A crucial intervention against the backstop from Lord Bew

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

One of the most powerful arguments to be assembled against the backstop is reproduced on the opposite page (and in a slightly longer format on our website, www.newsletter.co.uk/news/opinion ).

It was written by Lord Bew for the influential right-of-centre Westminster think tank, Policy Exchange.

Professor Bew’s case against the backstop is devastating, highlighting the hypocrisy of an Irish government that has, in unison with the European Union, insisted that the backstop is needed to protect the Belfast Agreement.

But, as he details in his paper, it does the opposite.

This intervention is of huge significance, just before MPs vote again on variations of the Withdrawal Agreement. Lord Bew was an advisor to David Trimble in the 1990s and a key voice in favour of the 1998 peace agreement, and has had a distinguished record at Westminster, helping oversee parliamentary standards, all the while a professor of Irish history at Queen’s University.

Most significant of all, however, is the fact that Lord Bew is a moderate unionist, yet has felt moved to speak with force about Britain’s failure to insist that Ireland stand by its treaty obligations, past and present.

It is, as Lord Bew implies, intolerable that under the Withdrawal Agreement key areas of North-South co-operation entirely under the operation of a new EU-led regime.

This assessment of the backstop illustrates why the DUP is right to hold fire on divulging how it will vote in tonight’s divisions. Graham Brady MP is trying to find a way round the backstop, which is welcome, but there needs to be close examination of whether the mere introduction of a backstop, even if time limited, establishes a baseline for treatment of Northern Ireland from which it will be hard ever to emerge.

Lord Bew’s paper is a crucial contribution to the Brexit debate, but it has highlighted a wider failure in so-called ‘civic unionism’ to speak up forcefully against the backstop until far too late in the Brexit process.