Verhofstadt was welcome in NI but his views are those of an EU partisan

Morning View
Morning View

The European Parliament’s Brexit negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, was in Northern Ireland yesterday to meet various political leaders.

He was very welcome in the Province, as of course foreign leaders must be when they visit.

Northern Ireland has a population of only 1.8 million people, around the same size as the county of Kent, yet we have a disproportionate number of distinguished visitors from overseas.

This is partly because we are a devolved region within the UK, and also because of our troubled past. There are huge amounts of goodwill towards us.

It is one thing, however, to welcome people such as Mr Verhofstadt, quite another to agree with them.

He is a staunch European Union enthusiast, as is logical and reasonable someone in his position. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator over Brexit, is the same.

Now that the UK has decided to leave the EU, their loyalty is, naturally, to the latter.

The political establishment in the Republic of Ireland is also responding to Brexit by showing its loyalty to Brussels.

The most obvious place where EU leaders can highlight, one might even say exploit, the tensions and disagreements over Brexit is Northern Ireland, which is soon going to share a land frontier with the EU.

Resolving the future shape of that border is, as the EU leaders know, one of the greatest complications of Brexit.

Any solution for Northern Ireland such as moving the border to the Irish Sea or ‘special status’ that has us stay in the customs union or single market, while Great Britain exits them, would be a major step towards Irish unity.

So while Mr Verhofstadt was welcome in NI, and while it was good to see him meeting the unionist parties (as well as the other parties, who tend to agree with him), his suggestions for the outworkings in Brexit in this part of the world are highly partisan, and must be viewed in that context.