Rishi Sunak finds himself in a hard place

Published : 24 Feb 2023 06:52 PM | Updated : 24 Feb 2023 06:52 PM

There is one word that I have come to loathe over the past decade. Brexit. Honestly, even typing those six letters cause anger to pulse in my veins.

I think I might actually need therapy.

I keep copies of everything I write and file. And checking my records, I have written 3,742 articles — this will be 3,743 — where the ‘B’ word appears.

I shudder to think what Rishi Sunak is faced with. No matter what way he turns, it seems as if the ghosts of Brexit past and present are there, haunting his every action.

And not only is it the ‘B’ word, it is the cadre of Eurosceptics who inherit every corner of the Conservative party and beyond.

This cadre includes the evangelical and the converts, those who have taken up the cause of cutting every tie with Europe and are determined to make Great Britain great again, as it were.

I live here now. And that great Brexit experiment hasn’t quite gone the way those meddling political scientologists in the Tory party might have hoped.

And despite all of the depressing economic data at a macro level, the statistical data at an imperial level, and the anecdotal stories most people have about the way things have changed or are trending towards the negative, that right-wing rump is as noisy and enthusiastic about Brexit as the day they were when they swallowed the Kool-Aid and believed that there would suddenly be £350 million pounds available each week for the National Health Service, saved from funds that were going to Brussels.

Now there’s a Pinocchian nose stretcher if ever there was.

If we needed proof that these economic Neanderthals were still among us, then the current furore over trying to resolve the Northern Ireland protocol once and for all is clear and present proof of their continued existence.

Working behind the scenes

For his part, Sunak has been quietly working behind the scenes, talking to the Irish, talking to Brussels, trying to come up with some way soon of resolving the protocol.

The protocol is perhaps the ugliest piece of unfished ‘B’ business that remains — a bureaucratic nightmare created by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson in his rush to acclamation as the man who got Brexit done.

His “oven ready” Brexit deal was half-baked, unpalatable to those who recognised the very deal dangers to peace and the Good Friday Accord, to Northern Ireland and the prospect of making the ties that hold the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland weaker for the first time in a century. 

Johnson’s solution was simply to leave the three nations that share the island of Great Britainoutside the European Union customs area, drawing a red line down the Irish Sea, leaving Northern Ireland inside the EU customs regime. He was warned then it wouldn’t work — and those warnings have proved to be true.

But he ignored them, and devised another great Boris plan to solve the problem he created — writing legislation that says that the UK can ignore the international treaties it signs. 

That legislation is still winding its way through Parliament at a snail’s pace — simply because most parliamentarians who value the worth of word and law, are reluctant to bring it to law.

But even now, those Johnson Brexiteers are determined that their version of Brexit is the only one that should matter — and are crawling out from their political and economic hibernative states to scuttle Sunak’s attempts at making a bad ‘B’ deal better. For weeks now, Sunak’s closest advisers have been working with Brussels and Dublin to resolve the protocol. Until that’s resolved, the Democratic Unionists in Northern Ireland say they won’t participate in the power-sharing government there. If they’re not in, the government can’t meet. 

And as long as they feel they are being treated differently that the rest of the UK — an alternative reality the Johnson ‘B’ deal screated — they are being treated differently.

No surrender. No compromise

But the Democratic Unionists have only the electoral support of one voter in five in Northern Ireland. From the day the party was founded by the late Reverend Ian Paisley in 1971, the only consistent word in their vocabulary has been ‘No’.

No surrender. No compromise. No movement, No talking. No sharing of power. 

No, no, no. So much so that Dr Paisley was nicknamed after that Bond-movie villain, Dr No.

And nothing has changed since then, even if Northern Ireland has changed and power sharing is a reality, and guns have been mostly off the stage in the province for the past three decades.

But the DUP says no to any compromise. And this attitude has been fed by those on the far right in the Conservative party who believe in a Great Britain wrapped in red, white and blue — and orange — bunting. 

Sunak went to Belfast last week to meet with nationalists, business leaders — and unionists — in an attempt to get some sort of agreement on rule changes that would row back that customs border.

Thanks to technology and the instant sharing of information, most customs checks could be eliminated through the introduction of ‘Green’ and ‘Red’ customs channels, just like most air passengers walk through on arriving at an international airport. Seems sensible, right?

The issue is who would have the responsibility of resolving any dispute. And with the European Court of Justice having a role now, any continued or future role can’t be tolerated by the DUP or those Johnson Brexiteers.

The logical way forward would be for some sort of an arbitration panel, but having ECJ officials having any say in such a body is anathema to Brexiteers and their ilk. They have threatened a rebellion in the commons against any 

legislative attempt to resolve the protocol.

More so, they plan to speed up the passing of that ludicrous bill overriding treaties, simply to make a point that they, and not the prime minister, are in control of the Conservative party.

Sadly too, it means as if I’m going to be writing many more stories about the ‘B’ word in the coming months.

Now, just where did I put my blood pressure pills?

Mick O'Reilly is Foreign Correspondent at Gulf News. Source: Gulf News