Doug Beattie is the Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party
As we move into the second week of September and Westminster have a week under their belt, following recess, the problems facing Northern Ireland mount. Education is facing major problems, our health and social care lurches from crisis to crisis and the Police Service of Northern Ireland is in turmoil.
Politicians must take their fair share of responsibility for the mess we find ourselves in.
In just one month the Windsor Framework will be implemented. Detailed information on how remains elusive, but it seems like there will be no delay. The Government will likely bring forward enabling legislation next week, certainly within 10 days. This may include secondary legislation which may give confidence around using the green lanes for trade. There may also be something ensuring article 6 of the Acts of Union will be considered when creating laws affecting Northern Ireland.
The Framework itself will not change. As I have said previously, and often, the UK relationships globally, particularly with the US and the EU, is the UK Government’s priority. The UK’s economic repair and success is key regardless which party is in government. A successful, focused, and prosperous UK is in everyone’s interests, including unionists here in Northern Ireland.
The present Stormont boycott has achieved nothing except alienate Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. It is clear the boycott has created no leverage whatsoever – so what’s the plan?
The Ulster Unionist Party has maintained the line that it is better to have devolved government than allow others, who do not have Northern Ireland’s best interests at heart, to make decisions for us.
With a devolved government operating we can challenge the worst of the Windsor Framework while exploiting the opportunities. We can set out our case regarding the vote, next year, on whether we should retain articles 5-10 of the Framework. Many will say we will lose the vote, but I am confident in making a case for change and will work with others to do so.
However, regardless whether we win or lose a vote an independent review of articles 5-10 must take place. If we have no devolved government, we have no vote, therefore we have no review.
Likewise, to effect change we must have a coherent position come the review of the Trade and Cooperation (TCA) between the UK and EU due to take place in 2025. There are opportunities that could be developed within that review that will strengthen Northern Ireland’s place within the Union.
It is my belief that whichever political party forms the UK government after the next general election they will pursue a closer relationship with the EU. This will include a bespoke SPS veterinary deal. The signs are already there.
This will not be welcomed by Brexit purists, but it will be good for the UK and particularly for Northern Ireland.
I also believe that the data sharing deal between the UK and EU on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland will become the norm between the whole of the UK and the EU. If that was to become the case, then Northern Ireland must be able to argue the hub for this data sharing should be here. This would be very much like all car licensing being done in Swansea via the DVLA.
It’s an opportunity too good to miss. Many businesses and business groups are already looking at this as a positive outcome from the Windsor Framework. We must listen to them.
Of course, we still have the much-maligned Stormont Brake. A mechanism undermined by public commentary from the moment it was announced. Yet until we ‘press to test’ on the Brake we will never know if it is a tool that can be used to protect Northern Ireland from possible poor trade laws coming from the EU. With an EU election in June next year, we probably have until October of that year to ensure our scrutiny processes are in place.
I accept many don’t agree with how I believe we should deal with the Windsor Framework. It is not the starting point I would have wished for as it comes on the back of a Protocol we said would never work and a Brexit we warned about. But taking all that into account we have a plan that sees Unionists in the arena fighting for change while exploiting opportunities to secure our place within a prosperous United Kingdom. It’s certainly better being in the arena contending than standing outside complaining while Northern Ireland collapses around us.
I simply will not allow Northern Ireland to become, or be viewed, as a failed part of the United Kingdom. Other unionists must decide if that’s the price they are willing to pay for a trade deal.
This is a guest slot to give a platform for new writers either as a one off, or a prelude to becoming part of the regular Slugger team.