Belfast Telegraph

Tom Kelly: Theresa May will prioritise what is best for England's 55m voters for Brexit

By Tom Kelly

There will be some cages to rattle if it's true that there are to be special provisions to facilitate regulatory convergence for trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland post-Brexit.

It's most likely that any cage rattles will be of some DUP rednecks banging their heads off the bars.

Thankfully, not all members of the DUP see a need to use unnecessarily provocative and intemperate language. There are those within that party who are economically literate and have recognised that whatever benefits Northern Ireland can accrue from Brexit, so be it.

This is a relief to many in business, farming and the third sector in the North. Border communities will also feel a sense of relief that the Armageddon of a hard border being realised could rescind if this deal does what it says.

The unique status of Northern Ireland was not lost on anyone except those who were cock-a-hoop with the idea that British sovereignty reasserting itself would somehow reinforce political unionism in Belfast. It won't, and it can't.

The Anglo-Irish Agreement along with the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements recognised the need for special arrangements in terms of governance, along with shared and crossover of responsibilities within the island of Ireland, and more particularly between Britain and Ireland. These were internationally recognised by the EU and the USA.

The EU invested heavily in supporting the peace process and its chief negotiator, Mr Barnier, was there very step of the way. The EU has a stake in Northern Ireland. No doubt for Mr Barnier, it is also personal. Brexit tests the strength of Anglo-Irish relationships, but they are capable of withstanding hot rhetoric and cold stand-offs.

Officially recognising some kind of special status or arrangement for Northern Ireland is like the"love that dare not speak its name" - especially for the DUP and more particularly for Mrs May, whose survival depends on keeping that party sweet.

One suspects a form of wording will be found to cover everyone's blushes when the detail on what regulatory convergence actually means is published and we also get to see which extra powers could be given to our non-existent Executive and Assembly.

In fairness, to get this across the line within Westminster will not be that difficult as the Labour Party is likely to support it, and that will neutralise the need for DUP support.

The 'national interest' that the Prime Minister will put first is mainly that of what's best for England and its 55m voters. The regions will just have to tag along.

A breakthrough on the Irish border and on trade within the island of Ireland will ease tensions between the UK with its EU counterparts. But it will also increase pressure on Sinn Fein to return to Stormont.

It would be crazy beyond belief if, having sought special arrangements which recognise the unique status of Northern Ireland in a post-Brexit scenario, it couldn't be implemented because of party political intransigence.

But, as usual, the devil is in the details and we await those details.

Tom Kelly is a political commentator and PR expert

Belfast Telegraph

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