There can be no doubt now that either Lord Frost, the Government’s Chief Brexit negotiator is stupid OR he thinks that we are stupid and won’t understand the things he is saying about things that he did! Or perhaps he just doesn’t care about making fools of the entire Country in the eyes of the rest of the World.
What is at stake now is the Northern Ireland/Brexit protocol which was negotiated just two years ago and agreed by the EU and the UK Government. It was also supported in a vote in the UK Parliament and in a further vote as part of the EU withdrawal agreement. It was clear from the start that the deal which, I can emphasise, was freely entered in to on both sides, had many, many problems which appear to have been unforeseen by Lord Frost and bumbler Johnson.
During the referendum of 2016 it was repeatedly made clear that withdrawal from the EU would create a hard border in both the Irish Sea and on the land border between NI and Eire. I well remember giving a talk to businesspeople in the Liverpool Conference Centre and pointing out the Belfast and Dublin ferries on the other side of the water and how difficulties would be created. A number of people in the audience accused me of lying or exaggeration. I wonder what they think now!
Frost and Johnson have been amazed that the EU, having concluded a Treaty through a quite tortuous process intend to keep to their word and implement it. Last year Frost made clear that he believed a Treaty was a starting point, but it isn’t – it’s an end result.
Just as when we were in the EU all major treaties and decisions have to be signed off by all Member States. 27 Countries agreed to the proposal. They did it regretfully and certainly thought more of the importance of the process than our own Government did.
So, the British government is now to present the EU with a new legal text to rewrite the Northern Ireland Brexit protocol signed by Johnson just two years ago.
The UK says the agreement is not working – and wants to remove the role for the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the signed agreement. But this was a fundamental part of the Treaty and cannot be renegotiated.
Northern Ireland has been hit by shortages of goods, and community tensions have risen over the accord, with threats being made against staff at ports. Now, of course, the shortages and empty shelves are spreading to the rest of the UK with our position being now considerably weaker than it was as an EU member for everything from delivery of pork to delivery of power.
In a speech in Lisbon on Tuesday, Brexit minister Lord Frost, who negotiated the agreement, will repeat his demands for it to be changed. This blustering nonsense has rightly been rebuffed by Brussels.
“Without new arrangements in this area, the protocol will never have the support it needs to survive, says Frost”. However, it never had widespread support with the exception of Tories and the DUP who are suffering a precipitous drop in support in Northern Ireland.
This week, Maros Sefcovic, the EU’s Brexit lead, promised proposals to respond to the UK – but he said removing the ECJ’s role would cut Northern Ireland off from the single market was impossible. That was the compromise that enabled an agreement to be made. Ireland is a small Ireland with two States and a difficult to control border. That is why the ECJ was so important to the deal as an arbiter of the Treaty and all that flowed from it.
Lord Frost is expected to tell his audience in Lisbon that the relationship with the EU is “under strain”. Well of course it’s under strain because the UK Government ignored all the warning about the Border and the way that it could subvert the Good Friday Agreement which has brought peace to the island of Ireland for 3 decades.
The UK now needs to show ambition and willingness to tackle the fundamental issues at the heart of the protocol head on. It has consistently failed to do so. It hoped that a few wise cracks from Joker Johnson would brush aside the basic faults from the UK viewpoint that are part of the protocol.
It is much easier for the UK to move than the EU. We have just one land border to consider they have, I think, 19. The rules about hard borders with 3rd Countries were ones that we pressed for and supported when EU members. Now we don’t think them appropriate as we are a 3rd country ourselves. There is no way that the EU can change the rules for just one Country no matter how self-important we are.
The UK has threatened to trigger Article 16 of the protocol, the nuclear option of total disengagement, if its demands are not met – effectively suspending the deal. This is an approach of bluffing charlatans. The UK needs to recognise that it is a weak country in a weak position. We were the ones that blundered, and we are the ones that caused this mess. We cannot expect the 27 members of the EU to be that concerned about the affairs of one small and declining Country when they have the needs and problems of 27 to deal with.
In March next year there will be the start of a campaign to re-join the EU. I will be part of it, and I encourage others to join in as well. The only way to negotiate our way out of this mess and the decline which is flowing from it is to negotiate our way back into the EU. We’re going to do that sometime. It might as well be now.