Mark Dolan: We will never erect a hard Northern Ireland border
All of this comes down to political will
The current struggles over the so-called Northern Ireland protocol, which places an invisible border down the Irish Sea are rooted in what I would call Brexit denial syndrome. This flawed and unworkable solution, which is destabilising a hard won peace in Northern Ireland and damaging its economy, exists as a monument to the refusal of Brussels to accept the referendum result of 2016 and yet more evidence that the Eurocrats just don't accept reality.
I voted remain, but there is one simple reason why I’m for Brexit. Because a majority of people voted for it. The last time I checked, that's how democracy works. Remainers in this country have continued to debate a decision that's already been made and of course they spent years trying to reverse it, including the leader of the opposition Keir Starmer, the architect of Labour’s second referendum policy, which of course lost them the election. People are still battling that referendum decision, like the Japanese soldiers still fighting the Second World War in the early 1960s. Too many people on both sides of the channel didn't get the memo. Brexit has happened.
The Northern Ireland protocol, which disgracefully divides our country, an unprecedented move, and one which should never have been sanctioned in the first place, is there to protect the European single market. Or so they say. But needless and politically motivated over enforcement of customs rules is really a political game, it's ideological and it's punishment for our decision to leave. It's profoundly immoral for a foreign block to cause friction in the flow of goods from one part of a sovereign nation to another. And like so much bureaucracy, the detail is farcical.
A perfectly sensible solution is available and one that will be pursued by our impressive Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday today, their writer David Jones cites the Centre for Brexit Policy, who propose a mutual enforcement of customs regulations, whereby the UK and the EU would each take responsibility for ensuring that no non-compliant goods were exported into the other's territory, thus protecting both internal markets.
Sounds sensible. But if common sense and pragmatism do not prevail, then Truss has every right to trigger article 16, which tears up the agreement altogether. All hell will break loose, but so be it. Our willingness to stand firm under the leadership of Lord Frost a year ago, and a willingness to walk away at that time, was what got Brexit done. He’s quite the loss to the cabinet.
Enforcing these needless rules isn't just impractical, it's not just economically illogical but it's deeply unethical too, as playing politics with trade risks lives. Unionist groups are growing in anger about the division of our country, which unfortunately is feeding the monster of hardline extremists whose next step could tragically be violence. The Northern Ireland protocol risks restarting the troubles if that hasn't happened already and be clear in time, those who won't take a more sensible approach and seek a long-term practical and flexible solution, will have blood on their hands. I know that the result of the referendum was tough for the EU. But tough luck. That is democracy, and the departure of a member state from the block, which happens to be connected by land to an ongoing member will always be complicated.
C’est la vie. Merde happens. Forgive my French.
Allow me to illustrate my point that all of this is political. If Scotland were to become independent, it would doubtless be welcomed into the bosom of the EU, at which point they would face the same issues with the Scottish border to England. Scotland would be in the EU and the single market, but Wales and England not. At that point, it's very clear the EU would find a practical solution. Because surprise surprise, at that point it would be in their interest, as they would be keen to absorb Scotland into the project.
You see all of this comes down to political will. And don't give me any of this guff about the protocol being there to prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland. We will never erect one. The closest we've come to the threat of a border between north and south came from, wait for it, the EU themselves. The EU commission threatened just that during the row over vaccine supplies last year. And I've got a lot of faith in Liz Truss, our erstwhile Foreign Secretary.
As trade secretary, she negotiated a flurry of trade deals, with countries all over the world, with many more in the pipeline. But this is her greatest challenge yet. If she faces off the EU and creates a lasting settlement, so that we can move on from this and actually have a positive relationship with Europe, it will be a great legacy. And could nudge her closer, in time, to the occupancy of number 10. Supportive of a low tax economy, economic and personal freedom, and a distain for extreme political correctness, Liz Truss is clearly casting herself in the mould of the iron Lady Mrs T.
But the message from Liz Truss to her European counterparts must be a simple one: EU turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning.