There is something Putinesque about the government’s framing of its Northern Ireland protocol bill. It is almost the opposite of what Boris Johnson, his man in Belfast, Brandon Lewis, and the hardline backbenchers he’s appeasing claim it to be.
Leave to one side that it trashes Britain’s reputation. That it was conceived in London as a solution to the Northern Ireland Brexit conundrum. That it reneges on the withdrawal agreement Johnson and his lieutenant, David Frost, negotiated with the EU. Never mind that it breaks an international treaty the UK signed. Forget very old-fashioned notions of truth, sticking to your word, trust and obeying international law.
Instead focus upon its real purpose: dog-whistling to Johnson’s base by triggering a humongous row with the old villain Brussels because that worked so well in the 2016 Brexit referendum. And keep that going – if at all possible – all the way to the next general election.
Johnson chunters that the protocol breaches the Good Friday agreement, yet it’s his own bill amending it that is opposed by all of the main Northern Ireland political parties except the Democratic Unionist party, by the business community which fears yet more disruption and instability, and by civil society groups that have been trying to make the protocol work.
It’s not the EU that has been gridlocking the negotiations to get rid of the protocol’s rough edges, it’s Johnson’s failure along with first Frost and now Liz Truss to negotiate seriously.
20 June 2022 – Peter Hain, Lord Hain of Neath, Labour MP from 1991 to 2015, former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and Secretary of State for Wales, Labour member of the House of Lords since 2015