Two years after negotiating the terms of the Brexit deal, the UK Government proposes to unilaterally revoke one of its most crucial elements which was designed to maintain peace and stability in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland protocol allows Northern Ireland to remain in the European Union’s Customs Union, thereby avoiding the creation of a physical hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland which would have been needed to check goods going between the UK and the EU.
While this may have solved one problem, it created another: the border checks instead had to take place between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, referred to often as the ‘border in the Irish Sea’.
As a result, tensions between the UK and Unionists in Northern Ireland have risen, and now, in an attempt to fix this problem, the UK Government wants to pass a law that would allow it to simply revoke the protocol agreement it made with the EU to find another solution. Doing so breaks the recognised treaty between the UK and EU – a clear breach of international law.Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has been tasked with telephoning foreign leaders to inform them of her Government’s plans. The Prime Minister and supportive MPs have attempted to play down the abundantly problematic nature of their actions. The Prime Minister even suggested it was ‘not a big deal’.Unsurprisingly, Truss’s telephone calls and the Government’s downplaying have not gone down well.Following this, EU Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič, said the UK taking ‘unilateral action is damaging to mutual trust & a formula for uncertainty’.After his 12-minute phone call with Truss, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney tweeted “The UK Government now proposing to set aside International Law, reject a partnership approach, ignore majority in Northern Ireland and deliberately ratchet up tension with an EU seeking compromise”.What’s more, it is expected the European Commission will relaunch legal action against the UK once the Bill is published.If the UK Government thinks causing severe concern and upset to our nearest neighbours is not a big deal, it shows the incompetency and cavalier attitude this government has to international relations.This plays into a wider narrative, too. The fact is the UK Government is once again treating a constituent nation of the UK as a political football. To them, the primary consideration is not the citizens of Northern Ireland and the serious political and personal issues to navigate. The UK Government’s actions are a desperate and unthinking attempt to navigate crises of its own making in pursuit of self-preservation.Following on from the no-confidence vote last week in which around 75% of backbench Tories voted to oust the Prime Minister, a considerable rebellion is expected against the Government’s proposals – and rightly so.The reality is Boris Johnson’s government is stumbling from catastrophe to scandal and from failed policy outcomes to dangerous policy proposals. The effects on the people in every nation of the UK are real, and now, decades-long peace in Northern Ireland is at real risk.