Rather out of the blue, this joint letter from Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness to the prime minister Theresa May changes the impression of a divided Executive heading for a fresh stand-off and is to be warmly welcomed. It is artfully couched in calling for no weakening of cross border measures to deal with crime and implies that border posts could create targets for dissident republicans and others – points that will hit home with the former home secretary.
It also reveals that the DUP have taken part in discussions on Brexit with the Irish government through the obvious forum of the north-south ministerial council. This removes early impressions of a DUP reluctance of engage with Dublin after Enda Kenny’s clumsily handled suggestion for an all-Ireland forum. Honour would appeared to be satisfied on both sides, at least for now.
This region is unique because of its land Border with the Republic. We therefore appreciate your stated determination that the border will not become an impediment to the movement of people good and services..
The border must not become “a catalyst for illegal activity or compromise in any way the arrangements relating to criminal justice and tackling organised crime.
“It is equally important that the Border does not create an incentive for those who wish to undermine the peace process and/or the political settlement.”
There is little sympathy here for the case for an emergency cap on EU immigration which seems key to the UK position, and yet could hamper attempts to gain close access to the single market.
“Policies must be sufficiently flexible to allow access to s unskilled as well as highly skilled labour”
Inevitably Arlene Foster has had to deny claims of a DUP U turn. The same might be said of Martin McGuinness as Claire Hanna of the SDLP suggests However picking over the early post- referendum positions should not detract from the welcome this joint approach deserves.
It is even accompanied by a sense of reality “ recognising the possibility that it cannot be guaranteed that outcomes that suit our common interests (of the British and Irish governments about the border ) are ultimately deliverable.
The approach augurs well for the process to achieve an agreed Article 50 position which the Irish government can support – even though as they admit, full success cannot be guaranteed.
It should for the moment at least take the wind out of the sails for the proposal to mount a legal challenge to Brexit in the Belfast High Court, unless the prime minister were to reply favourably to their demands.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London