A successful visit to Northern Ireland by the chancellor
The visit of the chancellor of the exchequer to Northern Ireland was notable for a few reasons.
First of all, it is always welcome when a politician of that influence and stature visits the Province.
In February there was an suggestion that Theresa May was somehow unwelcome or had jumped the gun by flying to Belfast at the time of the expected Stormont deal. This was insulting: prime ministers are extremely busy and are honoured guests in the Province.
Visits by chancellors are even rarer. They too are exceptionally busy but usually have less political reason to be seen in the various parts of the nation.
In Londonderry yesterday, Philip Hammond visited the Ulster University campus, and said that government would consider an application from the Maiden City for a city deal. This will alleviate the unhappiness there after last year’s budget, which only mentioned Belfast in connection with such a deal.
Earlier yesterday, Mr Hammond paid a symbolic visit to the aerospace company Bombardier, which has had a turnaround in fortunes since the potentially disastrous punitive US tariffs that were set to be applied to C Series (A220 jets).
He announced funding for Bombardier on his Belfast trip.
But most significant of all yesterday for anyone who wants Northern Ireland to survive was the chancellor’s emphatic comments on preventing a border in the Irish Sea. It was particularly pleasing to hear him point out that the EU and Dublin, who have been so quick to dismiss ‘unrealistic’ British aims, have been slow to recognise that the UK will not accept an internal UK frontier. This is particularly significant because Mr Hammond is one of the cabinet ministers who is thought to be most sceptical about Brexit so might have been expected to be soft on the prospect of an Irish Sea border.
Now the UK needs to bring clarity to the so-called backstop. Already far too much has been conceded on border infrastructure. No-one wants physical checks but a country must retain the right to control its border.