Opinion

How Britannia waives the rules

N Ireland protocol bill threatens political stability, contravenes international law


Published : 16 Jun 2022 08:25 PM

How good is your word? I remember, about 15 years ago now, when I flew out to Dubai for a job interview at Gulf News, the Editor in Chief looked at my curriculum vitae, was suitably impressed but asked: “If I hire you, how long you stay?”

I answered straight away: “Three years.”

“Three years” he said. “How I know?”

“Because I give you my word,” I replied.

“Your word? Yanni, if you give me your word, that’s good enough for me.”

And we shook hands. As you can read, that deal between two still endures.

I tell you this story because agreements are important and should be honoured — simply because they are matters of honour. And honour is important.

Agreements, when signed between nations, are also important. Heck, where would we be without the rule of law? Yes, there’s even long-standing international agreements, such as the Vienna Agreement of 1971 and 1986, which lay out the rules for signing and registering formal agreements between states.

And frankly, if no one recognises the legitimacy of the rule of law, then it’s open season.

Another truism in life is that when a deal involves compromise. And compromise was always going to be at the heart of the Brexit deal when it was reached.

Tied to the European Union

After 45 years of being inextricably tied to the European Union, benefiting and contributing to the third largest global economy, enjoying the free movement of goods and services to the more than 500 million people in a single marketplace, participating in a common set of principles that covered every aspect of social, economic, environmental, technical and research development, the decision to leave would always necessitate compromise.

Cast your mind back and you’ll recall that Theresa May was broken by the almost three years of negotiations in trying to get a Brexit agreement.

She did, in fact, reach two separate agreements with Brussels and the 27 EU member states. Each of those was scuppered in the House of Commons for three main reasons.

Firstly, she lacked a majority in her own party and relied on the 10 MPs from the Democratic Unionist party to govern.

The N Ireland bill, if enacted, will allow ministers to fix 

problems identified in the 

protocol by giving them powers in domestic 

law to unilaterally override the Brexit treaty 

with the EU

Secondly, to solve the issue of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland meant that her deals relied on the UK laws remaining aligned with those of the EU, which the hard-line Brexiteers in Parliament were opposed to. Brexit means Brexit, after all.

And thirdly, those Brexiteers wanted May out, and weakened her so that they could control the Conservatives after decades of division between pro-Europeans and the then so-called Eurosceptics. And Boris was at heart of at all — and we know that that unfolded.

So, when it came to Boris to negotiate a new Brexit agreement, he accepted most of the previously agreed terms and looked at the Irish border issue with all of the decorum, insight and gravity the former Mayor of London could muster and decided that the solution was simple. “Oven ready” were his own words.

Oven ready? No. “Half-baked” is more apt.

He simply drew a red line down the Irish Sea, setting Northern Ireland adrift to remain under EU customs rules, while the rest of the UK — England, Scotland and Wales — went its own jolly way.

He was warned by all sides that there would be issues down the road, but Boris wanted to Get Brexit Done. And he did.

And no sooner was that Brexit deal signed than the problems started — just like everyone predicted.

Sure, the pandemic hit and nations were locked down, which meant that the whole issue of the protocol could be put on the long finger when it could be ignored.

Ignoring internationally agreed commitments

Johnson government has now published a Bill, where it plans to simply ignore its internationally agreed commitments under the Brexit agreement. Boris’ Britannia is waiving the rules.

The Bill would see customs checks between Northern Ireland and Britain effectively scrapped and would give UK government ministers the power to change almost every aspect of the text.

The Irish government and the EU made clear that the step would represent a breach of international law, with the EU now considering legal action against Britain.

European Commission Vice President Josep Borrell has said the UK’s Northern Ireland Protocol Bill casts an “unnecessary shadow on EU-UK cooperation, undermining trust and credibility”.

Boris was warned that his “over ready” solution would weaken the union that ties the United Kingdom together.

Firstly, a majority of cross-party lawmakers in Northern Ireland — 54 out of the 90 in the regional assembly — say they are opposed to the Bill as it threatens peace and stability.

Secondly, in Scotland, the Scottish Nationalists and the Greens, who are pushing hard for a second referendum on independence, outlined their plans on Tuesday for a new vote.

The major hurdle the Scottish face is that any new referendum to hold must be approved under agreed terms with London.

The Scots say they have legal advice they will be able to go ahead regardless. Heck, now they even have new proof that those agreements don’t matter. Just rip it up. Or ignore it.

Rules, after all, have been broken or ignored. Northern Ireland Protocol Bill just proves that.


Mick O'Reilly is Foreign Correspondent at Gulf News. 

Source: Gulf News