No deal with the EU might indeed be looming

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial
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It has been reported by informed journalists, as recently as last week, that the prime minister has in effect agreed to keep Northern Ireland in the EU single market, or close to in it.

It has also been reported that the government has had to retreat from its plan to keep the whole UK in the customs union, in a bid to avoid a customs border in the Irish Sea.

If both these things happened, to facilitate last December’s backstop, it would mean that London had in effect agreed that Northern Ireland could never leave the EU customs or regulatory zones.

Keeping the whole UK in the customs union forever would not be accepted by the British people, and so there was latterly talk of a NI-specific backstop, that would be permanent.

Thus the reports all point to the same conclusion: that the government is accepting the Irish-EU interpretation of the backstop as meaning that the Province never diverges from the Republic.

This would be a disastrous outcome for unionism. It would be much worse than if Brexit had never happened, because it would mean not only that NI did not experience Brexit but that it had suffered major constitutional change.

The DUP could not continue to support the Tories in those circumstances, regardless if it meant a general election and a possible Jeremy Corbyn government (which would also be a disaster for unionism).

The prospects do not look good, except in one respect.

There now seems to be a major backlash within the Tory party against the backstop. Theresa May was expected today to move forward on the backstop after her cabinet meeting, but is now talking of a “review mechanism” to escape it.

This might just be a way of giving the EU what it wants, but disguising that process. Let us hope not.

The tweet exchange between Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, below, one of the most cautious and polite DUP MPs, and Simon Coveney does indeed suggest that no deal might be looming.