Jim Nicholson: It is welcome that an Irish Sea border has been kicked into touch

Northern Ireland's position as an integral part of the United Kingdom is not expendable in Brexit negotiations no matter how much nationalists may wish it or how some Brexit ideologues perceive the future direction of negotiations.

Wednesday, 18th July 2018, 10:28 am
Updated Wednesday, 18th July 2018, 10:43 am
Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson, right, with his party leader Robin Swan, left, in a recent meeting with the EU Brexit chief negotiator Michel Barnier

Whilst the backstop agreed in December was a fudge, the understanding at the time was that alignment would be on a whole-UK basis so as to avoid an internal UK border.

However, the way it was interpreted by the European Commission in March was always a nonsense and it was always unacceptable to unionists.

The greatest threat to the Belfast Agreement in Brexit talks is the suggestion of an internal UK border, undermining Northern Ireland’s constitutional position within the United Kingdom and the principle of consent.

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It is welcome therefore that it has been well and truly kicked into touch, and essentially rejected by all the main parties in the House of Commons.

Northern Ireland’s position as an integral part of the United Kingdom is not expendable in the Brexit negotiations no matter how much nationalists may wish it or how some Brexit ideologues perceive the future direction of negotiations.

If no deal is reached, it won’t be good for Northern Ireland and it certainly won’t be good for the Republic of Ireland.

This is a time when unionists should be looking at the longer term.

Our focus must always be on the maintenance of the integrity of the United Kingdom because it is that Union which ultimately benefits all the people of Northern Ireland most — economically, socially and culturally.

Unionists must now focus on the next stage of negotiations, and I will certainly be continuing to press the EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and others in Brussels to engage positively with UK.

Two years on from the vote to leave the EU, MPs cannot continue to negotiate among themselves.

Similarly, Brussels cannot continue to dismiss out of hand any and every UK proposal.

• Jim Nicholson has been an Ulster Unionist MEP since 1989