A step in right direction on Northern Ireland Protocol but much more is needed

News Letter editorial of Thursday July 22 2021:

Thursday, 22nd July 2021, 7:48 am
Updated Thursday, 22nd July 2021, 7:50 am
News Letter editorial

The first half of this year can be divided into two contrasting quarters.

In the initial three months of the year, the UK government was saying that there was no Irish Sea border. It was promoting the supposed benefits of the Northern Ireland Protocol It was reassuring Brussels of its commitment to the new arrangements.

After Easter, however, London has become increasingly hostile to the protocol that it agreed.

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This is simultaneously reassuring and disturbing.

It is reassuring that the prime minister and his senior team realise the immense gravity of what he conceded with regard to part of his territory in October 2019.

It is disturbing because by the government’s own assessment, the protocol does disastrous damage to the Union.

Not only has a judge agreed with government lawyers what Boris Johnson denies, that the Act of Union has been partially repealed (insofar as it relates to unfettered internal trade, the right to which is an elementary part of being a nation state), but it has managed to conjure up something that barely existed outside agriculture — a major flow of cross-border trade.

Such symptoms are only the beginnings to this. If the UK and EU continue to diverge, NI will stay legally on the EU side.

Thus modifications and grace periods merely disguise the underlying constitutional implications of the sea barrier.

While the new, tougher UK approach is welcome, fleshed out in yesterday’s command paper, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is right to characterise it as a “significant step in the right direction”. Amid perhaps the biggest treat to the Union since 1921 it is appropriate movement, but that must go far further.

Was the EU’s critical but muted reaction to the UK statement yesterday a quiet sigh of relief? That it thinks this is an opening gambit, but the UK will not even activate the temporary measure of Article 16, let alone take lasting measures?

Let us hope not. Let us hope that London, having been spurned by the EU, will move on to Article 16 as its next step.

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