The Northern Ireland Protocol needs urgent fixing

Ahead of his visit to the province yesterday, Boris Johnson wrote an article for a Northern Ireland newspaper setting out his vision for protocol reform. His goal is not to overturn the deal, he said, but it must be admitted that the delicate balance struck by the Good Friday Agreement has been upset. East-West trade did not work as it should, much has changed since the Protocol was agreed and pragmatic reforms were needed to remedy its shortcomings. This was hardly the warlike saber-rattling that the EU was desperate to portray, as if the Prime Minister were surrendering.

From the start of this process, the EU has engaged in a sophisticated form of gaslighting. She presents herself as the savior of the Good Friday Agreement, ignoring Unionists’ concerns that her position inside the UK will be changed without her consent. Brussels has accused the UK of “bad faith” while briefly invoking Article 16’s safeguard clause itself in a fit of anger over vaccine shipments. During the negotiations, it stated that Britain had no choice but to agree to one unsatisfactory settlement or another, as if these were inevitable consequences of Brexit. It declined to mention that Brussels was forcing these decisions on Britain because it refused to consider more innovative solutions to the Irish border issue.

Mr Johnson’s trip to Northern Ireland should encourage the various parties in the province to restore power-sharing. Few expected it to give instant results. The DUP has said it will not return to government until there is firm action on record, while the Sinn Féin leader has criticized the prime minister. Many voters just want the government to work, given that Northern Ireland faces the same cost of living and public service problems as the rest of the UK.

At the very least, Brussels should accept that it has a moral obligation to help fix this mess. A common-sense solution would also be in his own interest, as the Prime Minister retains the option of unilateral action, although he doesn’t seem enthusiastic about it. But if the EU still refuses to budge, ministers must make it clear they are serious about suspending the worst aspects of the protocol, rather than just threatening it. The status quo is unsustainable and nothing will change until Northern Ireland finally faces the harsh realities. The Northern Ireland Protocol needs urgent fixing

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