Jonathan Powell: DUP opposition to protocol is motivated by fears of being outflanked by hard-line rivals

Posted By: March 06, 2021



John Manley. Irish News. Belfast. Saturday, March 6, 2021


THE DUP failed to speak out against the Irish Sea border when Boris Johnson was agreeing to the Brexit deal with the EU, former No 10 chief of staff Jonathan Powell has said.


He questioned the party’s stance on the protocol, suggesting its vocal opposition is motivated less by principle and more by political fears of being outflanked by hard-line rivals.


Mr. Powell said Theresa May had sought to find a solution that would have avoided a border in Ireland or the Irish Sea by keeping the whole of the UK in the Customs Union but “Boris Johnson threw that out of the window in 2019”.


“It was perfectly clear to everyone at the time that’s what he was doing,” he told the BBC.


Tony Blair’s former aide claimed not many Unionists, including the DUP, made “a fuss about it at the time”.


“This issue was decided some time ago and if people had a problem with it, it’s strange they didn’t raise it then,” he said.


Mr. Powell said he understood why people were now upset at evidence of trade disruption since the protocol came into effect, but he added: “The Unionists politicians and the DUP did not at the time in 2019 when Boris Johnson betrayed them make a great fuss about it, they swallowed it, they said: ‘OK, we’ll go ahead with this.’


“They’re raising it now partly, I think, because of the actual public anger at what’s happening in practical terms and the fact that opinion polls show the TUV and Jim Allister going up in the polls and them going down, they see they’ve got a problem, and they feel they have to get onto the issue.”


He also said that the protocol undermines the guiding principles of the Good Friday Agreement and that he understood why Loyalists and Unionists were upset by the border in the Irish Sea.


He said creating trade barriers between the north and Britain upset that balance in respect of Unionism.


Mr. Powell said the Loyalist Communities Council’s letter saying it no longer supported the peace accord was regrettable but added that he had received an assurance that it did not signal an intent to return to violence.


He said Brexit was “always going to have an impact on the Good Friday Agreement” and that Northern Ireland had to find allies in Dublin and the wider the EU to help address the issues around its continued place in the single market.


The former Downing Street chief of staff said the British government’s actions in extending protocol grace periods without EU approval were counterproductive at a time when it was important to build relationships.


“This (protocol) is the cost of Brexit, it’s a very unfortunate cost of Brexit, there are other unfortunate costs of Brexit, but unless someone comes up with a better idea we’re going to have to try and make this one work,” he said.


“That’s why it’s such a silly idea to poke the EU in the eye when you need the EU to cooperate to make this thing work, get things back into supermarkets and garden centers.”