How will 'hard Brexit' affect the relationship between the Unionists in Northern Ireland and the UK?
It will depend on where the British government decides the border must go. And it will be the British government deciding it either by inaction or by design, no matter how the hard Brexiteers bluster and splutter.
On the mainland: This is the default position. The republicans will go nuts, bombings will resume, the unionists will be happy.
In the Irish sea: The republicans will be happy, the unionists will go nuts. We will probably start to see civil unrest leading to acts of terrorism on the UK mainland over a period of time. However, this will subside as the unionists settle into "business as usual" with what will be an open border policy to Northern Irish citizens by the UK.
Ultimately in a hard Brexit the Northern Ireland position will be:
- Northern Ireland remains in the EU. No border with Southern Ireland.
- The UK government will have a freedom of movement policy with Northern Irish citizens, regarding them still as British.
- There will be further devolution for all parts of the UK. It cannot be just Northern Ireland because then the Unionists will go nuts as a big red line is that Northern Ireland cannot be regarded as different to the rest of the UK. But with more dramatic devolution of powers for all the parts of the union, such that Northern Ireland can pass laws that keep it under the EU jurisdiction as well as aligned with the Westminster laws (and Scotland and Wales can too), It would mean that Northern Ireland can be both in the UK and in the EU.
The side effect of this arrangement is that Scotland, which is very much pro-EU will be able to do the same thing thereby averting a guaranteed independence referendum that hard Brexit would bring about.
The key policy is a much more radical devolution. This is not being spoken about or suggested, so at this late hour, anyone who can share the idea and get it out there so that policymakers can get to see and understand the sense of it, would help resolve this issue.
Like most other people I am not a clairvoyant but as Rab C Nesbitt was wont to say, "I'll tell ye this": Unionism in Northern Ireland does not exclusively mean the DUP, just as Sinn Fein does not represent all shades of Nationalism. There are unionists who are very uneasy about Brexit. They mostly live in border areas, are connected with farming and local businesses and do a lot of trade back and forth with the Republic of Ireland in spite of the idiot Brexiteers on the "mainland" claiming that cross-border trade is negligible. Then there are other unionists who live in Belfast and work in a modern international economy and have no wish to see their livelihoods suffer as a result of a "Hard Brexit". To put it simply, the hard brexit option is only favoured by the least educated and poorest sections of Unionism. If a hard Brexit does indeed come to pass, it is precisely those people who will be the worst affected, since most live off welfare already, and in the event of a no deal scenario, will be the first to suffer the cutbacks to the very generous subsidies they receive from London.
A hard Brexit will be quite reassuring to unionists if it means rejecting the EU backstop proposal. A Brexit along the lines of what Boris Johnson and Jacob Reed-Mogg are putting forward as the best solution is one which the DUP heartily support. Just look at Sammy Wilson's praise for Johnson's latest ‘suicide belt' criticism of May. The DUP do not speak for all unionists however, it is likely that many farmers and traders will be angry with Westminster if business with the Republic is seriously affected.
Northern Ireland as a whole has a set of priorities that don't necessarily align to the rest of the UK.
Whatever your political or social affiliations Ulster people must see the huge opportunity it now has and everyone should exploit it for all its worth.
The current UK government is all but finished and the only credible alternative right now are the Greens.
Northern Ireland must start thinking as an independent state whilst anarchy ensues at Westminster. Negoiate it's own position and stop the idiocy and infighting that have so messed things up for them until now.