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It is time Unionists put the United Kingdom first | Doug Beattie MLA

The United Kingdom is a kingdom of four nations; England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Everyone who professes to support the Union by declaring themselves a unionist or simply pro-union must realise that for the United Kingdom to be successful all parts of the kingdom must function fully and in a single cohesive manner.

Sadly, the United Kingdom is facing an existential threat that is purely of its own making. The lack of strategic thinking at the heart of government, as far back as 2014, has undermined our international reputation, damaged our economy, and created a sense of deep disillusionment. It has been manna for those who do not wish to see the United Kingdom thrive or whose aim to break up our kingdom.

It was clear, long before the vote, that BREXIT was always going to be destabilising. We are in the worst of both worlds with those who voted against BREXIT outlining its failings, while those who voted for BREXIT arguing it hasn't been delivered.

The Northern Ireland Protocol, which has damaged our international standing, was never going to work. The government was told this by the Ulster Unionist Party as far back as 2019 even as the then Prime Minster laid out his plans on 2nd October of that year.

The Windsor Framework is an attempt to fix the issues created by the Protocol and rebuild damaged relationships with the EU, US and further afield. It is not the starting point any of us would have wished for.

As we approach the implementation of the Windsor Framework it is doubly clear the people of Northern Ireland have become the collateral damage in this game of high stakes political poker. The final settled position was not about trying to restore the Belfast Agreement institutions, nor was it about maintaining the integrity of the UKs internal market or the EUs single market. They were secondary effects.

The final settled position was further influenced by the war in Ukraine and the United Kingdom’s long term economic output. It was about the need for better defence and security relationships between the UK, EU and US in order to prevent Russian expansionism. It was about rebuilding international relationships and partnerships.

If you are in any doubt, you just need read the UK Defence and Security Refresh document. This was a strategic document released just two weeks after the Windsor Framework was published yet with clear reference to it. This indicates that the Windsor Framework was agreed many months previously. To that end I believe His Majesty's Government have no intention of renegotiating either the Protocol or Windsor Framework during this Parliament.

It's now time for honesty from all sides. The Westminster Government need to make clear their intention regarding the renegotiating of either the Protocol or the Framework. I believe they have no intention of any further renegotiating of the agreement, they need to come clean and be very clear on this matter. Equally, if they intend to try and reopen negotiations, then they need to be equally honest.

Unionist politicians who are saying they will accept nothing less than the total removal of the Windsor Framework also need to be honest and explain their plans to achieve that outcome, even in the short term. As a party we have attempted to give that honesty, yet many seem to be in denial.

Any legislation brought forward in Westminster, regarding our trading relationship within the United Kingdom, will give some comfort but it will not change the Windsor Framework in any way. Reiterating that Northern Ireland's place in the Union is secure, which was a central part of the Belfast Agreement, until the people decide otherwise remains a strong hand but only if Northern Ireland is working.

That seems like the end of the fight to have the Northern Ireland Protocol or the Windsor Framework changed and the Irish Sea Border removed. However, that is not the case. Instead it is a key marker in order to look at these arrangements in 2025 when the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) is up for review. But to be in the best position possible, to have positive input into this review, we need a strong United Kingdom on the front foot with functioning devolved government in Northern Ireland.

For Northern Ireland unionists the question is do we now work to help rebuild our United Kingdom or do we continue to undermine the very institutions we profess to support. Are our actions now more damaging than helpful allowing inroads for those who wish to undermine our country. Do we start to rebuild our relationships with those who support the union in England, Scotland and Wales who are becoming weary of Northern Ireland unionists.

To maintain our place in the Union we must make Northern Ireland work by focusing on our people, our place, prosperity, public service and peace. It's about the economy and economic stability; to take our place in the Intergovernmental Conference representing this part of the United Kingdom alongside the other three nations promoting a coherent union.

Where it is right to fight for our fair share of the UK wealth, outlining the unique circumstances faced by smaller nations within the Union, it cannot be as a dysfunctional part of that Union. It is time to reignite the understanding of unionism, refreshing the United Kingdom as a modern multi-cultural society.

It is time we put the Union first, the whole Union, the Union which is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is time Northern Ireland was a functioning part of that kingdom and that requires devolved government. If we do not start thinking strategically the Union could be lost and we will have run out of people to blame, as blame will lie at our own door.

The United Kingdom is a kingdom of four nations; England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; we all have a part to play in maintaining it. As a United Kingdom Unionist living in Northern Ireland I am, and always have been, prepared and willing to play my part in preserving that Union for all of us.

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