Well, I suppose it was inevitable. Rishi Sunak reached a workable compromise with the EU which will remove the need for a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, reduce trade and customs barriers and provides an opportunity for all parties to move on from this impasse. So, of course, Boris Johnson piped up to try and get back into the spotlight.
The Windsor deal was achieved by setting a different tone and opting for a different tactic than Boris Johnson’s threats and belligerence. Boris loyalists and the hard-line Brexiteers in the ERG have always maintained that a confrontational approach was the best way of negotiating with the EU. The idea was that threats, blackmail, a refusal to cooperate and a willingness to break international law would get us what we wanted. Anyone who thought otherwise wasn’t a true Brexiteer, they were probably a remainer in disguise. Where did that get us? Nowhere.
Threatened by Sunak’s success, Boris has made his intervention. Surprise, surprise, he criticised the deal and isn’t sure he can support it. It was typical that he led his criticism with his tired, facile phrase ‘take back control’ and fell back on his Northern Ireland Protocol Bill. Slogans and unrealistic non-solutions, that’s all the disgraced windbag had to offer, the same shallow and infantile nonsense we’ve heard before.
The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill was no kind of solution. It did not work as a threat. The belief was that it would force the EU to the negotiating table, instead it soured relations and inspired an incredible negative reaction from all of our European allies. It actively prevented a solution being found for Northern Ireland and ensured that no discussions could take place on any other matter of importance.
Boris has no appreciation of the trade-offs necessary to reach compromises in difficult matters like this. All he has is the same old cakeism, he doesn’t understand Northern Ireland and he doesn’t understand Brexit. He doesn’t want to, it’s easier to be a rabble rouser and a populist. This self-professed patriot wanted to renege on an international treaty, turn the UK from a champion of the rule of law to a law-breaking nation, staining our reputation and souring international trade relations. His unhelpful act of brazen attention seeking ought to be ignored.
The Prime Minister negotiated significant concessions from the EU that puts Northern Ireland in a good position. Is the Windsor Framework perfect? No, of course not. There is no perfect solution. Did the government get everything it wanted? No, of course not. That isn’t how negotiations work. It’s time to grow up. Stop all their archaic, purist talk about sovereignty and begin to understand there are trade-offs, consequences from choices we freely make and necessary compromises.
What has been achieved is beyond the minor tinkering initially put forward by the EU. I have been surprised by how substantial the renegotiation have been. The scope of EU law has been narrowed, the role of the European Court of Justice is limited, and the Stormont Brake is a significant achievement.
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The Stormont Brake allows a petition of concern to be raised which could lead to a UK veto on changes to the rules covered by the protocol and not subject to the ECJ but arbitration. This is a genuine limitation on the ECJ, it is not just government spin.
Article 12(3a) of the revised protocol sets out conditions for when the UK can legitimately notify the EU that it intends to trigger the brake and suspend the application of amended EU law to Northern Ireland.
If there is a dispute as to whether those conditions have been satisfied there will be negotiations, if the dispute cannot be resolved in negotiations it will be referred to an arbitration panel. If the arbitration panel is dealing with a dispute that involves interpretation of EU law it must seek guidance from the ECJ. However, this does not mean that the ECJ has the final say or settles the dispute on behalf of all parties, the ECJ simply interprets EU law to assist the arbitration panel.
It is hoped that it will not have to be used, and at the very least disputes will be settled in negotiations, but the Stormont Brake meaningfully addresses the democratic deficit in Northern Ireland and is a significant concession.
There are various other important changes, the “green lane” for goods from Britain to the UK means most check and paperwork will be scrapped. On Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Checks at Northern Ireland Points of Entry where there is now only a requirement for a single document per lorry without the need for official vet sign off, a positive change from the current process.
Significantly, on parcels, there are no further requirements placed on anything sold to consumers in Northern Ireland as the grace period is to be made permanent. There are also welcome changes on VAT that are an improvement of the previous, complex process.
If we compare the Windsor Framework to being in the single market it is not a good deal. If you compare it to a fictional dreamland inhabited by Boris and the ERG in which the UK can do whatever it wants, doesn’t have to compromise of acknowledge its choices have consequences, then it’s not a good deal. If we compare it to the current situation, then it is an improvement and a good deal.
It is high time we learned that complex problems cannot be reduced to slogans. We’ve had years of trying it the hard way with the Brexit dogmatists as they led us down the garden path. It’s time to move on. Northern Ireland doesn’t need dogmatism and belligerence, nor does it need perfection. It needed a workable compromise. Now we have one.
As I have written previously, solving the Northern Ireland impasse and improving relations with the EU are the first necessary steps to making Brexit work. We must now take those steps and not let the headbangers pull us back again. Settling this issue unlocks so many doors for us.
What is the credible alternative?
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