There was an ominous signal on attitudes to the backstop recently.
The Tory MEP Daniel Hannan in the Sunday Telegraph listed the negotiating failures in Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement (WA). He welcomed the fact Boris Johnson would sweep the concessions away.
But he never explicitly mentioned the separate treatment of Northern Ireland.
Mr Hannan, a key brain behind Brexit, condemned the backstop as soon as it was agreed in 2017. He later said it “ceded part of [UK] territory to foreign jurisdiction”.
Yet in March, before the third vote on Mrs May’s WA and backstop, and amid reports that the DUP might back it in return for yet more money for Northern Ireland, Mr Hannan wrote: “Ulster will have its economy largely regulated from Brussels, where it will have no representation – though, naturally, Dublin is offering it vicarious representation. Could any Ulster Unionist accept such a settlement? Don’t underestimate the canny, materialistic aspect of unionism ... would the DUP, of all parties, put such calculations above the Union?”
In media discussions of the backstop in NI, opponents are almost always in a minority and are grilled on the widespread support for the backstop. This can almost be justified by the fact most business leaders support the backstop (the UFU has faced barely any criticism over its support, which has played a key role in the bias — their backing is cited by republicans, Dublin, europhiles, and the media).
Owen Polley, who is one of the only commentators who has consistently pointed out the dangers of the backstop, wrote here yesterday about the failure of unionists to speak up far more loudly about something that will place a major wedge between NI and the rest of the UK (see link below).
The DUP is softer on the backstop than Mr Johnson, with some of its MPs satisfied by a time limit.
Has the Tory elite picked up on the muted resistance to potentially major constitutional change in NI, and decided it might as well aim for an NI-only backstop, and thus a guaranteed border in the Irish Sea?
• Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor