Sir Jeffrey Donaldson clearly doesn’t understand that to which he has agreed – By Ulster Unionist peer Lord Empey

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I read Sir Jeffrey’s statement challenging my interpretation of the latest proposals to which his party has agreed on Brexit. Apart from the political barbs, which weren’t very good anyway, I want to respond to the substance of his argument. He clearly doesn`t understand to that which he has agreed.

Let us begin with elements of the DUP statement of 8th December 2017 and use that as a yardstick to measure against the latest position. On the DUP website on 8th December 2017 the DUP said they had clear commitments (from Government presumably in the Backstop document that had just been issued) that;

*Northern Ireland will leave the single market and the customs union along with the rest of the United Kingdom

*There will be no customs or trade border down the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom

*Northern Ireland will not be separated constitutionally, politically, economically or regulatory from the rest of the United Kingdom……..

*The Report (that is from UK and EU officials) makes it clear that the UK remains committed to preserving the integrity of the internal market and Northern Ireland’s place within it, as it leaves the EU’s internal market and custom union.

The full DUP statement of 8th December 2017 is here:

Let us now compare the above with the latest plans on Brexit in HMG’s ‘Explanatory Note on UK proposals for an amended protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland’.

Paragraph 4 of the paper says “…The proposal set out in this note would see regulatory checks applying between Great Britain and Northern Ireland….”

Moving on to paragraph 7a it says “Agri foods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain would do so via a Border Inspection Post or Designated Point of entry as required by EU law………” it goes on to say “They (the agri-foods) would be subject to identity and documentary checks and physical examination by UK authorities as required by the relevant EU rules.”

In paragraph 7b “In addition, Northern Ireland would align with all relevant EU rules relating to the placing on the market of manufactured goods.”

If we move on to paragraph 12 of the government’s document it says, “The Zone of Regulatory Compliance (this is the island of Ireland) will mean that Northern Ireland will be, in significant sectors of its economy, governed by laws in which it has no say.”

This sentence is an acknowledgement that we are in a DIFFERENT regulatory area to Great Britain and we would be governed by laws over which we have no say. This establishes beyond doubt that we will have a special status, something the DUP claimed on 8th December 2017 we would never have because it was Sinn Fein policy!

Paragraph 13 tries to solve the democratic deficit by suggesting that at the end of the transition period and “every four years afterwards…” the Assembly and Executive would be asked to consent to these arrangements continuing.

I make a few points about this. Firstly, without the Belfast (Good Friday Agreement) there would have been no Assembly or Executive to refer to, and second the principle of consent, which is at the Agreement’s heart, is the only thing the DUP can call up in defence of its case. Ironic, when the DUP did everything in its power to destroy the Agreement!

But the idea that we would convert local politics to a continuous debate over whether to accept EU or UK rules would make it a border poll every four years and destroy any chance of building normal politics here.

But even worse, when we asked by what mechanism consent would be measured, three answers have emerged.

1) The Government was unable to tell us on Friday, in a meeting with the Secretary of State Julian Smith MP, which Assembly procedure would be used; was it the Petition of concern or parallel consent or a majority vote? 2) When Downing Street was asked what would happen if the Assembly continued not to sit they suggested a referendum might be held and 3) Mrs Foster has now come up with the wheeze that a Grand Committee of Northern Ireland MPs would be used to measure consent!

This is reckless stuff. It is clear that this has not been thought through – we have had three suggestions in three days as to how this would be done.

But this all presupposes there will be a functioning Assembly. Remember, a veto works both ways. After the Canada trade deal was blocked for months by a Belgian regional Parliament, I cannot see how the EU would agree to this bright idea. Furthermore, there is no support for it from local parties anyway.

This is seat of your pants politics. Not thought through and no consultation in advance on something vital to our future.

With respect to Jeffrey and his colleagues, they need to take this back and think about it again. It’s half-baked. I want us to honour the 2016 referendum and see an end to the uncertainty by us leaving with a deal as soon as we can. This scheme gives us the worst of both worlds – two borders not one. Larne becomes the point of entry as well as Newry. This is not what leave voters imagined in 2016.

Finally I want to point out what is an unworthy use of language by Jeffrey. He points out that Northern Ireland can trade freely with Great Britain. Of course, and why not. What he fails to point out is that Great Britain cannot trade freely with Northern Ireland. This is the Achilles heel of his case and the total abandonment of all his party’s promises over the last few years.

Smoke and mirrors won’t be enough to get the DUP out of this mess. It’s a sad day when any unionist party envisages us being in a totally different ‘regulatory zone’ from the rest of our country. This will lead to further calls for our economy to align with the Republic’s, and the complication and uncertainty of being in a zone where regulations are different on either side of the channel between us and Scotland, can only be a barrier to new investment.

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