The latest Brexit crisis has its origins in the agreement which the Government reached on December 8, 2017, in the Joint Report from the EU and UK negotiators.
This is where the ‘backstop’ was born and now comes back to haunt us.
After amendment, this agreement was supported by the DUP and by David Davis and Boris Johnson. Now all of them are trying to distance themselves from the time bomb they created last year.
Reports from London say that the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox MP, has warned the Cabinet the backstop would become ‘legally binding in perpetuity, unlike a political treaty or declaration and that Britain would suffer huge reputational damage if it failed to honour it in full.’ This is what I mean by a huge strategic blunder by the DUP, Boris Johnson and David Davis. It’s a millstone around our necks.
The backstop proposals have given the Irish Government a veto over the Brexit talks as they were gifted regulatory alignment for Northern Ireland with the EU, at the same time as saying there’d be no border in the Irish Sea. These positions are a contradiction unless the whole of the UK remains in the Customs Union. Were that to be the case, what’s the point of Brexit?
There is no doubt the question of the Irish border is being used by Brussels and Dublin as a battering ram in these talks. The level of trade on this island is tiny in European terms and everybody knows that no Irish Government could survive if it erected a physical barrier at the border.
London has said it won’t put up a border, so where is a hard border coming from?
There won’t be a hard border unless Dublin and the EU choose to impose one. What Brussels is doing is trying to protect some of its leading economies from the UK gaining a competitive advantage in future world trade.
They have no scruples in using the Irish border question as a tool to protect themselves by keeping the UK tied as closely as possible to EU regulations thereby diminishing the ability of the UK to do deals outside the EU.
What I find intolerable is the attempt by the DUP to pretend they had nothing to do with this – they had.
They were taking credit for the amendments to the Joint Report last December and now it is coming back to bite us all.
Sir Reg Empey, UUP lord and ex-party leader