DUP now needs a fresh pledge from London on border

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

In all the back and forth negotiations over the Irish border, it seems that the best unionists can expect is that there is no major concession by London.

This alarming state of affairs first became apparent in early December, when the government — despite being dependent on DUP support for its survival — almost made a commitment that would have delighted Dublin over the border, and done irreparable damage to the Union.

Then, after the DUP protested, the EU and UK came up with a revised form of words that also gave assurances that there would be no border in the Irish Sea.

The EU tried to formalise the matter in legal text that would have meant, as a so-called ‘backstop’ if other options could not be agreed, Northern Ireland staying in the customs union and single market.

Yesterday the EU and UK agreed on a transition deal without tying down the matter of the border. The fudge persists.

But what is unsettling about all this is the way that Dublin has been almost entirely intransigent on its insistence that having no ‘hard border’ does not merely mean no intrusive checks, it actually means being within the same regulatory framework, while London has not been similarly intransigent on the border in its own territory at the Irish Sea (even though latterly Theresa May said the UK could never accept such).

The overall UK approach to the matter gives the impression that the issue is less than a British red line, and Dublin and Brussels seem very aware of that chink of uncertainty.

Michel Barnier is seeming to make clear that in the ultimate deal the backstop of NI staying in the customs union and single market will still apply.

This is such a serious matter that it must be made clear to Downing Street that the DUP will withdraw support for the Tories if there are any further assurances in favour of Dublin-EU.

In the meantime the party needs to secure a formal pledge from the government until an EU deal or without one, that there is no question of any internal UK border.