Editorial: Three years on, Brexit's sunlit uplands remain a mirage

A particularly fertile imagination was always necessary to buy wholeheartedly into the Brexit fantasy and it is telling that the third anniversary of the UK's withdrawal from the European Union passed today with barely a whimper.

Street parties, carnivals and a public with a spring in its step are conspicuous by their absence. Instead, rampant inflation, industrial unrest, crumbling public services and a crippling cost of living crisis are the defining features of post-Brexit life at the start of 2023.

Tomorrow, interest rates are expected to rise again. The IMF has forecast that, uniquely among large economies, the UK is likely to slide into recession this year. The sunlit uplands remain a mirage.

Northern Ireland is, of course, uniquely exposed to these entirely unfavourable conditions in a wide range of areas.

From the moment David Cameron announced the Brexit referendum, the process has injected a lethal dose of poisonous instability into our politics.

The DUP has shown unerringly poor judgment throughout. It has consistently aligned itself with the most extreme Brexit ultras on the right of the Conservative party and elsewhere, while failing to recognise that these figures are essentially English nationalists who care little for the concerns of Northern Ireland.

Cheerleading for Boris Johnson was another disastrous misstep. Being hoodwinked by a man with a long track record of lying, who got into trouble over wallpaper and was ambushed by a cake before being ejected from Number 10, is not a good position for any serious political party to find itself.

Most serious of all, perhaps, is the cavalier manner in which the DUP brushed aside the will of the majority of voters in the north who wished to remain in the EU. With Mr Johnson – entirely predictably – reneging on his previous 'Irish Sea border' promises, the DUP has found itself in hitherto unfamiliar territory by appealing to the Good Friday Agreement in its ill-starred campaign against the Northern Ireland Protocol.

This has collapsed the Stormont executive and brought down the Assembly, further amplifying the tragedy of the Brexit delusion. Community relations have been damaged, tensions raised and, on some occasions, violence has flared.

Amid the wreckage, negotiations between the EU and British government over the protocol should be allowed to reach a sensible outcome which maximises what opportunities do exist, however inferior they are to full EU membership.

Brexit has also awakened the debate about Ireland's constitutional future. In the long-term, that may be the only truly positive Brexit dividend.