The DUP is going to have to decide its approach to the Irish Sea border

News Letter editorial of Friday March 26 2021:

Friday, 26th March 2021, 9:00 am
News Letter editorial

The UK and EU will today discuss the NI Protocol.

There is for unionists a blunt reality underneath these talks. The Irish Sea border is here to stay because Boris Johnson agreed it, either because he did not understand what he had agreed or because he was cynically prepared to ditch his 2018 pledges to the DUP about his opposition to any internal UK barrier.

The disastrous scale of the border became clear in January, but that is only the start to an ever widening gap between NI and Great Britain as grace periods end (which they will at some point) and if the UK and EU diverge in coming years.

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It is hard to see how a unionist can acquiesce in this and still call themselves a unionist. It is possible, of course, to support Northern Ireland being part of the UK and, in trade, in an all Ireland. But that is such an extreme constitutional set-up as to be akin to supporting London-Dublin joint authority of NI. It is not a stance that could be described as ‘unionist’.

Lord Frost said yesterday the Protocol needs to have cross community support. It won’t, and unionists must say so.

While the DUP has been put in an impossible position, it did agree a regulatory Irish Sea border in early October 2019. Almost all the current trade disruption would have come to pass had that DUP-Tory plan proceeded.

The DUP agreed it after years of extreme pressure including being accused of delaying Brexit. It got key concessions such as the requirement of Stormont pre-approval before implementation and NI staying fully in UK customs. But Mr Johnson then abused that extraordinary unionist offer as a stepping stone — to make MLA approval retrospective in 2024, remove cross party consent and leave NI (in effect) in the EU customs zone.

However understandable the 2019 DUP agreement, the situation that has emerged after that is very bad for unionists.

The party is being criticised for playing the current situation both ways. Its position on implementation does seem confused and it has a decision to make. Is it, as Arlene Foster told Sky News last year, opposed to the border but accepting of its reality?

Or is it only prepared to accept its removal?

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Alistair Bushe