A major report on the Irish border was brought to Belfast yesterday to be discussed by its authors.
The Alternative Commission for the Irish border is looking at different possible solutions than the backstop to the land frontier after Brexit.
It is not, as the authors made clear, a purist eurosceptic outfit. Indeed, two of its key figures are Nicky Morgan MP and Greg Hands MP, Tories who were Remain in the referendum.
But as Mr Hands outlined at the University of Ulster yesterday, they are determined to avoid ‘no deal,’ which will be the worst of all outcomes for both sides of the border.
It could be said that even unionists have contributed to the situation in which we find ourselves. A number of influential unionists, in a gesture of goodwill, emphasised their opposition to any change at the land border, which gave succour to the nationalist argument that it was the paramount concern when unionists should have been making clear that under no circumstances would there be an internal UK border.
Meanwhile, nationalists and the Irish government were marshalling their arguments and their influence effectively, and got the EU on side, so that Theresa May, in perhaps the biggest single mistake of her premiership, agreed that the solution was Northern Ireland being in regulatory and customs alignment with Brussels. This was a commitment that had massive and still unknowable implications for the Province’s place in the UK, and guarantees some border in the Irish Sea.
Foolishly, London ruled out even CCTV at the border.
Abandoning or even time limiting this disastrous backstop would ensure that the Withdrawal Agreement passed.
So the commission is right to look for alternatives and it has assembled a panel of experts to try to do so.
A major problem is that Dublin will not accept alternatives. Its opposition is to the fact of divergence at the border, not to the nature of the checks. This means a coming crunch, that could yet be resolved to the satisfaction of the Irish.
The commission is to be commended on its work.