by Frank Schnittger
Wed Jul 7th, 2021 at 12:13:56 PM EST
Draft letter to the Editor:
A Chara, - The article by [former Irish Taoiseach and EU ambassador to Washington] John Briton in response to UK EU negotiator Lord Frost and NI Secretary of State Brandon Lewis is well argued and well put. (John Bruton, UK ministers need to read the NI protocol they signed, Opinion, 7th. July). The subtitle sums it up nicely "No hint of contrition or constructiveness in article by Lord Frost and Brandon Lewis . . . just menace."
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The article by Frost and Lewis (We must find a new balance in how NI protocol is operated) was an absolute disgrace and constituted an unfriendly act by our near neighbour. We should have withdrawn our ambassador for consultations and suggested the British ambassador - who has been equally insulting in his musing in the Irish Times - should take a long, extended break.
It's time the EU stopped pussyfooting around, making concessions to the UK on the recognition of UK qualifications, driving licences, driving insurance Green cards, free movement of pets, etc. while the UK disregards its most basic duties under the Withdrawal Agreement.
What we are seeing is the beginnings of a trade war between the UK and the EU, with N. Ireland considered as little more than collateral damage. Indeed, a little loyalist violence will do nicely as far as some Tories are concerned, as it will give them another stick with which to beat the EU.
It really is past time for the UK to suffer some real consequences for their failure to implement the protocol, and not just the legal consequences that will take many years to come to pass and which are viewed with derision by many Brexiteers.
Strict checks on every container load from the UK to EU ports in Dublin, Calais and Rotterdam might persuade them that maybe they should be implementing the agreement they freely negotiated after all.
The notion they didn't realise what they were signing up to is farcical - they were the authors of many of the regulations at issue - and the situation in NI now is exactly as it has always been at external borders to the EU.
It's always about having cake and eating it as far as Brexiteers are concerned, and the EU indulges them at its own peril.
Relations between the UK government and Ireland and the EU have been deteriorating rapidly as the marching season reaches its crescendo on July 12th. (commemorating the victory of King William of Orange over his father-in-law King James at the battle of the Boyne in 1690, of all things). Ironically it was the protestant King William who had the support of Pope Alexander VIII, but his victory heralded a long period of British protestant ascendency in Ireland.
The Irish government has been becoming increasingly concerned at the actions of the British government in N. Ireland as is shown by the tone of newspaper coverage:
Coveney says Britain showing `no generosity' in protocol row with EU and, in relation to British soldiers getting off scot free for murdering unarmed civilians, Amnesty for Troubles killings will deepen anguish of families, survivors say.
The EU, too, is belatedly starting to talk tough: EU will step up legal action if UK does not adhere to NI obligations - Sefcovic, but I don't think legal actions will perturb the UK government over much - their time-lines are way beyond the field of action decision scope of most government ministers.
Commentary in Ireland is increasingly robust with Professor Ronan McCrea arguing that Frost and Lewis [are] being deliberately disingenuous on protocol and that London wanted a deal with the EU and a hard Brexit more than it wanted to preserve the economic unity of the United Kingdom yet seeks to blame the EU for the resulting agreement. Even normally staid business correspondents are becoming increasingly alarmed with Eoin Burke-Kennedy arguing that Brexit inflames North's identity politics and that the economic advantages of NI's new trading arrangement are being overlooked by the rejectionist rhetoric.
What all these writers have in common is a concern that the British government is almost seeking to incite loyalists to riot to give them added ammunition in their dispute with the EU. They fear it plays well in Tory Brexiteer circles to maintain an adversarial attitude towards the EU even if that provokes instability and violence in N. Ireland. As I wrote in a previous unpublished letter to Editor:
A Chara,- The opinion piece by Lord Frost and Brandon Lewis shows that the UK government is still taking an adversarial approach in its relations with Ireland and the EU. Far from taking ownership of an agreement they freely negotiated with the EU, they continue to demand that it be watered down to meet hard line unionist objections, while offering nothing positive in return.
There is no recognition that the customs controls required by the agreement are the unavoidable consequences of Brexit and inconvenience exporters here just as much as they inconvenience exporters in N. Ireland. Far from acknowledging that a large majority in N. Ireland voted against Brexit they are still trying to have their cake and eat it.
The Remainer majority in N. Ireland have lost all of the benefits of the EU, including the CAP, regional and cohesion funds. They have lost their rights as EU Citizens, their human rights as contained in the Charter of Fundamental Human rights, and the right to appeal the judgements of British Courts to the European Court of Justice. All they have retained is access to the Single Market for their goods exports and imports, but Brandon and Frost are to be believed, it is unionists who are the victims.
It is time they acknowledged that there are disadvantages to Brexit which are baked into the cake of Johnson's oven ready deal and moved on to respect Ireland's choice to remain within the EU. There is no "sausage anxiety" in N. Ireland - they make perfectly fine sausages of their own - and Brandon and Frost shouldn't be feeding the entirely confected anxiety about the Protocol which unionists are using to cover up their shame at their complicity in a hard form of Brexit which is the cause of all these customs controls in the first place.
The Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement commits the British government to being even handed in their dealings with all communities in N. Ireland. It is time they started to represent more than the extreme fringes of unionism in N. Ireland.
Ironically all this comes at a time when most unionists are struggling to come to terms with the Protocol. Edwin Poots had agreed to work the north south institutions of the Good Friday agreement despite his antipathy to the Dublin Government. His successor, Geoffrey Donaldson, now speaks about "correcting the flaws in the protocol" having previously campaigned for its abolition. Unionist commentator, Newton Emerson, acknowledges that public opinion is almost evenly split on the protocol (on nationalist/unionist lines) and argues that the priority for unionism now is to avoid the protocol threatening the stability of the devolved institutions in Stormont (Subscriber only).
So we have the extraordinary situation of the UK government (clumsily) trying to play the Orange Card in its battle with the EU, while some unionists are trying to calm things down. Could it be that they are tiring of being used by the UK government when it suits them and abandoned when it doesn't?
I had thought that the very forthright messages (including a demarche) coming from the Biden administration would have alerted Johnson to the perils of inflaming the situation in N. Ireland further. If so, it seems that Lord Frost and Brandon Lewis didn't get the memo.
But Brexit may have had another unanticipated consequence for British Ireland relations. Having long regarded Ireland as a junior partner within the EU, insofar as they regarded Ireland at all, Britain may now have a renewed strategic interest in Ireland as the weakest link within the EU. Brexiteers haven't given up their cherished hope that Ireland may one day be inveigled out of the EU into a closer relationship with Britain, and the sight of N. Ireland loyalists marching against "EU domination" is music to their ears. Having long had a strategic interest, with Ireland, in tamping down tensions there, some Brexiteers are now playing on those tensions for all they are worth, the peace process and rights of N. Ireland nationalists be damned.