Did tweet block UK-EU deal?

An interesting and quite compelling notion was put forward by a former DUP Chief of Staff over the past 24 hours that it was a tweet by an RTÉ reporter which “derailed” the UK-EU deal on the Irish border and thus the prospects of moving to the next stage.

I suspect there is an element of truth to that.

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That was the actual text of the deal.

Yet the suggestion which flew about like wildfire on social media was in fact that the UK was about to agree that Northern Ireland would remain in the Single Market and the Customs Union. This derived from an RTÉ reporter’s tweet which did not quite say that but, in an era where people want quick (even if quick means inaccurate) news and where, I fear, concepts such as the “Customs Union” and “Single Market” are not well understood, was deemed to have implied it.

Clearly there was no way the DUP could sign up to anything even approaching this – and in fact no one was asking them to. But even the remote appearance of doing so would be electorally damaging, and there is nothing to which the DUP is more acutely sensitive than electoral damage.

To be clear about what was actually going on… the 1998 “Good Friday” Agreement is in fact an international treaty between the UK and Ireland. What this deal is clearly designed to recognise is that common North-South regulations are required in areas identified in that Agreement/Treaty (e.g. animal safety) and indeed in areas where there is obviously pre-existing cooperation not specifically identified (e.g. sport), and that because the Ireland (the state) is in the EU this in practice means the UK will have to ensure there is alignment with the Single Market and the Customs Union (whose rules Ireland is obliged to follow as an EU member). The UK was in effect merely clarifying that it would take the necessary steps to adhere to the Treaty even if there were no further deal with the EU on other matters. Such a clarification was all Ireland needed to agree that the border issue was at least being taken seriously, and thus that talks could proceed to the future relationship including a trade deal. Hence the genuine all-round astonishment that there was any issue with the text.

Nevertheless, we live in an era of “quick but inaccurate”. We write and speak quickly but rarely take time to think. Whether in this specific case it is really true that the DUP was spooked by the headline, it is certainly true that the “quick but inaccurate” era is making government and perhaps even democracy itself decidedly more difficult.

 

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