British government must tell Brexit truth

Posted By: June 24, 2021

Irish News Editorial. Belfast. Thursday, June 24, 2021

IF a week is a long time in politics, then the five years since the UK’s disastrous decision to leave the EU feel like an eternity.

They have been five years of tragic waste; five years of divisive, destabilizing discourse in which the normal politics of partnership and building common ground has too often been sacrificed on the altar of opportunism and expedience.

The period has above all been characterized by dishonesty by the British government as it pursued the hardest of Brexits in defiance of economic logic and the delicate peace in Northern Ireland.

Ministers have gone from trumpeting the withdrawal agreement, to denying the very existence of the Irish Sea border it brought about, to decrying it now as unsustainable.

It is in this context that the boast by Edwin Poots of government assurances of significant changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol can only be regarded as risible.

As former Conservative minister Chris Patten wryly observed last night: “The problem at heart is not the sausages you get from Sainsbury’s but the porkies that we all get, home and abroad, from Downing Street.”

Lord Patten was referring to the most recent row over the protocol, which would stop chilled meats from Britain being sold in Northern Ireland from the end of this month.

News that the EU is set to extend this grace period is most welcome and should hopefully provide a basis for further constructive dialogue on remaining areas of contention.

Less welcome is a threat by Sir Jeffrey Donaldson that it is “not realistic to expect political stability” when unionist representatives are opposed to the protocol.

Nationalist leaders have warned against any attempt to collapse the devolved institutions as a response to the internal politics of the DUP.

The reality is that the fateful decision to leave the EU five years ago made a new frontier unavoidable and the Irish Sea represented the least worst location.

Lord Patten has said the British government must now belatedly “tell the truth”  and implement a legally binding agreement with its European neighbors which has the potential to benefit NorthernIreland.

He made his comments at the inaugural Seamus Mallon Lecture organized by the John and Pat Hume Foundation.


Today’s political leaders would be advised to look to the example of patient, positive change provided by Seamus Mallon and John Hume if we are not to be looking back with further regret five years from now.