Scraps of hope in Tory NI manifesto but Boris deal disaster is intact

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial
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The NI Conservatives’ manifesto was launched yesterday, offering scraps of hope for unionists.

But only scraps, given the scale of Boris Johnson’s betrayal of unionists. He came to Northern Ireland last year and was scathing about Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement, then voted for it in March. Worse, the prime minister made fresh pledges to the Union ahead of being elected Tory leader, then endorsed a regulatory border in the Irish Sea at the end of the Tory conference.

While it is understandable that the DUP, under huge pressure, conceded that border, in the belief that the prime minister would stand firm on a Stormont lock and customs, it was in retrospect a major error. It paved the way for the PM’s full betrayal later in October in his meeting with Leo Varadkar. No wonder the Taoiseach could not suppress a grin that day.

Both Julian Smith, secretary of state, and James Cleverly, Tory chair, yesterday like their party leader said there would be no admin burden on internal UK trade, including from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. This is not what Steve Barclay or trade experts said. We report Prof Alan Winters’ view that there will be forms to fill and, on some movements, tariffs.

So yesterday did nothing to disprove the sense that Mr Johnson is unprincipled and untrustworthy. Now the spotlight is on the DUP to make clear that if it holds the balance of power it will not support any of this for money or assurances, but only for the deal to be reopened (which is highly unlikely).

The manifesto on legacy is an improvement on past pledges to implement the Stormont House Agreement, but refers to “broad support” for the legacy bodies and “some concerns” (the NIO summary of the legacy consultation gave that impression too). In fact the concerns are massive.

It is welcome that the manifesto refers to Dublin’s roles in talks being “in full accordance” with the three-stranded approach. Here too the onus is on unionists. The DUP and UUP should pledge jointly not to meekly acquiesce in any meeting that is not in accordance with the strands by attending them.