In recent years, one of the biggest complaints that Northern Irish unionists have had about the British government is the feeling that the Northern Ireland Office is not on their side. They contrast the NIO’s careful neutralism with Dublin’s vigorous advocate for the nationalist interest in the province.
This has become a particularly painful point after the EU referendum, as London ended up being completely overpowered over Ulster. Theresa May ended up accepting the need for a “backstop” or Protocol after it basically became an absurdly maximalist interpretation of “our obligations under the Good Friday Agreement”.
It should have been the responsibility of the NIO to have the UK government own understanding of their commitments properly articulated and ready to go. They did not, and the result was an abject episode of British diplomacy, the grave consequences of which have been Lord Frost. in charge of taking off.
Fortunately, the Government seems to have realized that the problems created by the Protocol are not just a matter for its trade negotiators. A border on the Irish Sea directly affects Northern Ireland’s position as an equal part of the UK. It is necessary to offer tranquility on several fronts.
It is therefore very welcome that Secretary of State Brandon Lewis announced yesterday that the city of Hillsborough will become the first in the province he will be granted the “real state,” in light of his “close ties to the royal family.”
Obviously, this is just a small thing. But the good details of life: see also the Rangers and Celtic invitation join the Premier League, or current The great British railways with a national livery – add. If the Belfast agreement is to last as an agreement that respects (and therefore is respected) by both communities – and this is not true – the Government must not be afraid to strengthen the British status of Northern Ireland in both deeds and words.
There will be those splashing on ‘more flags’, as they did when ministers announced an expanded footprint for UK government departments or Lewis confirmed that they would fly the Union Jack. This is the same kind of thinking that saw the litigants try to take Theresa May’s ministry to court for their trust and supply agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party, as if the very involvement of Northern Irish MPs in a British government infringed an agreement that explicitly affirms its Britishness.
For too long, the NIO’s institutional attitude seemed to reflect the mindset that has affected London’s approach to Ulster since Stormont’s founding: that it should move quietly away from UK national life. until it inevitably joins the Republic. Apparently, there has been a belated but determined effort to change this since the election, with one official allegedly complaining that the department is now “too right-wing and too unionist,” which is only fitting for a right-wing unionist government.
The question is whether this can be maintained. Changing profound attitudes takes a long time, and continental politicians pushed into Northern Ireland publications seem especially prone to being captured by the group. Even today, when food supply in the province has only been maintained through unilateral British action, Simon Hoare – the chairman of the Northern Ireland Selection Committee – is calling for companies in North Dorset “I would bite your hand” by the attached commercial status of Ulster. It would be a shame if all this good were wasted by a careless remodeling.
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