It’s somewhat ironic that one of the worst newspapers in the country, the editorially repugnant News Letter, is also home to one of the best journalists in the country, the indefatigable Sam McBride. The publication’s long-time political correspondent and author of the go-to account of the complex “cash-for-ash” scandal in the Six Counties has thankfully avoided the extremist mindset and rhetoric that has come to characterise the hardline unionist title he works for. Instead he continues to offer thoughtful and well-informed insight into the nitty-gritty of Stormont politics. Or what passes for politics in the institutionally dysfunctional cross-community assembly outside of Belfast.
With all the focus on the global pandemic and subsequent national and regional lockdowns, the minutiae of the ongoing Brexit – or more correctly Trexit (transition exit) – negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union are being lost. However as McBride notes, the overlooked effects of the UK leaving the EU are already being felt in the British outpost on this island.
…this week we saw some of the first direct impact of how the Irish Sea border on our lives – and what is now a trickle of cost and bureaucracy is likely to soon be a flood.
…the academic Vivian Gravey was among the Northern Irish customers of Welsh gardening company Real Seeds who received an email from the firm to say: “Sadly, due to the way that the new UK seed laws will come into play next year, we will not be able to ship seed to Northern Ireland, as it will not be possible for us (or any GB seed company) to issue a plant passport suitable for posting seed to NI”.
Another company, the Agroforestry Research Trust, issued a similar note saying that it would no longer sell plants to Northern Ireland.
Last week BBC Spotlight broadcast an insightful programme by John Campbell – a journalist who demonstrably understands Brexit better than the vast majority of our politicians – which set out the practical implications of the Irish Sea border.
He explained that when goods come to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, in legal terms it will be as though they are entering the EU from a foreign country…
[There is] … the possibility would be supermarkets such as Tesco continuing to trade in Northern Ireland, but stocking their shelves with products from Tesco Ireland rather than GB – because trading across the Irish border would be seamless, while trading with GB would be expensive and bureaucratic.
If Brexit means we all pay more, while struggling to see the benefits, and pushes us towards all-island harmonisation in myriad areas, what will that do for the DUP in the short term and for the Union in the longer term?
An excellent question. As many commentators have noted, and consistent polling has confirmed, most members of the Conservative Party and its voters have little to no attachment to “Northern Ireland” and would gladly wave goodbye to the troublesome final remnant of Greater England’s first and last colony. And some suspect that many in Downing Street, including premier Boris Johnson and his closest advisor Dominic Cummings, share that view.
While Brexit may represent a dramatic break with Britain’s recent relations with Europe in some ways it could partly be seen as a continuation of Britain’s slow retreat from the island of Ireland. A staggered withdrawal that began spectacularly in 1921, stalled for decades, and then was given renewed impetus from 1966 onwards, with accelerations in 1985 and 1998, and now most obviously in everything that as happened since 2016.
So, what indeed will the DUP or the more hardline elements of the unionist community in general do as events overtake them? Events they played a significant part in setting in motion in the first place.