Northern Ireland continues to expose the contradictions at the heart of Brexitby Sarah Creighton / January 16, 2019 / Leave a comment
The Teller’s voice was clear and loud. “Ayes to the right, 202; the Nos to the left, 432.” After two years of negotiations, debate and drama, the House of Commons voted against Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement. It was over in a matter of seconds. The government lost by 230 votes, the biggest Commons defeat since 1924.
Among the MPs cheering yesterday were the DUP. As Theresa May stared stony faced across the Commons Chamber, I wonder if she was thinking back to that sunny day in June 2017 when she signed the Confidence and Supply Agreement. Maybe she looked back further to June 2016 when, as Home Secretary, she paid a visit to Northern Ireland before the referendum. During that visit she said that there would be border controls if the UK pulled out of the European Union. The visit passed without much fanfare in the press. Nobody in Britain batted an eyelid.
This week, every single DUP MP voted against the Withdrawal Agreement. Nobody should be surprised by this. The party has been consistent in its opposition to the Agreement and its contents for a long time.
The DUP, along with the majority of unionist parties in Northern Ireland, opposes the contentious “backstop.” The backstop was first agreed in the Joint Report in December 2017, and it was the DUP who raised hell when the Report was leaked before publication. Theresa May was humiliated on the international stage and forced into an embarrassing climbdown after telling the EU that the Report was a done deal.
The backstop can only be triggered at the end of the two-year transition period. It will only come into operation if there is no agreement between the UK and EU on how to avoid a hard border. If it does become active, Northern Ireland will have to maintain alignment with some of the rules of the Single Market. A temporary customs arrangement will also exist between the UK and the EU.
A border of the mind
The backstop is controversial because it means Northern Ireland will be treated differently to the rest of the UK. EU rules will apply in…