By Ben Habib
Liz Truss has two years in which to deliver for the country or face electoral evisceration.
Her primary concern is bound to be the cost-of-living crisis and the economy but she must not allow the situation in Northern Ireland to continue to fester. The Northern Ireland Protocol is a threat not just to NI but the entire United Kingdom. If it is not dealt with, there will soon no longer be a United Kingdom.
The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, brought forward by Truss when Johnson was PM ostensibly to reform the Protocol, was a welcome development but inadequate. It does not, in itself, resolve any aspect of the Protocol. The Bill merely provides a framework to do so.
It refers to removing the European Court of Justice as the ultimate arbiter of the Protocol, smoothing the passage of goods from GB to NI and bringing NI back into the UK’s VAT and excise duty regime – but it does not actually do any of this.
All the regulations required to bring Northern Ireland back into union with Great Britain have been left to be drafted and implemented at a later date. Surely, had Johnson been serious about reforming the Protocol, the Bill’s intent would have been implemented immediately?
The Bill also faces an uphill struggle in the Lords and constant accusations of breaking international law. Its passage and the passage of all subsequent requisite regulations will take years, assuming they ever come to pass.
Then our government will have the impossible task of trying to convince the EU to accept the Protocol’s new terms. That will never happen. The EU will never agree to an arrangement which genuinely neuters the union busting terms of the Protocol. It designed the Protocol in order to break the United Kingdom.
In response to the Bill the EU has threatened multiple legal actions against the UK. Not content with undermining the movement of goods from GB to NI, these threats include an insistence the UK institute checks on goods going from NI to GB! These movements have no bearing on the EU’s precious Single Market. The threat is overtly malign. No one any longer can be left in doubt about the EU’s intent.
The EU describes the Bill as a loaded gun and has refused to negotiate with the UK over the Protocol until it is taken off the table. It is bullying us.
The ONLY way to deal with the EU and save the union of the United Kingdom is by taking decisive unilateral action. The Protocol is not Liz Truss’s deal. She has no vested interest in it and she should act – firmly.
She should continue with her Bill but she should underpin it by accepting the Protocol broke the United Kingdom. Others and I have brought a case against the government making that exact claim. If she does not contest our case and accepts its contentions, the Protocol would become unlawful in the UK – ab initio.
And, with the Protocol becoming domestically unlawful, she would, entirely in compliance with international law, be entitled to withdraw the UK from it. The EU would become the international law outlier.
The Protocol was Johnson’s deal but it falls to Truss to save the UK from it. If she is strong, does the right thing and accepts the Protocol is unlawful, she has a cast iron morally correct instant route out of this constitutional crisis.