What Unionism needs now is strategy, not stubbornness - Stewart

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What Unionism needs now is strategy, not stubbornness - Stewart

John Stewart MLA said, “The Stormont boycott has not worked, the Windsor Framework has been implemented, and the UK Government is set for closer ties to the EU in the coming years regardless of which party forms the next government.

“It is clear that if we do not come up with a solution to the Windsor Framework impasse by the end of October, Unionism will find itself in a very difficult position. There is no statutory basis for Joint Authority with the Irish Government, but there is no longer a statutory basis for Direct Rule, which was given up by the DUP as part of the St Andrews Agreement. So, what we are likely to have is a hybrid form of government from Westminster with increased input from Dublin, much like we saw with ‘New Decade New Approach’ discussions in 2020 when the Irish input went well beyond the Belfast Agreement Three Stranded Approach and set a precedent for a similar approach in the future, giving credence to those who say the Belfast Agreement is dead.

“However, here is the long-term strategic issue that some Unionists fail to recognise. The UK Government will take some control of what happens in Northern Ireland while at the same time empowering the civil service to do more. There will be increased input from Dublin – not joint authority – but on an advisory level in helping to formulate decisions. Many will not like that, but that is the realpolitik they refuse to recognise.

“As 2024 approaches, the Irish elections will take place, and they will add to Unionist’s misery because there is a real chance that Sinn Fein could be the largest party and form the next Irish government. If that is the case, then Sinn Fein will have an input into decision-making in Northern Ireland and unionists, who are still pinning their hopes on a boycott to alter a trading agreement, will have no input. It is sheer madness and further shows a lack of long-term strategic thinking.

“Unionism needs Stormont. It needs a decisive say on how Northern Ireland is governed, by being in the arena and making the unionist case. It will achieve nothing through a boycott, and if anything, it will accelerate a drive towards a border poll and a United Ireland, and no amount of flag-waving or protest will help win that argument.”