OPINION - Britain: a small island next to a superpower

·4-min read
 (West End Final)
(West End Final)

What is the Northern Ireland Protocol? Who is her boyfriend? How tall is she? Why did she leave Love Island? This is me attempting some search engine optimisation for Deputy Political Editor David Bond’s actually very useful explainer.

The Prime Minister has been on somewhat of a journey on this, initially claiming he’d secured a magnificent Brexit deal that would entail no border in the Irish Sea and “no checks for stuff being exported from NI to GB.” This proved not to be true, as set out in the Protocol itself.

So this afternoon, a Bill to enable the UK Government to unilaterally amend the NI Protocol is being introduced to Parliament. Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis insists the legislation is “lawful and correct”. In terms of the line to take, this is an improvement on the time in 2019 he told the House of Commons that government policy would break international law in a “very specific and limited way”. But is it true?

Well, the Financial Times’ Peter Foster says this legislation is in fact more wide-ranging than the Internal Market Bill 2020 to which Lewis was referring. Moreover, eyebrows were raised when Sir James Eadie QC, the first Treasury counsel who represents the government in court, was not even asked to give his legal opinion on the matter. This is highly unusual.

Notwithstanding the economic implications - which are large and multifold - there is an unbelievable amount of politics going on here.

The first is of the Tory garden variety. Johnson, weakened by partygate, poll numbers and last week’s pyrrhic vote of confidence victory, is now caught between the hardline European Research Group and the DUP (remind him of anybody?Note: that link makes the gag so please click.

There’s the politics of Northern Ireland itself, where there exists majority support for the Protocol in the Assembly but not within unionism. Reports suggest the Government wants the DUP to join an Executive after the Bill passes the Commons but before its gets through the Lords, where the Government has no majority and peers are likely to take a dim view of legislation that may break international law and did not appear in the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto.

Then the politics take more of an international flavour. The United States is not a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, but it sure takes a keen interest – see this punchy statement by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Meanwhile, Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveny called the Bill a “low point” in the UK’s approach to Brexit.

Today’s legislation represents an extraordinary high-wire act by the Government. No one is suggesting the Protocol does not need amending. The absence of a functioning Northern Ireland Executive alone is reason to act. But it requires good faith negotiations. This Bill doesn’t really fix anything.

The DUP has already said its introduction alone won’t get it back into Stormont. It will rile pretty much all of our allies, over the Irish Sea, English Channel and Atlantic. And may sink our already listing economy.

Brexit doesn’t necessarily mean the UK is always wrong and the EU right. But here’s the thing. Having left the bloc, the UK finds itself suddenly situated next to a much larger and more powerful neighbour.

That’s fine, of course. Many countries have historically had to manage/shrug off the sleights from next door (see Mexico, Canada and, erm... Ireland). Problem is, as a nation we are yet to recognise our new position in the food chain and adjust accordingly. The sooner we do, the better for everyone involved.

In the comment pages, Home Affairs Editor Martin Bentham says the Rwanda deportation policy is horrifying, but that’s the plan. While Rob Rinder reveals that getting rejected by Oxbridge was the best thing that ever happened to him.

And finally, let’s face it. It was always Paul. As McCartney prepares to turn 80, David Smyth looks at his extraordinary career at the top of pop. As a Monday treat, grab a brew and watch this video where McCartney breaks down his most iconic songs.

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