DUP need to be wary of PM adopting the NI only backstop

Letter to the editor
Letter to the editor
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Boris Johnson is again saying scathing things about the Irish border backstop.

He told MPs yesterday, in his first appearance in the House of Commons as prime minister, that Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement, including the backstop, was “unacceptable”.

Mr Johnson said: “No country that values its independence, and, indeed, its self respect, could agree to a treaty which signed away our economic independence and self government as this backstop does.”

It is very pleasing that he is talking in this way, now that he is actually in Downing Street.

The EU Brexit chief negotiation Michel Barnier reacted badly to the prime minister’s rhetoric, calling his demand for a renegotiation “unacceptable”.

The problem that any unionist might have on hearing Mr Johnson is that he denounced the Withdrawal Agreement in even stronger terms at the DUP conference last November.

He then went on to vote for the deal.

So which is it? Is the backstop entirely unacceptable, and something that must be scrapped, and not merely modified?

Or is it something that MPs should vote for, as Mr Johnson did.

The danger in all this is that Mr Johnson is beginning to think again in terms of a Northern Ireland-backstop.

That he thinks that the Withdawal Agreement, and its attempts to keep the entirety of the UK in close customs alignment with the EU, is unacceptable for Great Britain, but acceptable for Northern Ireland.

The response of the DUP on this point is crucial.

Some of its MPs have said that a backstop with a time limit is OK. Jacob Rees Mogg, who also came to vote for the backstop, said that he would not be more unionist than the DUP.

If leading Tories think that a modified backstop is acceptable to unionists, then it is hardly surprising if they begin to countenance a Northern Ireland version of it.