Border war breaks out over Stormont deal

Farry blasts ‘hedging their bets’ Unionist rivals as Easton and Collins hit back

A WAR of words has broken out over the Irish Sea border and deals to restore Stormont.

The skirmish saw incumbent MP Stephen Farry open fire on his two leading rivals, Independent Unionist Alex Easton and the UUP’s Tim Collins.

He accused them of trying to ‘hedge their bets’ over the issues, trying to win more votes by hiding their true positions and policies on major constitutional matters.

Mr Easton hit back, slamming the Alliance MP and stating he ‘needs to grow up’ while demanding he concentrate on bread and butter issues like ‘health, education, lack of nurses and lack of police’.

Mr Collins addressed the constitutional issues head on, arguing that Northern Ireland needs to renegotiate the sea border and the Stormont-restoring deal, while adding that the UUP wants ‘the NI Protocol to go away as much as it can’.

The war of words began with Mr Farry maintaining that his rivals were deliberately keeping the people of North Down in the dark about their true political positions and policies.

“It’s time they stopped hiding and made their views clear to the electorate,” he said.

Pointing out that the DUP and TUV have stood aside to give Mr Easton the best chance of taking North Down’s Westminster seat, Mr Farry argued that amounts to both parties giving the Independent Unionist their tacit support.

But the DUP and TUV are at loggerheads over the deal to restore Stormont, leading Mr Farry to call on Mr Easton to come clean and declare where he stands on the issue.

“Alex Easton has received backing from both the TUV and the DUP, two parties with opposing views on the return to Stormont,” said the Alliance MP.

“That is puzzling enough, but local people now need to hear Mr Easton’s opinion; if he backs Gavin Robinson or Jim Allister.”

Mr Easton didn’t go into his position on the Stormont deal, but instead slapped back at Mr Farry.

“Stephen needs to grow up and talk about the issues affecting the people of North Down, like health, education, lack of nurses and lack of police officers,” he said.

“Everyone knows I don’t support a border down the Irish Sea.

“Maybe he needs to answer the question of a united Ireland, and why he has attended a panel discussion to discuss the idea.”

Mr Easton appeared to be referring to Mr Farry’s participation in a panel held as part of a book launch in Westminster in 2022, which came just a few weeks after the MP, and Alliance in general, refused to attend a Dublin event they regarded as overtly in favour of Irish unity.

At the time, Mr Farry reinforced that Alliance is a broad church home to many opinions on a united Ireland; he also described himself as ‘open-minded on the issue’ and stated that he is happy to participate in ‘open debate’.

Mr Farry also took aim at the UUP’s Tim Collins. Pointing to DUP leader Gavin Robinson’s recent comments that this year’s Stormont-restoring deal was ‘over-sold’ to the public, he said: “Candidates need to make clear their stance; the DUP is stepping aside in Fermanagh and South-Tyrone for the UUP, so does Tim Collins back these comments?”

This week Mr Collins went further, accusing the DUP of having ‘misled’ the public over a deal that, he said, amounts to ‘sleight of hand’ designed to conceal the existence of an Irish Sea border.

“Like a diabolical Pandora’s Box, something worse seems to emerge from the deal at every turn,” he said. “However, the answer is not to inflict even more suffering on our people by collapsing the Assembly. We need to negotiate our way out of this.

“In my view the greatest threat to the union is not from the Irish Sea border; God knows, it is real enough and still very much in existence. The real threat is from MPs in Great Britain beginning to regard us as a burden and an obstacle to progress.

“There is no higher priority for Northern Irish MPs than to ensure that the damage done by Brexit is ameliorated, to at least some extent, and that we face up to the reality of our predicament.

“[The Stormont deal] has misled our people. It is no work in progress, it is a shambles.”