London denies it has a softer line on the Northern Ireland Protocol but its new tone is concerning

News Letter editorial of Monday December 13 2021:

By Editorial
Monday, 13th December 2021, 9:31 am
Updated Monday, 13th December 2021, 11:17 am
News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

As recently as the beginning of last month, it was a common expectation in political circles that the UK would trigger Article 16 to suspend the operation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Lord Frost, the Brexit negotiator, had in a number of forums articulated the completely unacceptable nature of the new arrangements.

While the government continued to pay lip service to the protocol, it was in effect demanding a re-write of it. This, and what for a while was the unified unionist opposition to the Irish Sea border, led to a more flexible approach from the EU.

It has now agreed to a much lighter touch implementation of the protocol than it was demanding just months ago, when it was demanding full implementation of the 2019 deal.

For some reason, however, there has been a clear change of tone from London, with indications from more than one minister that Art 16 will not be implemented — or if so not imminently. There is much more talk of an agreement.

As the loyalist Moore Holmes observed in early December of comments by Lord Frost on the matter, there was no mention of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in adjudicating on the protocol, about which he had been so outspoken. Has London concluded that, with the remarks of John Kyle, and the mis-reporting of a recent University of Liverpool survey, that unionists lack resolve against the Irish Sea border? (the survey found what seemed to be cross community support for the protocol but also found even greater cross community support for unfettered internal UK trade – something the protocol makes impossible).

At the weekend a well connected Irish Times journalist Denis Staunton quoted an official saying the UK was dropping its opposition to ECJ. The report implied Britain was in effect ditching its opposition to legal change to the protocol but merely to its outworking. We put this to Downing Street, who deny it (see link below). But there is reason to be alarmed by the soft tone.

The DUP is right to confirm its Stormont plan over the protocol betrayal.

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