Even those of us who have the rosiest impressions of our politicians know that they all twist the truth. Most get away with it, but the biggest lies have a nasty habit of catching up with them.
Ahead of his 2019 election landslide win, Boris Johnson promised that there would be “no border” between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and that the Good Friday Agreement would not be compromised.
He could have kept that promise. There were several ways to avoid a border in the Irish Sea and a hard border, the most obvious (and economically sensible) would have been for the UK to stay in the EU’s customs union or single market. But Johnson’s government flatly refused to countenance that.
By imposing a customs border in the Irish Sea, the Northern Ireland Protocol separates Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK in terms of goods trade. The province’s Unionist and Loyalist communities, who passionately identify as British, have been sold down the river.
The irony is that these communities backed Brexit while a wider majority in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU.
Whatever Tory lawmakers and their allies in the UK’s right-wing press may say, the problems of the Protocol are entirely self-inflicted. Johnson negotiated and agreed the Protocol with the EU and rejected the alternatives to it.
After a backlash from Northern Irish businesses, Johnson’s government sought to limit the damage by extending the grace periods during which customs checks on most goods and products are not required.
That prompted legal action from the European Commission and a fresh round of crisis talks between London and Brussels that will, hopefully, find some sort of compromise.
As the recent rioting and violence which injured close to 100 police officers last week demonstrated, the political settlement in the province is extremely fragile. The Protocol itself is not the main cause of the rioting.
One of the driving forces behind The Troubles was that Northern Ireland’s Catholic community was systematically discriminated against by the then Unionist majority. Now it is the Unionists who believe that they are victims of, as they describe it, “two tier policing”.
These are very different issues but they have a common theme. Both grievances are rooted in frustration that political leaders in Belfast and London have misled them.
As ever, Johnson and his Conservative governance have shirked any responsibility and sought to pin the blame for the dispute on the EU. This might cut some ice in sections of the English press but it is profoundly dishonest. Nor does it solve the root of the problem.
The cold fact is that Johnson’s Protocol pushes Northern Ireland away from the UK. The choice is quite simple: a hard Brexit or a semi-detached Northern Ireland.
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Look out for…
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Views are the author’s
[Edited by Josie Le Blond]