Thursday 12 May 2022

Eventually, reality will assert itself


The significance of Sinn Fein becoming the largest party in Northern Ireland after the recent elections has received a lot of attention, although the detail of the result suggests it is more symbolic than seismic. One thing which did emerge from that election though is that it, as the BBC put it, “cemented a majority for parties which accept the protocol”, largely as a result of the growth in the number of Alliance MLAs. The Assembly now contains an even bigger majority in favour of accepting the Northern Ireland protocol and making it work than it did before the elections. The UK government, being what it is, has instead chosen to interpret the result as a resounding demand for scrapping the protocol, even if that leads to a trade war with the EU.

I’m sure that I remember ministers of the government which now wants to scrap the protocol describing it as giving Northern Ireland “the best of both worlds”, and the overall deal as being very good for the whole of the UK, but that was in a long-ago past. The problem is, as the Guardian put it, whilst “A responsible prime minister would have set about trying to reconcile unionists to the deal, while negotiating adjustment to level the controls”, what he has actually done is “stoked the DUP grievance, trying to use its intransigence as a lever to exert pressure on Brussels”. The DUPs have been used as dupes all along. Although, in fairness, anyone caught out believing anything Johnson told them deserves to end up looking foolish.

The problem which now exists – of trying to get workable power-sharing operating again at Stormont – is one entirely of the PM’s own making. It was he who promised not to put a customs barrier in the Irish Sea, he who then negotiated and agreed a customs barrier in the Irish Sea, and he who is refusing to implement the agreement which he negotiated. It is all based, as it has been from the outset, on the exceptionalist belief that the UK is so special that it can have whatever it wants, and that mere foreigners can be blustered and threatened into subservience. And the traditional intransigence of the DUP – never a party to knowingly learn from its mistakes – is being used again as a tool with which to seek to batter ‘Brussels’.

There are only three potential ultimate outcomes from this mess, even if it takes an all-out trade war with the EU before a new UK government recognises the fact:

·        The UK can implement the agreement it has signed, and somehow try to persuade or bribe the DUP into accepting the protocol with a few minor changes

·        The EU will be obliged to implement formal border controls across the island of Ireland, which would probably delight the DUP, given its inability to see beyond the short term, but infuriate the US and probably hasten Irish unity in the longer term

·        The UK could agree to align itself more closely with EU single market and customs union rules (which is what the Brexiteers actually promised back in 2016), thereby removing the need for the protocol (and incidentally hugely benefiting the UK economy as a whole).

The nearest thing to a certainty is that none of the above will happen until the current government is replaced, because they are incapable of understanding the consequences of their own actions to date, let alone the real status of the UK in the world. Trying to escape the consequences of past lies by telling even bigger ones eventually catches up with people, even those with the attributes of a greased piglet.

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