That the first minister of Northern Ireland appeared yesterday, the third day of 2021, is indicative of the significance of the new internal trade border between the Province and the rest of the UK.
The DUP leader put a brave face on a dreadful Brexit outcome for unionism, as a result of Boris Johnson’s flagrant betrayal of his own rhetoric to the DUP conference in 2018.
He showed himself first to be disloyal to his own prime minister, Theresa May, by being publically contemptuous of her plans for a possible border in the Irish Sea, and then set himself up for the betrayal of his DUP hosts (which he did shortly after achieving high office in the summer of 2019).
It was not unreasonable of Mrs Foster to say yesterday that Brexit offers a “gateway of opportunity” to the whole of the UK, including Northern Ireland.
It would not even be unreasonable to go further than that and say that Northern Ireland has a number of specific trading advantages with regard to UK and EU access as a result of the new Brexit dispensation.
But such an argument is a neutral and opportunistic one, and not one that any unionist should make.
It ought to be a tenet of unionism that the Union is by far the best political and economic berth for Northern Ireland. Being an unfettered part of the UK is of far greater overall value than being entitled to a limited number of specific trading advantages with regard to the EU.
The letter opposite about assistance dogs shows the extent to which NI is becoming a place apart from Great Britain.
Thus while Mrs Foster is right to emphasise that her “job from now on is to mitigate against those excesses” in the protocol we should not be under any illusions that “mitigation” measures can possibly be a substitute for axing the NI protocol, which an unscrupulous prime minister has imposed on NI for his own personal political advantage.
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