Last night’s BBC Panorama was a reminder of how serious the Irish border puzzle is.
The prime minister was interviewed, and said that Brexit had to deliver for the people of Northern Ireland. “They don’t want a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland,” Theresa May said.
The only way to achieve that, Mrs May added, and not to carve up the United Kingdom is the Chequers plan.
There are two problems with that response.
The first is that Michel Barnier has reportedly declared the Chequers plan dead. The second is that it is, as the Tory MP Jacob Rees Mogg said in the same documentary, “simply not true” to say Chequers is the only solution.
He was talking about checks away from the land border but even that concedes there should be no check there. Almost no-one wants permanent checks, but that is quite different from committing legally to no checks in perpetuity.
The land border is, for sure, a big challenge. But the UK rushed into a pledge on it last December.
Boris Johnson yesterday demolished that ‘backstop’ in the Daily Telegraph, when he said of Brussels’ interpretation of the backstop: “For Ulster Unionists of any description, for the Tory party, for anyone who cares about the Union between Britain and Northern Ireland, it is a monstrosity.”
Mr Johnson was an unconventional minister whose conduct at times seemed ill suited to the constraints of government but few people doubt his ability: yesterday’s essay displayed his talents. He said: “We need to challenge the assumptions of both [interpretations of] these Irish backstops.”
How right Mr Johnson is. Whether we have a hard Brexit, a soft one or none at all, there must be no fundamental breach in NI’s place in the UK via a weak response to what Mr Johnson describes as the EU “attempt to annex Northern Ireland”. The EU was yesterday said to be more flexible on wording and digital solutions, but it still seeks a frontier to the Irish Sea.
The Province faces a crisis, and Mr Johnson and Mr Rees Mogg are among those willing to battle on our behalf.