Rishi Sunak has suggested that a surprise Brexit dividend is coming to a part of the UK, leading to speculation that he is planning to open a new naval base.
After his latest EU deal, the PM believes he has sorted out one of the most complicated questions in British politics and now the benefits could include a larger military footprint – which could prove a huge Brexit victory as well as a welcome boost to the British Navy.
The Prime Minister’s deal with the EU and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to reopen Stormont has been criticised in many quarters for potentially undermining Brexit, but DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson believes it has secured the province’s place in the UK.
At Prime Minister’s questions this week he thanked Mr Sunak for his work and reminded him that he had promised to inccrease Northern Ireland’s military footprint. This has led to speculation that the naval base in Londonderry could be reopened as part of a bid to strengthen the Union.
During exchanges between Sir Jeffrey and Mr Sunak in PMQs, the Prime Minister noted that he had read a Policy Exchange report entitled Closing the Back Door which called for Northern Ireland to be reintegrated into the UK’s “national defence system”.
It specifically recommended the use of Londonderry as a strategic location for American and British airfields and naval assets during the Second World War.
Military spending in Northern Ireland has been reduced because of the Troubles and deescalation since the Good Friday Agreement.
After PMQs, Donaldson noted: “Whilst average MOD spending per head of the population across the UK is £340, in Northern Ireland it is only £60.
“There is significant untapped potential in Northern Ireland and the industrial base exists for this to be realised. We already have the companies and the expertise within the workforce.
“Levelling up in this area can deliver a significant economic benefit, but also see a better geographic spread of our defence contracts across the United Kingdom.”
The news comes as Colonel Tim Collins has written a detailed piece for former Northern Ireland First Minister Baroness Arlene Foster’s Together UK thinktank arguing that increased spending for the province is essential to keep the Union together.
Collins, who plans to stand for Parliament in Northern Ireland for the Ulster Unionist Party, gave a detailed history of Northern Ireland’s vital role in the UK’s defence capailities including how the bases at Londonderry were “secretly” agreed by the US administration nine months before they entered the war after the Pearl Harbour bombng.
He said: “At the height of the Battle of the Atlantic 139 naval escorts had their home base either in the city, or at Lisahally, where the Admiralty had built a new jetty. Some of the most famous U-boat hunters of the war were based at Londonderry.”
He noted: “On May 14, 1945, what he later described as his “greatest fear”, one hundred and sixteen of the one hundred and fifty-seven surviving German U boats were gathered at Lisahally in County Londonderry for surrender.”
And he added: “Working closely with bases in Scotland, Liverpool and Larne and supported by the RAF, RCAF and USAAF aircraft from bases in Northern Ireland and flying over the ‘Donegal corridor’ the spear tip of resistance against the U boat menace was Londonderry.”
Collins argued that Northern ireland’s contribution to industry and defence “should not be forgotten” and should continue to play a significant role going forward.