After endless negotiations with the EU, we have made little or no progress in resolving the problems the Protocol is creating.
It is expected that the Government will on Monday present its Northern Ireland Protocol Bill to the House of Commons. None of us actually know what is in it and yet that does not seem to have stopped some from trashing it and promising to oppose it.
I see that some in the Lords are already strutting around indicating that they don’t care about blocking the Bill, as and when it makes it to the Lords. Baroness Wheatcroft, someone who hates Brexit, has said that it is the job of the Lords to uphold the law. Yet I would have thought the first job of the House of Lords is to read what the legislation says before determining what you will do. Or is it a case of: "Sentence first - verdict afterwards."
The Government will only bring such a Bill in if it complies with International Law. The Attorney General is not, as often incorrectly described, a member of the Cabinet, but an independent adviser to the Cabinet on legal matters. The Attorney General will have had to seek advice from expert counsel and be able to stand her final position up in front of interrogation. Given all the braying from those opposed to the legislation, saying that it breaks international Law, I am surprised that they have not acquainted themselves with the terms of the Protocol itself.
The Protocol makes it very clear in Article 1, Paragraph 1 that: "This Protocol is without prejudice to the provisions of the 1998, (Good Friday) Agreement in respect of the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and the principle of consent." It goes on to say that it "respects the essential State functions and territorial integrity of the United Kingdom" and that it sets out "to protect the 1998 Agreement in all its dimensions". In other words, even the protocol acknowledges the primacy of the Good Friday agreement - an international treaty.
The reality is that when the Protocol was agreed the overriding reason given by the EU negotiators was that the Good Friday Agreement must be upheld at all costs. After just under three years of negotiation, the Protocol has done the opposite and has not only damaged the Good Friday Agreement but also broken its own provisions. In Article 16, it states that the UK may, where serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties persist or a diversion of trade has occurred, unilaterally take appropriate safeguarding measures.
After endless negotiations with the EU, we have made little or no progress in resolving the issue that the Protocol is causing a diversion of trade and disrupting society in Northern Ireland. All that has been offered in response by the EU is delays on the Protocol's full implementation and some diversions from a full implementation. When one thinks of the damaging mess it is in at the moment, I shudder to think what full implementation would do to the state of relationships in Northern Ireland. The EU has refused to even discuss the need to replace the Protocol.
I have heard the ignorant retort from those unreconciled to our departure from the EU that, "you signed it now you have to accept it". However, I urge such people to read the Protocol. In Article 13.8 it is clear that the Protocol was not meant to be permanent, that it can be replaced in whole or in part.
It is also worth pointing out that throughout the interminable negotiations, the EU has constantly threatened to close the North-South border if the UK does not implement the Protocol in full. In response, the UK however has never threatened to do so, nor will it. It is the EU that has sought to weaponise the delicate matter of the border.
We simply cannot go on like this watching the Good Friday Agreement being damaged by the Protocol. We have to act. Among other significant changes, we have to ensure the UK courts have the final say in the operation of any agreement, not the European Court of Justice. Get rid of the damaging goods checks and be able to charge VAT in Northern Ireland as we can in the rest of the UK.
To those in Government who wish to block such changes, and say just go on negotiating, I ask, what is it that they will say to the EU that hasn’t already been said? How will they protect the Good Friday agreement and restore power sharing when the EU is intransigent?
No we must have the courage to change this damaging Protocol and in so doing uphold the Union of the United Kingdom.