The UK government is talking tough in defence of unionism yet it tried to repeal partly the Act of Union

News Letter editorial of Monday May 17 2021:

Monday, 17th May 2021, 6:07 am
News Letter editorial

The Brexit minister Lord Frost is sending robust signals about the Northern Ireland Protocol.

He is talking tough to the European Union, urging it to work with the UK to “rapidly” find solutions to checks on trade across the Irish Sea, which make “no sense”.

Meanwhile, Edwin Poots has identified the Irish Sea border as “by far the biggest issue”.

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This is all welcome.

But Lord Frost is also implicated in the negotiations that led to the protocol in 2019.

Mr Poots is implicated in implementing it, while talking tough about opposing it.

If things tactics really have changed then at least the air of defeatism might lift. But the obstacles in the way of any meaningful change to the protocol are massive.

Boris Johnson agreed to a Withdrawal Agreement in late 2019 that has such huge ramifications that the UK itself, we are now learning, agreed to impliedly repeal part of the Act of Union. That is a breathtaking admission.

The Act of Union is a foundational, constitutional piece of legislation. No part of it should ever be repealed except in the most extreme situation, and then only explicitly.

This is how serious things are for unionism.

Mr Poots has few levers. One is to disrupt North-South relations and see what comes. There will be much sound and fury if so, but it was Ireland and the EU, facilitated by a weak UK, that decided that East-West arrangements could be torn up.

Another is to refuse to implement the sea border, on similar grounds. If the courts force implementation, or the UK intervenes, then at least it is made clear that such an affront to the settled constitutional position, which we were told could only be changed by consent, will not be facilitated by unionists, but rather, if it happens at all, will have to be imposed.

But one thing that will not work, or fool anyone, is talking tough about the Irish Sea border while acquiescing in it.

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