Article 16 and the politics of division


Sir, – People sometimes complain about having responsibility without power. The DUP luxuriates in believing that it has power but not responsibility.

The DUP campaigned for Brexit. Northern Ireland voted to remain but the precious kingdom decided to leave.

A vote to leave the EU single market meant that, depending on the terms of the trade agreement which would follow, controls would have to be in place somewhere between the UK and the EU.

Theresa May tried on four occasions to get through Westminster a deal which included a UK-wide backstop which made no distinction between the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. She failed at every attempt, and the DUP’s votes against were critical. The DUP joined in opposition with the loony fringe of the Conservative and Unionist Party which took the view that this form of Brexit wasn’t sufficiently pure.

Since a hard border in Ireland was never acceptable to the EU or indeed to the UK, and since the DUP and its fellow-travellers rejected a UK-wide solution negotiated and advocated by the UK government, we arrived inexorably at the only other possible solution – a level of control and scrutiny of goods passing from Britain to Northern Ireland.

And now the DUP, having been ditched by its Tory allies and as ever leading from the back, has a five-point plan to get rid of the result of four years of tortuous negotiations. This will be a challenge worthy of its leaders’ talents. – Yours, etc,



Co Mayo.

Sir, – It is generally accepted that significant damage has been done by the EU proposal last Friday to invoke Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol as part of a vaccine export authorisation scheme. While it remains unclear as to who in the EU was responsible for this error of judgment, it is worth noting that export authorisation comes under the responsibility of the trade commissioner Valdis Dombovskis, who is likely to have had at least some responsibility in drafting the proposed trade instrument. I find it strange that nobody has raised the very real possibility that the incendiary nature of this proposal to invoke Article 16, in terms of Irish politics and relationships, would never have seen the light of day if the trade portfolio was still in the hands of the previous incumbent, Phil Hogan. In our haste to sate the righteous frenzy over “Golfgate” last summer, with the resultant resignation of Mr Hogan and the consequent loss of the trade portfolio by the new Irish commissioner, have we shot ourselves in both feet, just as that portfolio becomes ever more critical to Ireland’s interests, due to Brexit? – Yours, etc,



Co Meath.

Sir, – The European Commission made a mistake in threatening to trigger Article 16, but when it realised the consequences, it backed down immediately and changed course.

Arlene Foster and Boris Johnson made a mistake blindly picking Brexit in 2016. When they were shown the consequences, however, they have proceeded to do nothing but build on that mistake, worsening the scenarios for their electorates for the last five years.

Perhaps we should all be more understanding of the bravery to admit that we are wrong than admiring the folly of the uncompromising. – Yours, etc,




A chara, – According to your columnist Newton Emerson, the Article 16 debacle meant that “Irish Europhilia, mostly displaced Anglophobia, had met its Waterloo” (“Unionism to squander opportunity presented by EU blunder”, Opinion & Analysis, February 4th). There are a number of problems with this statement.

First, Irish Europhilia, insofar as it exists, has got nothing to do with Anglophobia. Indeed, we joined the EU at the same time as the UK, as our economies were so intertwined, and pursuing a divergent path was not a realistic option for us at the time.

Second, membership of the EU has enabled us to develop from a relatively poor backwater on the edge of Europe to a relatively prosperous and outward looking social democracy increasingly integrated with the EU economy. We no longer measure ourselves almost exclusively against Britain.

Third, euroscepticism in Ireland, insofar as it exists, was long led by Sinn Féin and extreme Irish nationalism of a kind similar to the English nationalism that drove the Brexit project. Those who favour the European project are generally against extreme nationalism of any kind.

Finally, a fleeting mistake by the European Commission is hardly comparable to Waterloo. Those of us most engaged in the European project have also been most active in calling for its reform.

This is the first time the commission was asked to lead on a vaccine procurement project, and it clearly has much to learn about responding quickly and decisively in a crisis situation. – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.