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Senior DUP MP Gavin Robinson warns unionism to prepare for border poll

Gavin Robinson said Peter Robinson is right to warn that a looming vote on the north’s constitutional future. Picture by Mark Marlow

THE DUP MP tipped by many to be the party’s future leader believes unionism should prepare for a border poll.

Gavin Robinson said his predecessor and one-time party leader Peter Robinson is “absolutely right” to warn that a looming vote on the north’s constitutional future cannot be ignored.

The East Belfast MP is the most senior unionist to acknowledge the growing likelihood of a referendum on Irish unity.

The former first minister has highlighted the need for unionism to prepare for a future border poll on a number of occasions since leaving office five years ago.

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"I don't expect my own house to burn down but I still insure it,” the former DUP leader told the MacGill Summer School in 2018.

His warnings of political unionism’s "complacent and dangerous thinking” were not well received among his former colleagues and until now no senior DUP elected representative has endorsed the sentiment.

Read More: Secretary of State Brandon Lewis declines to spell out border poll criteria

But asked by The Irish News about his namesake’s remarks, Gavin Robinson said the former DUP leader was correct to urge unionism to get ready to contest a unity referendum.

“Peter is absolutely right not only about how we should think about these things; how we should engage in wider discussions within unionism; about how we strategise for ourselves; how we position ourselves, and how fundamentally we advance the cause of the union through thought and argument – so he is absolutely right,” the East Belfast MP said.

He said it is “incumbent on unionists not to take the status quo for granted” but to find ways to “augment, enhance and solidify” the union.

If a significant number of Mr Robinson’s colleagues, and in particular DUP leader Arlene Foster, now share his analysis it will represent a major shift for the party. East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson previously described his former leader’s remarks as "an invitation to republican arsonists to come in and burn our house down”.

Brian Feeney, historian and columnist with The Irish News, who also sits on the board of civic nationalist group Ireland’s Future, said it was long overdue for a senior elected unionist to "realise the validity of the argument Peter Robinson has been presenting since 2011” .

“Peter Robinson said that to survive, unionism must appeal beyond its traditional religious support which no longer guarantees a majority,” he said.

“These remarks are not just about preparing for a border poll – it’s also a recognition that thousands of middle class unionists have deserted the DUP for Alliance, exemplified by the shock victory in North Down and the 17 per cent drop in the DUP share of the vote in Lagan Valley last year.”

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