Unionists again come together against the Northern Ireland Protocol

News Letter editorial of Friday February 11 2022:

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

There were two events yesterday that showed the breadth of unionism, but also the challenges facing unionists.

In one development, Dr John Kyle joined the Ulster Unionist Party, months after he left the Progressive Unionist Party.

In the other development, unionists held a rally against the Northern Ireland Protocol in Dromore, Co Down.

Dr Kyle is a widely admired politician and medic, who has spent decades working among disadvantaged communities.

He parted amicably from the PUP, a party in which he was never an obvious fit. Latterly, Dr Kyle controversially said that unionists should recognise the upsides of the protocol.

We believe strongly that he wrong about that — that the upsides of the protocol are only upsides that come amid a disastrous barrier in the Irish Sea, the scale of which has only gradually become apparent to most unionists. As Lord Dodds’s article on these pages yesterday showed, and as the economist Esmond Birnie writes opposite, the protocol’s far reaching implications are only in their infancy.

In all cases, any benefits only derive from a legislative shift towards EU laws that involve huge costs, which is in addition to the constitutional damage of a nation losing control of trade policy for part of its territory. As a letter writer says opposite, it is a marvel why unionists have not been unanimously calling for Boris Johnson to resign, given what he did.

But unionists are coming together. The main leaders were at an anti protocol event at the Tory conference in October. Last night the main parties at the Dromore rally.

The UUP leader Doug Beattie was not there. He is – not unreasonably – keen to project a moderate image. Unionism needs every vote it can muster. Even so, his party has in recent years been right to resist nationalist pushes, from an Irish language act to legacy, and shown how it is possible to be moderate while firm on key matters of unionist principle — a template for sensible rejection of the Irish Sea border.

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