After months of British weakness in the face of an uncompromising Irish stance on the border post Brexit, there was yesterday the first inkling of toughness.
It came in an exchange in the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that was not in fact about the border, but was probably influenced by Dublin’s approach to the Brexit.
At the committee hearing in Westminster, into the implications of Brexit for the fishing industry in Northern Ireland, the fisheries minister George Eustice was asked about the Voisinage Arrangement between the UK and Ireland. It allows mutual access to Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland vessels up to six nautical miles off the coast of each country.
The agreement has been suspended in Ireland since the Irish Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that it had not been incorporated properly into Irish law. But the UK has not suspended the operation of the agreement on its side.
Mr Eustice said that if Ireland has not fixed that legal failure after the EU withdrawal agreement is finalised “we would have to consider at that point suspending their access, suspending the agreement so that there is some pressure on them to act”.
This is welcome but it begs the question: does London not understand the need to apply pressure on Dublin in the EU negotiations overall as well as in fishing?
The Irish more than anyone else have pushed the UK into the humiliating position in which it finds itself, in which it is trying to be in a customs union with the EU or some similar arrangement. The UK is partly to blame because it has allowed itself to be humiliated.
In the committee yesterday, Kate Hoey, the Ulster born Labour MP, a no nonsense supporter of Brexit, said of Ireland’s tactics: “Why are we so weak that we just accept that? In these negotiations while the Irish government seem to be playing a hard ball way.”
It is a question that needs an urgent answer from London.