Leading article

Brexit was a disaster at all levels

As it has already been well documented that Brexit proved to be a political and economic disaster for all sections of our divided society, it should not come as a surprise to learn that it has also had a hugely negative impact on community relations.

Statistics from the Executive Office which we reported on Friday set out what was described as a `significant' decline in the number of people who think that the level of understanding between Catholics and Protestants is moving forward.

According to the Good Relations Indicator for 2019, the most recent data available, only 39 pc of adults believe that contacts between the two main religious groups in the north are improving - a decline of almost 20 percentage points over the past three years.

Perceptions that community relations were prospering peaked at 59 pc in 2016, the year of the EU referendum, but have been on a steadily downward trajectory ever since.

The findings suggested relationships suffered a notable setback in 2013, after prolonged loyalist flag protests, but had recovered until the Brexit vote and are now at their lowest point for a decade.

It is clear that the 2016 referendum alarmingly pushed some people into rival tribal camps, and there has always been a particular focus on the nature of the DUP's involvement in the Vote Leave campaign.

Widespread concern has been expressed over the massive donations made to the DUP by pro-Brexit groups, specifically facilitating a four page wraparound party advertisement in the Metro free newspaper - which circulates only in Britain, where the DUP has never contested elections - at an estimated cost of £300,000 on the eve of the poll.

There is little doubt that DUP figures hoped EU withdrawal would result in the imposition of a hard Irish border, and also wanted to align themselves with the right wing of the Conservative Party.

It took them years to realise that they had been deceived by Boris Johnson and his fellow English nationalists, and that the protocol arrangements were the inevitable outcome of Brexit.

The DUP's subsequent disarray has prevented the appointment of a new Stormont executive, with a range of serious consequences including the growing damage to community relations.

It is likely that the DUP's decision to not just endorse but actively campaign for Brexit will go down as one of unionism's greatest ever strategic errors.