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Leading article: Union may be the price of Brexit

EU and Union flags. Picture by Stefan Rousseau/PA

When Peter Mandelson suggested at the weekend that the present British government has been `ambivalent' towards the Good Friday Agreement, he was if anything understating the position.

The former Stormont secretary of state who is now Lord Mandelson was fully entitled to warn in an Irish News interview of the dangers facing people from all traditions in Ireland through the chaos associated with Brexit.

British prime minister Boris Johnson confirmed last week that he had been involved as a journalist in reporting on the negotiations leading to the 1998 breakthrough in Belfast, and insisted that he was committed to protecting the agreement.

However, there is very little evidence that the issue is anywhere close to the top of his list of priorities and the indications are that some of his closest associates are hostile to the very mention of Irish and Scottish concerns.

There have been claims, so far uncontested, that Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson's most senior adviser, said recently he did not care if Northern Ireland fell into the sea, although he allegedly expressed his thoughts in even more colourful terms.

It has become increasingly clear that some senior Conservatives place their Brexit project well ahead of maintaining the UK in its present form, and opinion polls have confirmed similar attitudes among a majority of party activists.

There will certainly be a feeling that the efforts of Irish and Scottish nationalists to end the union have ended in failure over many decades but their English counterparts are poised to create a set of circumstances which may lead to just such an outcome.

We are heading further into uncharted territory with every day that passes and DUP supporters can only wonder how their leadership was ever persuaded to endorse a Brexit strategy which has produced so many disastrous consequences from their point of view.

The discussions between the EU and the UK are moving to a decisive stage with no hints during the opening of the annual Conservative party conference in Manchester yesterday that any sustainable proposals for progress are emerging.

If committed Brexiters in London are really ready to end the union in order to achieve their aims, all sections of the community in Ireland north and south must be prepared to offer a carefully measured response.

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