Photo by Matt Brown on Unsplash
In recent weeks the British Government has been deluged with noise about the Northern Ireland Protocol, agreed with the EU following the UK’s departure, well before the text of any new agreement was revealed, writes Philip Bushill-Matthews.
None of the noise came from European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, who remained diplomatically silent about the ongoing negotiations. There has only been an occasional one-liner from Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who has more than a passing interest in developments in Northern Ireland. Most of the clamour has been from fellow Conservative politicians, concerned about a possible betrayal of their uncompromising vision of Brexit, with much of it deliberately designed to undermine their own Leader.
Boris Johnson insisted that the bill before Parliament to ditch the Protocol in its entirety should be allowed to proceed because it would ‘create leverage’ with the EU, and ‘fixes all the problems’. Of course it does neither: it would not just have broken international law but triggered potential reparations as well as a full trade war with the EU. Typical Boris balderdash. This is the same man who had proudly acclaimed the original Protocol as part of his ‘oven-ready deal’ when he signed it and sold it to the country as ‘having our cake and eating it’. He later denounced it roundly as if it had nothing to do with him. Then his friend Lord Frost, architect of the amazingly inept Trade and Co-operation agreement, which uniquely in the world of negotiation managed to ensure low levels of trade with the EU and even lower levels of co-operation, was one of the loudest voices against almost any proposed deal – as if his negotiation skills were somehow a model to be followed.
Cabinet member and Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan then showed her own naivety by pretending that she was not at all concerned about the UK being permanently shut out of the €95bn Horizon programme, where our best scientists had been able until recently to get both hefty funding and peer pressure stimulation: she claimed there would be a splendid deal to be done with the USA despite screams of anguish from UK universities and the scientific community, who have a somewhat better understanding of the issues involved.
Finally, there were the two groups of absolutist anti-EU headbangers, the European Research Group (ERG) of Conservative MPs in Westminster and their dinosaur soulmates in the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in Northern Ireland who insisted that the European Court of Justice should have absolutely no say in the policing of its own EU rules regarding goods from the North being traded into the EU Single Market territory of the Republic of Ireland, a position which was self-evidently absurd. Former ‘Brexit opportunities’ Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg added that Sunak should have agreed everything with the DUP first before going to Brussels. A Conservative Prime Minister is seldom short of so much helpful advice.
Having faced the apparently insurmountable challenge of unpicking apartheid in South Africa, Nelson Mandela said: ’our experience has taught us that with goodwill a negotiated solution can be found for even the most profound problems’. With Rishi Sunak in charge there has been a sudden massive increase of goodwill at the top level which has finally unlocked an amazing deal. This is a personal triumph and he deserves the fullest congratulation, although the issue of restoring power-sharing to the Northern Ireland Assembly in Stormont remains undecided for now. Many of the ERG abominable No-men (and they are mainly men) are uneasy about committing until they have micro-analysed the text over the next two weeks with a team of lawyers. Sunak should call their bluff and call the vote now.
Ironically Boris Johnson, who chose to ignore the three-line whip and duck the debate, is unhappy because Sunak has succeeded in ‘getting Brexit done’ where Boris himself had failed to deliver anything other than a soundbite. Sunak should recall an earlier Boris decision, when as Prime Minister he abruptly withdrew the whip from 21 moderate Conservative MPs in 2019 because they voted to prevent a no-deal Brexit.
If any of the diehards vote against the new ‘Windsor framework’ Sunak should use this opportunity to expel them. He could, and he should – but my guess is that he won’t.
Conservative members who never voted for Sunak would be aghast, but his legacy in putting the country first would then be secure.
However, even this welcome agreement of the Protocol dispute is unlikely to secure Sunak’s premiership long-term. Voters are pre-occupied with issues central to their daily lives: the cost-of-living crisis, endless strikes, the decline of the NHS and waves of illegal immigrants to name but a few. Sunak cannot solve all these problems on his own, but most of his current Cabinet are political pygmies. Time for a major reshuffle, while he is at the peak of his power.
The author, Philip Bushill-Matthews, is former Leader of the British Conservatives in the European Parliament.
One thought on “Getting Brexit Done”
Very damning critique of those Tory and Unionist politicians who have done so much damage to UK (including NI) interests. Sickening really that so much attention is given to the DUP who don’t even represent the majority view in Northern Ireland which is somewhat more reasonable.