Editorial: It is refreshing to hear the Ulster Farmers' Union talk about the problems with the Irish Sea border

News Letter editorial on Thursday November 23 2023:
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Prior to Boris Johnson’s 2019 election, border, trade and customs experts tried to ensure a seamless Irish land border.

In the long stalemate from 2017, these global experts worked on alternative arrangements so the actual regulatory/tariff border could be placed at the existing international frontier. Nationalist Ireland would not accept that – even if no checks.

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But since Boris Johnson capitulated to demands to move the border to the Irish Sea, there seem to be fewer global experts trying to make that internal UK barrier seamless. Dublin and EU double standards meant they would not accept trade law changes at the land border, however open, then – when they got the border moved to sea – the EU would not let that border be seamless.

From 2017 business representative groups voiced support for the various iterations of the backstop, then for the first iteration of Boris Johnson’s Irish Sea border (which the DUP itself backed), then for the fuller NI Protocol border. When London and Dublin wanted to say the various internal UK plans were harmless, they cited near business unanimity, including the Ulster Farmers’ Union. Now mostly they cite only minor concerns about the Windsor Framework. Yet they are not shy to scold the parties (ie DUP) back to Stormont. So they are determined to see devolution, for all its economic mismanagement, but won’t emphasise NI’s most vital trade: internal UK.

Alexander Kinnear, UFU parliamentary officer, yesterday told the House of Lords committee on the Windsor Framework of the bad impact of regulatory divergence on agriculture. He said: “All business groups in Northern Ireland make a concerted effort to keep these things out of the public eye and be diplomatic but that doesn’t appear to be getting us very far."

How right Mr Kinnear is to say that, and also: “The first part of any problem is acknowledging it’s a problem.”