Brexit, the Northern Ireland Protocol (NIP) and the Conservative Party

The Conservatives have paid, and look as if they are going to keep on paying, a heavy price for  their 30 years of anti-EU madness.  It has destroyed one Conservative PM  after another. The total stands at present at 4 and counting: Margaret Thatcher, John Major, David Cameron, Theresa May  – all   wiped out politically  by the party’s divisions over the EU.

The Conservatives have  managed to get Brexit done and  expel most of the “soft” Brexit supporters and Remainers  from the party. Yet now it’s the turn of  their latest  leader  PM Boris Johnson  to  ride for a fall over the NIP, spurred on by the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) and the European research group (ERG) of Brexiteer Tories  who are convinced Brexit cannot fail and the harder the Brexit, the better.  

As well as Tory Brexiteers, senior government figures are reported to have extensively consulted the DUP on the substance of the new  Brexit law. People in Northern Ireland are not altogether pleased that only the DUP is being ‘consulted’ on such a sensitive bill. They don’t like the DUP’s opinion having preferential status over other Northern Ireland Assembly parties like Sinn Fein, Alliance or the Social Democratic and Labour Party. Or that the DUP minority opinion is allowed to override the expressed will of the majority (SF, SDLP, Alliance) who are happy enough with the NIP.

Remember: The majority of people in NI and the Stormont Assembly they elected a few short weeks ago want the NIP and they want it to work .

Comment: Widespread dissatisfaction with PM Johnson’s policy over the NIP sends out very negative signals for the future of NI and its place within the UK. Power-sharing would be impossible with 1) a hard border on the island of Ireland and 2) DUP rule strong-armed into place via Westminster against the democratically expressed wishes of more than half the population in Northern Ireland.

Query: What happens if SF, SDLP and Alliance then withdraw from the Stormont Assembly?

On the other hand, PM Johnson’s  Brexit bill probably won’t get through the Houses of Commons and Lords.  The more extreme it is,  the less chance it has of becoming law as PM Johnson lacks the numbers to push it through due to the 148 Conservative MPs who Voted No Confidence in him Monday last.  Should it get through, its passage through the Houses of Parliament could take up to one year. It will be challenged on legal grounds. Apart from the DUP and TUV, it isn’t wanted in Northern Ireland and would be unworkable in practise.

PM Johnson argues it is needed to persuade the DUP to join the power-sharing executive in the Stormont Assembly.

Comment: It will fail in this purpose because the DUP have no intention and no incentive to get Stormont  Assembly up and running.  Once they are in, PM Johnson won’t be “consulting” them any more. The Stormont Assembly  will have a SF First Minister and the DUP will be relegated to Deputy First Minister status.And the DUP will have no other leverage.

Effects: Unilateral legislation riding rough-shod over the NIP to please the ERG and the DUP  will infuriate the EU and the USA, trigger trade retaliations and block the UK’s participation in the €95bn Horizon research scheme.  It would recklessly jeopardise the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and future Trade Agreement with the USA . Brussels will implement sanctions and has even threatened a trade war  – but is likely to wait until the Bill passes – if it does.

PM Johnson  was told that any breach of the Northern Irish protocol would be “economically very damaging, politically foolhardy and almost certainly illegal”.

Yet he appears hell-bent on pressing on with it even though he knows, and his Cabinet knows, and the Conservative Party knows they  either accept the NIP or embark on a trade war with the EU, a war they cannot win;they  either accept the NIP or abandon all hopes of a Trade Agreement with the USA, an agreement they will not get; they  either accept the NIP or trigger Irish Re-Unification, a process they cannot stop.

Refs

https://www.ft.com/content/0dee56c0-fdfa-11e8-ac00-57a2a826423e

https://www.ft.com/content/5aae5ac9-9af9-4a81-8cf6-5abcfef75d1d

https://www.ft.com/content/1acd84fe-bac8-4e16-b4b7-750016d37ee8

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