Jeffrey Donaldson: “Now is not a time for brinkmanship but for leadership.”

Good to see the DUP deploy Jeffrey Donaldson to the southern space. His oped in the Sunday Independent is probably the most upbeat note to come out of the DUP in some time.

He acknowledges that the last few years have damaged relations on the island:

The absence of the political institutions, including the Assembly and the North South Ministerial Council, has been to the detriment of all of us.

Just think how differently we might have handled this very difficult situation if such institutions had been in place to provide a forum within which Belfast and Dublin could engage and take a more considered view on all of this.

Instead, the politics of co-operation has been replaced by the old ways of megaphone diplomacy. We are all guilty of it.

He goes on to stake out the common ground:

…we already occupy significant common ground. We all agree that the need to protect the peace process and the political and institutional arrangements of the Belfast, St Andrews and Stormont House Agreements is vital.

Secondly, none of us want a hard border on the island of Ireland or the creation of a new border in the Irish Sea. Both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland do a substantial amount of trade with Great Britain as well as with each other.

The Common Travel Area ensures the free movement of people across the islands and is accepted by the EU. Now we need to find a sensible solution to ensure a similar approach on the smooth movement of goods.

We are of the view that a pragmatic approach can deliver an outcome on customs and trade that does not fundamentally undermine the EU single market or the UK single market.

Thirdly, we all want to avoid a ‘no-deal’ outcome that could have significant implications for the short to medium-term economic stability and prosperity of both parts of this island. Building stability and prosperity goes hand in hand with building peace.

He argues that letting sectarianism dictate matters of vital economic interest to people on both sides of the border is not the way to go:

If an ‘orange and green’ divide over the backstop results in no deal then it will further damage relationships on the island and undermine the prospects for restoring the political institutions.

The absence of these institutions over the past two years has seen a re-polarisation of attitudes on both sides in Northern Ireland.

In our opinion, securing a deal on Brexit that is broadly acceptable can only improve the prospects for restoring the institutions.

It may suit Sinn Fein to have a chaotic situation but it surely can’t be in the interests of anyone else.

He quotes recent projections from a highly respected Dublin based economic think tank to argue against a WTO fall out position:

The resulting imposition of tariffs and non-tariff barriers in this scenario could lead to Irish trade to Great Britain falling by 12pc, British trade to Ireland falling by 6pc, Irish trade to Northern Ireland falling by 14pc, and Northern Irish trade to Ireland falling by 19pc – resulting in a total reduction in cross-border trade of 16pc.

And…

Having been an MP for over 20 years and in front-line politics since the early 1980s, I have seen too many times politicians become wedded to an idea and intent on implementing it, even when they are aware of the dire consequences.

Now is not a time for brinkmanship but for leadership.

It is important to note, that even the most pro Brext voting constituency North Antrim is relatively moderate compared to the more extreme constituencies in England. The anti-Brexit vote amongst unionists was a significant minority.

This seems to have been forgotten in an atmosphere where tensions have been stoked for party political reasons. Most polls show a huge majority in Northern Ireland in favour of the least disruptive form of Brexit (ditto in Britain).

Time to tell some good stories about ourselves, for once…

Whatever its imperfections, we recognise that the Belfast Agreement and subsequent agreements were built on the hopes of many people in both parts of this island. In contrast, the talk of a backstop is built on fear and has the potential to damage those hopes.

In these days, let us embrace hope and not fear and continue the search for our common ground across these islands. Brexit in itself does not fundamentally disrupt the potential for strengthening our various relationships but how we handle and respond to Brexit could.