Opinion

The lie that there’s no all-island economy – Brian Feeney

Brian Feeney

Brian Feeney

Historian and political commentator Brian Feeney has been a columnist with The Irish News for three decades. He is a former SDLP councillor in Belfast and co-author of the award-winning book Lost Lives

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak answers questions about the Windsor Framework during a visit to Coca-Cola HBC in Lisburn earlier this year
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak answers questions about the Windsor Framework during a visit to Coca-Cola HBC in Lisburn last year

As well as marking exactly two years since the DUP walked out of Stormont, last week also marked four years since Britain left the EU. Did you notice the riotous celebrations, especially about the return of £350 million a week to the NHS, taking control of Britain’s borders, and ending red tape on exports and imports?

No? Thought not. There were of course no celebrations because Brexit has made Britain poorer. After the most dishonest political campaign in Britain’s history, in which the DUP fully participated, including paying a six-figure sum for a mysteriously funded wraparound advert full of false claims in a London newspaper, none of the promised bounty has materialised. Most people in Britain now think Brexit has been a failure.

CAMPAIGN: The DUP and leader Arlene Foster backed Brexit, with the party taking out a £282,000 front-page ad in British newspaper Metro
The DUP took out a wraparound advertisement in the Metro newspaper in London urging people to vote Leave in the EU referendum

Notice you have to keep saying Britain. We haven’t fully left since the north still enjoys the benefits of the single market – though the British command paper concocted for the DUP denies it, as well as much else. Nevertheless, the north still has the benefit of free trade into both the EU and UK, though not the other direction despite the command paper’s and Donaldson’s claims.



In order to pacify the DUP the British bought the whole gamut of DUP fears and misrepresentations, particularly unilaterally repudiating the all-island economy which they signed up to in the 2018 Withdrawal Agreement.

It’s a wonder Sunak didn’t visit the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Lisburn where he extolled the benefits of the Windsor Framework last February. There they produce 60,000 cans an hour. Coca-Cola employs 750 in Ireland – 500 in the north and the others around the head office in Dublin. In 2022 Diageo invested £24.5 million in its canning plant in east Belfast to double its capacity. They can 72,000 cans of Guinness and other drinks an hour.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak holds a Q&A session with business leaders during a visit to Coca-Cola HBC in Lisburn last February
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak held a Q&A session with business leaders during a visit to Coca-Cola HBC in Lisburn last February (Liam McBurney/PA)

Where does the DUP think the Guinness comes from? Why Dublin of course, in hundreds of lorries a month, and then the cans go back to Dublin of course (where else?) for export to the EU and the world.

From January to June 2022 the north exported 106,452 lambs to the south, an increase of 30% on 2021. Why? Because they can go on to the EU. Then there’s pork, and beef and dairy products. The north produces too much milk to consume, so where does it go? South of course for yogurt and cheese and back north for packaging.

The Economic & Social Research Institute (ESRI) reported last July that 53% of the north’s exports went south while 35% of the north’s imports came from the south. And so on and so on. Why was this rapid expansion? To take advantage of EU/UK access: simple. Yet the British government bought the DUP lie that there’s no all-island economy and perpetuated that lie in their disgracefully partisan command paper.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris with the Safeguarding the Union command paper
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris present the 'Safeguarding the Union' command paper during a joint press conference at Hillsborough Castle (Niall Carson/PA)

However, in the characteristically deceitful manner of this rotten, corrupt, lying government, they have done nothing to damage the all-island economy and the businesses that benefit from it. They just deny in the face of all evidence to the contrary that it exists, thereby demonstrating that this government is the lineal descendant of the dishonest Leave campaign.

On the other hand, with the British having satisfied some of the DUP with the torrent of anti-Irish invective, the new executive has a Sinn Féin economy minister in the person of Conor Murphy who will do all in his power to enhance and develop the all-island economy. A start would be working with Tourism Ireland to extend the Wild Atlantic Way east to Fair Head for the benefit of hotels, bars, restaurants, boarding houses, the Giants Causeway etc. With a minister actively promoting dual EU/UK access, the revamped Invest NI, after it collapsed in shambles in 2021, will be able to attract Foreign Direct Investment here.

Businesses like certainty. They can easily go elsewhere. The DUP can try to pull the Stormont Brake. The bad news, lads, is that it’s unworkable. So what will you do then?

What is a matter of concern is that the DUP will continue in its dismal internal conflict to try to frustrate the maximum benefits available to businesses here because we’re still in the single market, by trying to prove we’re not in the single market. Exasperating isn’t it?

Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O’Neill and MLA Conor Murphy leave Stormont Castle
Conor Murphy, pictured with Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O’Neill, will be able to enhance and develop the all-island economy as economy minister (Brian Lawless/PA)

Businesses, investors, like certainty. They can easily go elsewhere. The DUP can try to pull the Stormont Brake. The bad news, lads, is that it’s unworkable. So what will you do then?

Perhaps best refer to the joint statement issued by David Cameron and Maros Sefcovic the same day as the deceitful command paper in which they “reflected their shared commitment to the full implementation of the Windsor Framework”.