Last night the UK and EU again made clear that the Irish Sea border is here to stay

News Letter editorial of February 12 2021:

Friday, 12th February 2021, 9:03 am
Updated Friday, 12th February 2021, 11:58 am
News Letter editorial

The meeting between Michael Gove and Maros Sefcovich of the European Commission only broke up late last night before this newspaper went to print.

The Cabinet Office minister Mr Gove and the European Commission’s vice president Mr Sefcovic emerged from talks in London to reiterate their “full commitment” to the Good Friday Agreement.

They said that they had a “frank but constructive discussion” in which they reiterated their commitment to implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

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It will become clearer today what exactly this means.

But the outline of the UK-EU intentions are clear, and have been for months: that the Irish Sea border is here to stay, and will soon be entrenched.

This has been obvious since the Brexit deal of December, which arrived as predicted by most sober pundits, despite months of breathless predictions of no deal. That notion that the UK would walk away had been pushed by Boris Johnson, who in fact was in a very weak position. And in any event he had conceded the Irish Sea border the year before.

It is a grim situation for unionists. As Peter Robinson writes opposite, there are no easy options.

While there is now a political consensus in most of Britain and Ireland that there should be extensions of the grace period, that if granted would only delay the full arrival of the fundamental constitutional problem — a point that is also made by the former DUP leader.

The options for unionists were always narrow, but the way the new border has unfolded so that everyone can grasp its disastrous implications, mean that trying to be upbeat about any opportunities from the NI Protocol can’t be among those options.

The political campaign to get a mandate for Stormont’s removal of the protocol in 2024 will have to begin. But that still means the new NI-GB wedge will be able to bed in.

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Alistair Bushe