In Friday’s News Letter, it was erroneously claimed that the Democratic Unionist Party “did agree a regulatory Irish Sea border in early October 2019”. (‘DUP will have to decide its approach to the Irish Sea border,’ Morning View, March 26, see link below)
This statement sadly serves only to sow the seeds of division in the campaign within unionism to oppose the Northern Ireland through concerted legal and political action.
It has no basis in fact and I welcome the opportunity to set the record straight.
In October 2019, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined the terms of his Brexit offer to the EU. His proposals, if honoured, would have ensured that Northern Ireland was out of the EU customs union and the single market as with the rest of the United Kingdom.
Critically, they also would have required democratic consent for any specific alignment between Northern Ireland and the EU — and therefore any regulatory divergence with Great Britain — both before they entered force and thereafter on an ongoing basis.
The starting point for a deal on these terms would have been the continued integrity of the United Kingdom economically and constitutionally with Stormont having to opt in to any changes.
This would have respected the spirit and content of the Belfast and St Andrew’s Agreements and crucially it would have given unionists a lock against the imposition of a regulatory border.
It a matter of regret that the prime minister did not stick to his guns and insist on these safeguards in his final deal. As a result the DUP voted against it in the House of Commons.
Given that legal action is now under way to challenge the protocol specifically on the grounds that an opportunity for binding consent was denied to the Northern Ireland Assembly, it is bizarre that the DUP’s support for those fundamental checks and balances back in October 2019 is now crudely misinterpreted as having provided almost unconditional support for a border in the Irish Sea.
This rewriting of recent history to wrongly apportion blame within the unionist family for an outcome which no unionist party voted for simply stands to embolden parties in Brussels, London, Dublin and Belfast who imposed these oppressive and undemocratic arrangements.
If we are serious about undoing this damage and restoring Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom internal market, it’s time for the blame culture to end. Now more than ever there is a need for unionism to come together and show the collective and strategic leadership that is required to secure a meaningful and permanent solution to the protocol.
That has been my priority and it will be the guiding aim of the Democratic Unionist Party in the days ahead.
Lord Dodds, Deputy Leader, Democratic Unionist Party
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