Brexit and Northern Ireland

Sir, – I fully share Fintan O'Toole's daydream of a non-sectarian political alliance between the Ulster Unionists, SDLP and Alliance ("DUP must be punished for its Brexit folly", Opinion & Analysis, January 17th). But the first two particularly must find the issues that bind, and Brexit cannot be among them.

I do not vote for the DUP, with its backwoods social values, but it is unfair to upbraid Arlene Foster for not second-guessing the Northern Irish vote in the European referendum and supporting the Remain campaign on that basis. Besides, she was no less entitled to take her own side on the issue than Nicola Sturgeon was in Scotland.

To accuse Ms Foster of trashing Northern Ireland's vital interests is to overlook that this was a nationwide referendum. I voted Leave because I judged exit, rightly or wrongly, to be the better decision for the United Kingdom as a whole. This is what unionism is in practice. Northern Ireland had to take a back seat in my calculations. Now, rightly, Leavers must face the music. To vote Leave was not ipso facto to trumpet an "ultra-British identity", so it is unwise to confuse DUP machinations with unionist Leavers who simply want a non-EU UK.

“Northern Ireland wishes to remain in the EU” is a proposition that seems irrefutable according to the vote but has since been made problematic by the hay that nationalists (from Sinn Féin through the SDLP to Enda Kenny) have sought to make out of Brexit. In any case, the UUP rank and file were divided on the issue.


I wonder if the anxiety on your side of the Border has less to do with Northern Ireland than with the Republic’s own future. I suspect it might be deferred pain; the referendum result has revealed to what extent the two countries’ economies and cultures are entwined.

The Republic should wait until it sees the UK starting to prosper outside a groggy EU and then join it for a walk on the bright side – a reaffirmed common labour area and the border sorted via renewed free trade and free movement agreements outside the EU, the archipelago controlling its own entrances and exits. Perhaps a more viable daydream? – Yours, etc,