In a belated but welcome development, unionism has swung entirely against the Irish Sea border betrayal

News Letter editorial of Monday February 22 2021:

Monday, 22nd February 2021, 9:00 am
Updated Monday, 22nd February 2021, 1:17 pm
News Letter editorial

It is only fair to note that a range of unionist Brexiteers or pro unionist Brexiteers have flirted with some element of Irish Sea border at varying stages from 2017.

In December of that year an Irish Sea border was set in motion when Theresa May unveiled her backstop. The then prime minister’s plan went through various revisions, including a Stormont lock agreed with the EU that Mrs May then never tried to implement.

She thought she had DUP support when she embarked on the backstop course but it swiftly emerged that most key figures in the party would not accept such a plan.

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The backstop is often said to have been better for unionists than Boris Johnson’s betrayal, and in some respects it was because it was UK-wide. But it set the scene for his disaster because it enshrined the idea that the land border could never change. It also set up a future Irish Sea tariff border if Great Britain left the customs union (which Northern Ireland could not).

At times various unionists including Lord Trimble seemed to accept assurances on the backstop from figures such as the then attorney general Geoffrey Cox. The DUP then in October 2019 (under great pressure) accepted a regulatory Irish Sea border, albeit subject to Stormont pre approval. When Boris Johnson went further later that month, the party opposed his Brexit deal (the basis of the current scandal).

Not all pro unionist voices did at first see the scale of the betrayal, perhaps blinded by the belief the PM was a unionist.

It is worth recapping on this history because it partly explains how Mr Johnson thought he could get away with an NI Protocol. Also because it underlines the significance of the way the entirety of unionism has (belatedly) swung against.

Lord Trimble wrote a fine article in The Irish Times at the weekend on how the protocol destroys the consent principle.

Ben Habib, the ex MEP, like Jim Allister QC, was unwavering in his support for NI. Their welcome legal challenge is being taken with that close friend of unionism, Baroness Hoey. The UUP and DUP are backing it too. This is excellent news.

Talk of best of both worlds is gone. The protocol has no unionist support, is a constitutional travesty and it must go.

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Alistair Bushe

Editor