It’s been over two years since the Prime Minister signed the Northern Ireland Protocol as part of the Withdrawal Agreement, which at the time he hailed as ‘fantastic news for families and businesses in every part of the UK’.
And yet now, all of a sudden, his Government’s chief law officer Suella Braverman reportedly considers the implementation of some of the agreements ‘disproportionate and unreasonable’.
As much as ministers may say they wish to renegotiate, they are nonetheless threatening to rip it up. What on Earth happened?
Bombs, gunfire and seemingly ceaseless unrest during the Troubles are still fresh in the memory of many Northern Irish citizens. Peace finally arrived after years of negotiations, but that peace is incredibly fragile.
It takes an enormous amount of hard work from all sides to maintain the balance, and to avoid reopening the wounds of past sectarian violence.
Yet this Brexit deal – and subsequent retraction of it – resembles Boris Johnson driving his infamous forklift truck through peace in Northern Ireland, and then clumsily reversing it with big flashing lights, bashing against everything in its path.
Not only are the Tories threatening peace – they’re actively stoking the violence. One unnamed senior ally of the Prime Minister told the Sunday Times: ‘We want a weapon on the table… We don’t want to use it.’
Careless but highly inflammatory and dangerous threats such as these are unsurprising, when senior Cabinet Ministers such as Foreign Secretary Liz Truss are apparently far more interested in ‘leadership feather-fluttering’ than actually dealing with a whole range of problems that this Government alone has caused – including the prospect of an outright trade war with the EU.
This is just when the Governor of the Bank of England warned of an ‘apocalyptic’ rise in food prices.
The crux of the issue here is that our Government has signed a binding treaty that it now doesn’t wish to uphold. The Prime Minister is either incompetent in that he didn’t understand the agreement he signed, or deceitful in that he never intended to follow it in the first place.
I’d wager that he knew exactly what the agreement amounted to, exactly how much harm it would cause, but went ahead anyway knowing it would win him an election.
Either way, by doing so, our leaders have yet again decided to act with utter disregard for the law. Ministers may claim, via a technicality, that tearing up the Northern Ireland Protocol does not break international law – but we all know that it would make no difference to them anyway.
From breaking Covid-19 lockdown rules to unlawfully suspending Parliament, this Government has absolutely no shame in law-breaking.
So where do we stand after all of this? There’s a whole swathe of issues that we need to be dealing with right now.
Northern Ireland is facing a health service in drastic need of reform; the UK is facing a cost of living crisis on a huge scale; Europe is facing an era-defining war in Ukraine, and a global climate emergency to boot.
Meanwhile a deluded DUP, which has been convulsed over Brexit and the Protocol, is claiming it performed ‘extremely well’ despite losing a portion of its vote share.
If we are to have any chance of maintaining the fragile peace in Northern Ireland, and get back to tackling the issues that really matter, we need all parties to return to the negotiating table, and get the Assembly up and running again as soon as possible.
The Ulster Unionist Party is prepared to enter the Executive. So why are DUP Assembly members shamelessly taking their salaries while refusing to take their seats – and why is our Government caving in to their demands?
The Protocol isn’t perfect – but it’s there to mitigate against the worst effects of the hardest of Brexits to which this Government signed us up.
The architects of Brexit have created the need for the Protocol – now they need to own it.