THE BREXIT Northern Ireland Protocol is working exactly as intended. Contrary to all the faux nods towards the Belfast Agreement and peace on the island of Ireland, the EU’s real motivation for the Protocol was the realignment of trade away from Great Britain to Ireland with the inevitable subsequent breakup of the UK. Barnier was open about this when he said the price of Brexit would be Northern Ireland.
The Protocol put a border in the Irish Sea, disrupting £27 billion in trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, to prevent disruption of some £4 billion in trade between the province and Ireland.
Northern Ireland has been placed in a foreign single market for goods, under a foreign customs code and all the laws that shape these. Inevitably NI trade is now being diverted away from GB to Ireland.
The Protocol provided the legal framework to break the union of the United Kingdom and shifting trade patterns is its practical application. Agreeing the Protocol was undoubtedly the single biggest act of constitutional self-harm inflicted by a British government in my life time.
Lord Frost and the Prime Minister understand this. When Lord Frost spoke in the Lords on 21 July, he cited not just the societal and economic damage being done to the province by the Protocol but also the shifting trade patterns. He confirmed what we all know, the UK has the grounds to invoke safeguarding measures set out in the Protocol. Some describe this Article 16 as a nuclear button. It is nothing of the sort. It is a necessary provision to allow the UK to protect itself – indeed the title to this particular provision is “Safeguarding”.
But, having identified the need to invoke Article 16, Lord Frost decided not to do so. A government’s primary duty is to safeguard its people. To recognise a danger and not to act is grossly negligent.
He urgently needs to revisit his decision.
Every day that passes, Northern Ireland increasingly looks away from Great Britain to Ireland for its fortunes. The rules for trading in Northern Ireland are also being changed by the EU – not the UK – but the people of the province have no democratic say at any stage. Over 600 rules have altered already. Businesses have no option. They must reposition themselves. The ONLY way to prevent this continuing process is by invoking Article 16 and, at least temporarily, bringing a halt to the hi-jacking of Northern Ireland.
However, the government will not do it. Time and again through the Brexit process this Johnson government, and May’s one before it, has revealed its utter fear of the EU. At every juncture it has shirked standing up to the EU. No-deal was never an option and so we got this lousy Withdrawal Agreement. And now that we have it, government has not the guts to invoke its legal right to halt the damage it is wreaking.
Unless the Prime Minister rapidly develops a backbone, the Republic will replace Great Britain as Northern Ireland’s largest trading partner. This might take a year or so but not much longer.
At that point, the pressure for a border poll will ramp up, eventually becoming irresistible. The chances of Northern Ireland then voting to leave the United Kingdom will be high. Who could blame them? The people to whom they pledged their allegiance in Westminster have forsaken them.
And, should such a vote be lost, our government will shrug its shoulders and justify the entirely unnecessary amputation of one of our four great nations on the democratic will of the people.
This is all avoidable. We can and must move to protect Northern Ireland. All we need is for our government to have small fraction of the courage needed to fulfil its central duty – the safeguarding of our country.