The Irish Times view on Theresa May’s Belfast visit: glaring contradictions

British prime minister has ‘unshakable’ commitment to avoiding hard border but wants to remove guarantee that it won’t happen

British prime minister Theresa May speaks with business representatives during her visit to Belfast on Tuesday. Photograph: Liam McBurney/Reuters

British prime minister Theresa May speaks with business representatives during her visit to Belfast on Tuesday. Photograph: Liam McBurney/Reuters

 

There were some glaring contradictions in the message conveyed by British prime minister Theresa May during the first day of her visit to Northern Ireland. On the one hand she expressed “unshakable” commitment to avoiding a hard border in Ireland but on the other she is travelling to Brussels tomorrow to try to negotiate a reversal of the backstop which is the ultimate guarantee it will not happen.

The manner in which May is attempting to ditch the agreement she signed with the EU on the backstop in order to cater to the concerns of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the right wing of her own party does not inspire confidence in her latest “unshakable” commitment.

The prime minister persists in claiming that she is committed to a solution that commands broad support across the community in Northern Ireland, but she continues to pander to the DUP rather than the concerns of the 56 per cent of people in the North who voted to remain in the EU.

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Her concern to appease the DUP is obviously designed to shore up the position of the Conservative Party in the House of Commons but it means that the wishes of the majority of the people in the North are simply being ignored. Business and farming leaders in the North, many of whom are unionists, have come out strongly against the prospect of a no-deal Brexit and are clearly at odds with the DUP, which appears hell bent on undermining any reasonable deal.

May will meet the political parties at Stormont today and will travel to Brussels to meet European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker tomorrow to tell him how she sees matters progressing. Given that British alternatives to the backstop have been firmly rejected by the commission and EU leaders it is difficult to see much progress emerging from tomorrow’s meeting.

Her claim to speak on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland while rejecting the backstop does not stand up to scrutiny and the EU knows it. In fact the position taken by the Government in Dublin is a fairer reflection of the true interests of the people living North of the Border.

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