EU knows the border is weak point for UK and is upping the ante

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

If a draft legal text from European Union out today is as it is reported to be, then a fresh political crisis is looming over the border.

According to RTE, the European Commission plan includes a scenario in which Northern Ireland in effect stays in the customs union and single market.

This would then necessitate a border in the Irish Sea. It would be the biggest move towards a united Ireland since 1921.

The EU is taking this approach for two reasons: it knows that the UK government is fragile and keen to strike a deal with the remaining 27 states.

It also knows that the Republic of Ireland is furious about Brexit and will side with the EU regardless.

This is a very dangerous approach. It is the EU and supporters of Remain who are most vocal about the supposed threat to the Belfast Agreement posed by Brexit. Yet that deal’s most fundamental aspect was the principle of consent.

Unionists have good reason to be alarmed. The initial text that the government agreed on the border in December was a significant capitulation to Dublin.

The revised text, after the DUP halted that first text, was a fudge but arguably gave greater reassurance to Dublin than to unionists by in effect saying that a border in the Irish Sea was possible if the assembly wanted one (which it perhaps already does).

The text that emerges today, and London’s reaction to it, will be of critical importance to Northern Ireland.

It is significant, and welcome, therefore that Boris Johnson is talking about electronic checks on the Irish border.

The government and indeed unionists were too quick to say that there should be no physical infrastructure at the border. Why, for example, not CCTV? Dissidents will target cameras, but we are all agreed that they have no mandate, are we not?

If the UK does not leave the customs union it cannot strike its own trade, which casts doubt on the point of Brexit. If NI stays in the customs union alone, that means an Irish Sea border.

Dublin and the EU are upping the ante, no doubt to the delight of Sinn Fein.