to move from the most boxed-in region on these islands, economically and culturally atrophying with every decade, into arguably the most liberated place on these isles. Now there’s a story to tell.
And let’s remember, a “cake and eating it” Belfast poll, while easily winnable, would have one additional advantage. Local people determining their own future would, belatedly, safeguard and honour the principle of consent.
There has been a technical and legal debate about whether or not Northern Ireland being forcibly removed from the European Union despite a majority of its citizens voting to stay represents a breach of the Good Friday Agreement’s bedrock principle of consent.
I happen to think that breach is too mild a word for a betrayal of faith on this scale but whatever your view, here is the perfect opportunity to calm the waters. Let the people speak. Hold a vote.
Strategic Communications Consultant, located in Washington, D.C.