David Lidington, de-facto deputy Prime Minister, visited Northern Ireland yesterday (5th July) and expressed his opinions on the impact of Brexit on the region, as well as social issues facing the region.
Speaking at a bottling factory in County Fermanagh, Lidington warned that a no-deal Brexit could lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. He noted that the next Prime Minister must ensure that the UK does not leave the European Union without a deal, as this could weaken relations between countries in the Union. Lidington also noted that indifference amongst English opinion on the value of the Union threatens its integrity, arguing “there is a sense that we take the Union for granted.”
This is a direct opposition to the view of Boris Johnson, who noted during a Conservative leadership digital hustings last week that Brexit could actually strengthen the Union. Johnson’s opinion is that Scotland and Northern Ireland in particular will not want to remain in the EU while England and Wales leave, as this could potentially strain relations between the neighbouring countries. Nigel Farage, leader of the Brexit Party, also argued that Brexit happening is more important than the future of the United Kingdom.
Lidington went on to offer his opinion on social issues in Northern Ireland. 2.5 years without a government, Northern Ireland still has not legislated on important social issues such as same-sex marriage, which is currently still illegal in the region. Lidington argued that Westminster will at some stage legislate on the issue due to the absence of a functioning Stormont government. He was speaking of the wishes of a group of MPs to table an amendment to Secretary of State Karen Bradley’s Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018 which would allow Westminster to legislate on social issues in the region.
This is a welcome opinion, as an Amnesty International petition on enacting same-sex marriage in NI received 35,000 signatures.