When the Brexit votes have been and gone, the “Irish question” will remain. So stop talking about Sinn Féin taking their seats—and start asking why so many Northern Irish voters have lost faith in Westminsterby Siobhán Fenton / March 2, 2018 / Leave a comment
As the UK’s exit from the EU looms ever closer, some Remainers are turning to an unlikely saviour to come to Britain’s rescue. An increasing number of British political commentators have taken to imploring Sinn Féin to end their century-old abstentionist policy and take their seats in Westminster.
The Irish Republican party stand for election in Northern Ireland but refuse to sit in the London parliament as a symbolic rejection of British authority over the region. The party currently has 6 MPs (likely to increase to 7 following an imminent by-election in the West Tyrone constituency, which Sinn Féin are expected to win).
Writing in the Guardian, Polly Toynbee yesterday implored them “Come to parliament, Sinn Féin, as saviours of Britain and Ireland”. She argued: “If only they could mutter the loyal oath (they could always rescind it later) they would arrive in parliament as a cavalry of saviours of Ireland—and incidentally Britain.”
“As a counterweight to the Democratic Unionist party votes, they could ensure a soft enough Brexit with customs union and single market to keep the border open. They need only appear for the few crucial votes that would stop the Brexiters wrecking Irish prospects—then they can retreat again as noble deliverers of their nation.”
As the UK’s EU withdrawal date grows closer, such calls are likely to continue. But they are sadly misguided—and fail to understand both the practicalities and the wider theoretical nuances of Sinn Féin’s abstentionist stance.