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Dodds facing realities of DUP's Brexit fantasy

IN a 2020 that has unfolded in ways that were unimaginable this time last year, the coronavirus pandemic has affected every facet of life.

That painful pattern is set to continue into 2021, with the Stormont Executive setting out new lockdown measures in response to spiralling Covid-19 infection rates and enormous pressures on hospitals and health and social care staff.

But for coronavirus, there is little doubt that Brexit would have dominated the political and news agenda this year.

As the transition period draws to a close on December 31, time is now desperately short for a trade deal to be stuck between Britain and the European Union.

European Parliament leaders warned yesterday that unless an agreement was struck by Sunday it would be impossible for MEPs to have sufficient time to ratify it.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier maintains it will be difficult, though still possible, to reach a deal by then.

For his part, British cabinet officer minister Michael Gove told MPs that the chance of a trade deal was now "less than 50 per cent".

Just as they were when the EU referendum campaign was announced, Northern Ireland and the Republic remain uniquely exposed by these machinations.

This is already abundantly clear at Stormont, where the Brexit fantasy championed by the DUP and its fellow-travellers in the Vote Leave campaign is encountering hard political and economic realities.

DUP agriculture minister Edwin Poots, for example, is responsible for building infrastructure at ports to facilitate checks and controls on animals and food required by the sea border - something he and his party said they would never do.

Economy minister Diane Dodds, a former DUP MEP, has now told MLAs that her department faces a substantial £124 million budget shortfall next year.

This includes, she said, "the removal of EU funding of which £70m is required next year".

The DUP had confidently predicted that Northern Ireland would be financially better off because of Brexit.

The place of the previous EU funding is being taken by a so-called Shared Prosperity Fund administered from London.

Mrs Dodds was unable to say how much it will contribute, though "informal indications suggest £11m".

This episode further emphasises the folly of the Brexit project; just when the north's economy requires support to recover from Covid-19 and to meet the challenges of a Brexit facilitated by the DUP, it is being significantly weakened.

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