The threat to protocol is a reckless move by Britain

Hardline Brexiteers in the UK have threatened to bring down the Northern Ireland Protocol since its inception. All indications are that they will now prevail as Prime Minister Boris Johnson is ready to introduce new legislation as early as next month giving Westminster sweeping new powers to unilaterally override key elements of the Brexit deal with the EU, including ending Controls on goods arriving in the north.

At this late stage, such a provocative move is no longer about the rights or wrongs of the protocol.

The establishment of a customs and regulatory frontier in the Irish Sea has always been likely to worry trade unionists. Recognizing such sensitivities, Brussels has repeatedly extended the grace period before the full protocol enters into force.

Far more ominous is the question of whether the current government in London can be trusted to keep their word on anything.

The UK denies that its proposed legislation would breach international law and says it already has the power under Article 16 to suspend the protocol if it causes economic or social disruption, which it arguably takes the form of protests.

However, the Withdrawal Agreement already contains detailed procedures for resolving such disputes.

The British are clearly hoping that the tiny amounts of trade involved as a percentage of the EU-wide economy will tempt Europe to bow down at a time when attention is focused on Ukraine; But that’s no way to resolve differences between the parties to a binding legal agreement that took years to painstakingly negotiate and was signed separately by 28 sovereign nations, including Britain, just two years ago.

How can any other country currently negotiating trade deals with the UK, like the US and India, trust London to keep its word?

The suspicion must be that Downing Street is cynically using an anti-protocol threat to distract backbenchers from Boris Johnson’s concerns about Partygate and from deteriorating economic prospects, exacerbated by Brexit’s self-harm.

That the legislation will be led by Secretary of State Liz Truss, the frontrunner who should replace Johnson if he is forced to resign, is certainly not without significance. It is in their interests to woo the Tory base to prepare for the top job.

Such an outrageous venture by the British government would be bad enough at any time. At a time when unionists are unnerved by the prospect of Sinn Féin taking over the position of First Minister in the Assembly after the election, it couldn’t be more amazingly reckless and irresponsible. It can only reinforce the ugliest elements of loyalty to the Good Friday Agreement.

Against this feverish backdrop, it is all the more important that disputes are resolved patiently and calmly, not through blackmail and brinkmanship.

If Boris Johnson continues to threaten to destroy Protocol, it will again confirm that he is not a serious politician; but the damage it can do to the people who share this island is very serious indeed. The Irish government must protest and resist his adventurism at the highest level.

Britons must recognize that allowing their Prime Minister to act in this way for selfish, short-term gain can only do irreparable harm to their country’s reputation, security and prosperity. The threat to protocol is a reckless move by Britain

Fry Electronics Team

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