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An Englishman's word.

October 13, 2021 4:29 PM

g55z (Photo by Constantin Wenning on Unsplash)Back in days of yore when Theresa May was Prime Minister and the Tory Party was squabbling about what sort of Brexit they wanted the issue of any agreement with the EU ensuring it protected the Good Friday agreement which had brought peace to Northern Ireland was front and centre of the issues being confronted

If there was to be no hard border on the island of Ireland then the UK either had to remain close to the EU single market or accept that there would have to be some sort of border in the Irish Sea. Mrs May was working on a deal which favoured the former saying " No UK prime minister could ever agree" to a border in the Irish Sea.

And yet a couple of years later that is exactly what the Conservative Government under Boris Johnson agreed to given he wanted a complete break with the European single market. The hard brexiteers held a legal star chamber to vet the deal and said they were happy with it despite the strong opposition of Unionist politicians. Our Prime Minister lauded the deal which included the Northern Ireland Protocol as " fantastic" and said he had got Brexit done. Unionist objections were brushed aside by the Prime Minister who famously said their would be no new paperwork as a result of the deal when patently it was not true!

So why are we under two years later claiming the Northern Ireland Protocol to be completely unacceptable and in need of re-writing? Why are we saying the European Court should not have a final say on how single market rules in Northern Ireland are applied even though that was highlighted in the agreement we voluntarily signed with the EU?

Lord Frost who negotiated the original deal gave a speech yesterday in which he called for wholesale changes to the agreement threatening to unilaterally suspend it if it was not changed. Some of the reasons given were laughable for example the claim it was all last minute when during the negotiations the government deliberately delayed discussions threatening a "no deal" to try to force concessions from the EU

There is some justification to say that the EU have been over zealous in applying the terms of agreement to the letter and have made sales of fresh products from the mainland to Northern Ireland overly difficult ( indeed the rumoured changes to the agreement being offered by the EU today acknowledge that) but there are two other forces at play here

Firstly by riding roughshod over the views of the Unionist politicians who were supposed to be part of the governing coalition at the time and then blithely denying the consequences of the deal he was signing our Prime Minister helped stoke a feeling of resentment and betrayal which earlier this year spilled into street violence. The Prime Minister who once described the Northern Ireland issue as a gnat in terms of significance and who according to Dominic Cummings didn't understand the agreement he was signing bears a lot of responsibility

A second and even more worrying possible cause of the current problem was given by Dominic Cummings. In a number of tweets he said the UK government always intended to "ditch" the Northern Ireland protocol, Cummings said the flawed Brexit deal had been a way to get out of the electoral doldrums and "whack Corbyn", and "of course" the government should be allowed to "sometimes break deals… like every other state does".

Now Mr Cummings is no paragon of virtue but his accusations run the risk of fuelling distrust from the EU in the ongoing discussions about changes. It is hard to do a deal with someone you don't trust and more likely to drive greater penalties for diverging from any deal that is made

Ed Davey says David Frost speech showed "gross incompetence and total hypocrisy." "They want to blame everyone else rather than take any responsibility whatsoever. He signed up to a weak deal and to talk about a trade war is just puerile".

For a government that regularly talks up British exceptionalism this is a dangerous place to go. It used to be said an Englishman's word was his bond. Apparently no longer