Editorial: The barrier to trade with the rest of the UK is now bigger than it has ever been

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Morning View
​It was the start of the Windsor Framework yesterday and the start of the Conservative Party conference.

There was a symmetry to that because the Tories brought in the framework.

As the government says, the framework – agreed between the prime minister Rishi Sunak and the European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in February – was an improvement on the protocol. But at the same time it is misleading to say that because it was an improvement on the protocol as fully implemented, which it never was.

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Do not forget the various political parties from Alliance to Sinn Fein delighted Simon Coveney, the Irish minister, and others when they called for the protocol to be rigorously implemented before everyone came to realise that such full implementation would have been disastrous. Even the EU shied from such a demand.

The framework, thus, for all its alleviations on the legal (but not enforced) protocol now brings in the most restrictive trade barrier there has ever been between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Apologists for such a border say that there have always been checks between NI and great Britain but this is overstates what were always minor differences. In fact, while all island co-operation on health and livestock matters of course makes sense, it is arguable that the late Dr Ian Paisley’s famous comment on ‘our cows are Irish’ amid a foot and mouth outbreak was naive, and helped open the door to a greater Irish Sea barrier, that has in turn been used to imply that the protocol, then framework, were all harmless.

If the DUP had returned to Stormont the moment the framework was signed, they might be looking like dupes. The change of tone from Chris Heaton-Harris, about listening to concerns rather than scolding unionists, is welcome. It is important now to study how this new barrier plays out in practice.