Critical time for unionists amid talk of regulatory border

Morning View
Morning View

In Dublin yesterday, a new publication by the former Irish ambassador Ray Bassett was launched in which he examined the Irish border question.

Mr Bassett, who was Ireland’s lead diplomat in Canada, has been an almost lone voice in the Republic of Ireland establishment in urging Dublin to take a more pragmatic line on Brexit. He has been much vilified for his stance.

Mr Bassett thinks that by alienating London and taking a hard line on the border, the Republic is failing to take heed of its special relationship with the UK. He wants Ireland to work with Britain to get a soft border, including use of technology.

While Mr Bassett has been making this point for more than a year, it is more timely than ever.

The UK remains on the brink of no deal with the EU, although there is much talk of a new understanding on the border.

It seems that the EU is making headway in its effort to move the border to the Irish Sea.

The European Council president Donald Tusk yesterday said that on “issues such as the Irish question or the framework for economic co-operation the UK’s proposals will need to be reworked and further negotiated”.

It has been reported that London is receptive to an “improved” version of the so-called border backstop from EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier. He is now talking about technical checks on goods away from the Irish Sea.

This is contemptible, first because he still wants to Northern Ireland to follow EU regulations, which would be a partial annex of the Province, and second because he has ruled out checks away from the land border as a way of resolving any regulatory border at the land frontier.

He is open to technical solutions if there is a regulatory border in the Irish Sea but not if there is a regulatory land border.

This is a critical time for unionism and Northern Ireland. London has firmly ruled out a customs border in the Irish Sea but if it accepts a regulatory one it will arguably the biggest victory for Dublin and Irish republicans since 1921.