Unionist fears are mounting as deadline nears

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial
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Four days after Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar met in the north-west of England and concluded that they saw a “pathway” to a Brexit deal, unionists will be feeling increasingly nervous and uncomfortable.

Sections of the interview that Jacob Rees-Mogg gave to Sophie Ridge of Sky News yesterday morning will have done little to assuage the concerns of unionists who suspect that Mr Johnson gave further ground to the demands of Mr Varadkar and the EU in that hotel meeting on the Wirral.

Mr Rees-Mogg, now leader of the Commons and formerly a key part of the strongly pro-Brexit European Research Group (ERG) seen as strongly sympathetic to unionism, refused to be drawn on the ongoing discussions in Brussels over the course of the weekend.

However, he hinted that he may have “to eat my words” and support a deal which could be close to Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement which contained the backstop that is so abhorrent to unionists.

The DUP has so far said little. Arlene Foster’s statement on the matter on Friday was a holding one but the signs of creaks in the relationship between the party and Mr Johnson emerged in an interview Nigel Dodds gave at the weekend. By stressing once again that Northern Ireland “must stay in a full UK customs union, full stop”, the leader of the DUP in the House of Commons was firing a warning shot across the bows of the UK’s negotiators and responding to the speculation that Mr Johnson has indeed already given further ground on customs.

It may yet prove that the DUP’s fears are unfounded and that Mr Johnson, in a one-to-one setting with Mr Varadkar, was merely telling the taoiseach what he wanted to hear. However, the longer the devil in the detail remains subject to speculation and not fact, the more suspicious unionists will understandably become.