Unionists send the Conservatives in Manchester a clear, united message against the Northern Ireland Protocol

News Letter editorial of Tuesday October 5 2021:

Tuesday, 5th October 2021, 8:01 am
Updated Tuesday, 5th October 2021, 8:03 am
News Letter editorial

An important discussion about the profound problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol was held yesterday at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.

The fringe event was arranged and hosted by the public relations expert and former Ulster Unionist MP, David Burnside.

It was the latest moment in the coming together of unionists on matters of core principle, after decades of division.

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Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP, Doug Beattie MLA and Jim Allister QC were joined by the experienced former Labour MP, Baroness Hoey, and the nobel laureate and former Ulster Unionist leader Lord Trimble.

All of them spoke powerfully against the Irish Sea border betrayal by Boris Johnson. Influential Tory MPs were in the audience. The room in Manchester Art Gallery was full but it was a medium-sized space so numbers were modest– around 100 people – yet the awareness of the event much greater.

Early pragmatism and a degree of unionist acceptance of the protocol has been replaced by unanimity against it.

Mr Beattie, who has (understandably) been trying to draw support from moderate-minded people who might vote for Alliance, a party that is agnostic on the Union, explained that while he was on a different track to some other unionist in terms of tactics, he was travelling in the same direction.

One of the most sobering contributions came from Lord Timble, who spoke of the damage that the Irish Sea border did to the 1998 Belfast Agreement, of which he was a perhaps the most important signatory.

London’s intentions remain unclear. Unionists have good reason to fear that Boris Johnson’s tough talk on overhauling the protocol will disintegrate into modest changes, such as semi permanent extensions of grace periods, which are then presented as a glittering victory for NI, delivered by London.

But the message from yesterday’s event was clear. Unionists of all hues reject the great damage done to the Act of Union, and to unfettered internal UK trade, by the protocol.

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