With goodwill, there is a solution that avoids a hard border either on land or in the sea
Published: 5 June 2021
The briefing war between the EU and the UK led to headlines this week saying that Brexit Minister Lord Frost thinks the Northern Ireland Protocol is “unsustainable” in its present form.
Is it? The protocol is a classic example of the type of “Boring but Important” issue that people like to ignore until it bites them hard – sometimes fatally. With the connivance of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and cheerleaders in Washington, Michel Barnier found it convenient to swallow the canard that an augmented land border risked Republican violence and the collapse of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. The UK failed to fight it, and so accepted the imposition of an internal border in the Irish Sea that has convinced the extremes of loyalism that only the threat of violence will get rid of it. At present they’re confining themselves to street protests.
Some in England may wonder who could get worked up about rows over agri-food rules and veterinary exemptions. The answer is: plenty of loyal British citizens who feel betrayed.
Take the under-reported happenings in the High Court in Belfast last month, where a challenge to the legality of the protocol was launched by, among others, the then leaders of the three main Unionist political parties and Conservative peer David Trimble, the main architect of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. The protocol, said John Larkin QC, “places Her Majesty’s subjects in Northern Ireland on a different footing to her Majesty’s subjects in Great Britain in relation to the European Union”. He compared it to the Vichy regime that administered France during the Nazi occupation, “which was relied on to do the bidding of the occupiers; the occupiers were free to inspect or deny things, but when push came to shove the occupiers gave an instruction and the Vichy authorities would quickly fall into line”.
Then there are the continual despairing reports from importers and exporters burdened with pettifogging and often incomprehensible regulations, with appalling knock-on effects on supplies and prices. There are frustrated pet owners needing rabies checks to move pets across the Irish Sea; and consumers denied favourite products, because retailers cannot yet “understand the changes”. And, most alarmingly, there is the perception of loyal British citizens that the protocol is being employed by Irish nationalists as a path to constitutional destruction, and by the Brussels establishment as a weapon of punishment so severe that it will terrify restive EU members into submission by convincing them that leaving the EU can lead only to disaster.
Changes in Unionist leaders recently have produced Edwin Poots as leader of the DUP – an unimpressive replacement for Arlene Foster – and war-hero Doug Beattie, thoughtful and charismatic, at the head of the much smaller UUP. The latter believes that with goodwill, there is a solution that avoids a hard border either on land or in the sea.
The EU and UK negotiating teams accuse each other daily of lies and bad faith. Lord Frost is right. But so is Captain Beattie.