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UK Government up the ante on crisis of their own making

ttw7 (Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash)The Guardian reports that the row between the UK and the EU over checks on sausages and other chilled foods sent from Britain to Northern Ireland has deepened, with the Brexit minister telling Brussels that trade war threats will not wash with voters.

They say the UK government is reportedly considering unilaterally extending the grace periods under the protocol that give businesses in Northern Ireland time to adapt to new rules - including for the import of chilled meats such as sausages, chicken nuggets and mince from Great Britain.

What is ironic of course is that this so-called crisis is of the government's own making. It has been sparked by a legal agreement that a year ago was being touted by the self-same Ministers, and the Prime Minister, as the best thing since sliced bread. No sausage sandwich for Boris Johnson this time.

Fortunately, Gavin Barwell, who as Theresa May's chief of staff was fully involved in the Brexit talks until the summer of 2019, is on hand to put them straight. He said it was just not plausible for Boris Johnson to claim that he did not know what he was signing up to. Barwell told the Today programme:

I don't think the EU is ever going to think that is credible. The EU negotiating team have obviously worked very closely with the British negotiating team under both governments. They know the quality of the civil servants involved in that work, and they know that British ministers would have been have been advised in detail on the implications of what they were signing up to.

So I don't think anyone who's involved in the process is going to find it credible that the government signed up to something and didn't understand what the consequences of that were.

Asked if he thought that the government was now only pretending that it did not realise how damaging the protocol would be when it signed it in 2019, Barwell said:

It's difficult to conceive of any other explanation. When I was working with Theresa [May], Boris Johnson was foreign secretary for a period of that time. He perfectly well understood what the previous iteration of the protocol meant in terms of regulatory checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

When the deal was published and the government brought its legislation forward, the explanatory memorandum for the bill, which explained what the bill meant, was very clear what the consequences would be.

And I think he and David Frost are intelligent people. I find it inconceivable that they didn't understand what they were signing up to. They would have been advised very clearly by the civil service about that.

And I think it's also important to consider the political context at the time. When Boris took over, he initially tried to prorogue parliament and leave without a deal. He wasn't able to do that. So he then decided that he wanted to call an election to strengthen his position and it was clearly easier to fight that an election within an "oven-ready" Brexit deal.

So I think the calculation was sign up to whatever is on offer, and then see if we can deal with anything we don't like down the line. I think the EU have come to the same conclusion as me and that's why they're taking the approach that they are now.

Isn't it time UK Government Ministers admitted they had got it wrong and that the whole basis of their 2019 General Election campaign was wrong?