The Union could be lost because of the English growing tired of Scottish nationalists’ constant calls for a referendum and wishing them good riddance, Baroness Arlene Foster has warned.
The former first minister of Northern Ireland – who is chairing a new organisation to fight for the Union – said that people in all four nations of the UK had to be reminded of its value.
Speaking to The Telegraph, she said: “What worries me sometimes… [is people] saying that ‘if Scotland wants to go, let them go’.
“It’s not just Scotland that will lose out if they go. The rest of us will all lose out as well… we need to have a wider conversation about that, particularly in England.”
Nicola Sturgeon’s bid to hold a second Scottish independence referendum was dealt a blow when the Supreme Court ruled that she did not have the legal power to call one.
However, Scotland’s First Minister has vowed to press on with her campaign for independence, saying that the SNP will seek to treat the next general election as a de facto referendum.
Baroness Foster acknowledged that the “never-ending” campaign could pose a threat to the Union if people in other parts of the UK tire of defending it.
“I can understand the frustration because it seems to be a never-ending conversation around separatism,” she said. “But at the same time we have to understand that if Scotland or Northern Ireland left the Union it would make the UK a far lesser place.
“‘If people don’t want to be part of the UK, then why are we keeping them in the UK?’ I’ve heard some people saying that, rather than fighting for the UK and saying ‘well here’s the reasons why we want you to stay’.”
Sunak abandons Boris’s ‘Project Love’
While Baroness Foster is urging Unionists to “talk about why the UK is valuable to everybody”, Rishi Sunak appears to be pursuing a different strategy.
The Telegraph can reveal that he has abandoned Boris Johnson’s “Project Love”, which was designed to make a positive case for the Union to persuade voters in all four nations to support it.
The charm offensive on Scottish and Welsh nationalists has been ditched in favour of Mr Sunak’s wider “show-not-tell” strategy.
The new plan involves scaling back rhetoric on the Union and focusing on the Government’s work in each of the four nations, in the hope voters will recognise Westminster has a positive impact on their lives.
While Mr Sunak retains the “minister for the Union” title invented by Mr Johnson in 2019, sources said he has made clear to the Cabinet that they are all expected to fulfil that role.
The former prime minister’s Downing Street “Union unit” was scrapped last year, and responsibility for the devolved nations is now split between departments.
Labour will meanwhile hold an event in Yorkshire tomorrow in which the party will unveil its own proposals for saving the Union, which have been drawn up by Gordon Brown.
The review is expected to recommend replacing the House of Lords with an upper house of nations and regions, while also handing new powers to local regions and the devolved administrations.
Campaigning for the Union
Last month, Baroness Foster held a London launch event for Together UK Foundation: a new body set up to campaign for the Union.
It will aim to challenge a “growing narrative that separatism, whether it’s in Northern Ireland or in Scotland, is inevitable”.
“I think people take the benefits of being in the UK for granted,” she said. “Each generation has to renew the idea and explain why it’s important.
“We’ll have the conversations right across the UK, including importantly in England, because we have to have those conversations as to why the UK is important for all the parts of the UK, not just the parts that there are separatists in.”
As well as making the case at home, she said that Unionists had to get better at lobbying Britain’s international allies.
The deputy ambassador of Israel and the deputy high commissioner of India both attended Together UK Foundation’s launch, with Baroness Foster also planning a trip to the US in 2023.
“I do think engagement is vitally important and something that Unionism isn’t particularly known for… engagement not only in the UK, but in places like India, like [the US],” she said. “You know how strong the Irish nationalist engagement is in [the US].”
Unionist lobbying should aim to remind the US “and our other international partners of the importance of the UK staying together”, she said, “not least from a Nato point of view, from a defence point of view, from a security point of view”.
She added: “I understand the emotionalism that gets wrapped up in Irish nationalism in [the US]. There’s a huge American-Irish vote there, particularly with the current incumbent in the White House.
“But it is I think important to remind people about the practical outworkings of breaking up the UK.”