It’s time to tear up the Northern Ireland Protocol

The instability in Northern Ireland isn’t down to Brexit – it’s down to our failure to implement Brexit properly.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

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Topics Brexit Politics UK

The most shocking thing about the violence that has swept parts of Northern Ireland every night since Good Friday is that people are shocked by it. You thought you could turn Northern Ireland into the battleground over Brexit, into a prize to be tussled over by the United Kingdom and the EU oligarchy, and that it wouldn’t have destabilising consequences? That in itself is testament to the blindness and arrogance of the UK political class and the global elites. As they now look with horror upon Northern Ireland’s burning buses and flying petrol bombs, let’s remind them that it was their weaponisation of Ireland in the Brexit battle, their cynical dilution of Brexit by keeping Northern Ireland tied to the EU, that helped to stoke this instability.

The disingenuousness of Remainers over the violence in Northern Ireland is astonishing. As violence has flared among loyalist youths in West Belfast, as well as in Carrickfergus and Derry, Britain’s Remainer elites have pointed the long finger of blame at their usual suspect: Brexit. That fiery bus, those 55 injured police officers, that assaulted press photographer – it’s all down to Brexit, they say. ‘We told you this would happen.’

This is the height of political dishonesty. It isn’t Brexit that stoked instability in Northern Ireland – it’s the compromises over Brexit. It was the EU’s and the Remainer elites’ insistence on an ‘Irish solution’ that essentially involved annexing Northern Ireland from the UK on matters of customs and goods that provoked anger and concern among many people in Northern Ireland. It was the failure to implement Brexit properly, not Brexit itself, that pushed Northern Ireland into a new and unpredictable era.

The proposition of Brexit was simple: in an all-kingdom vote it was decided that the UK would no longer be a member of the European Union. Yes, this would have raised certain issues for the Republic of Ireland, which would now have a land border with a non-EU member and no land borders with the EU itself. But that was a practical challenge that could have been straightforwardly resolved. Instead what happened is that the powerful anti-Brexit lobby – including Brussels oligarchs, the Irish government and much of the political elite in the UK – weaponised Irish concerns and used them both to demonise Brexit and to insist that it could not be fully implemented. Northern Ireland would need a different arrangement, they said; it would need to be siphoned off from the rest of the kingdom.

They got their way. Despite promising never to draw a border down the Irish Sea, Boris Johnson did just that, by agreeing to a Northern Ireland Protocol which ensures that the Six Counties are still beholden to the EU’s ‘level playing field’ provisions and its rules on customs issues, and even to a certain amount of jurisdiction on the part of the European Court of Justice. The Irish government and the EU, and their supporters among the anti-Brexit elites in the UK, successfully secured a half-Brexit, a phoney Brexit, for Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland’s current status as a nation in limbo – not entirely part of the UK anymore and not entirely part of the EU, either – is on them. It is them, not those of us who voted for Brexit, who helped to create this new and strange and unstable Northern Ireland.

The idea that you could constitutionally rearrange Northern Ireland over the heads of its people and that there wouldn’t be consequences is surreal. The idea that you can ignore the British electorate’s cry for the UK to remove itself from the EU and decide instead to keep a part of the UK tied to the EU, and that this wouldn’t have some form of political or social blowback, is naive in the extreme. Apart from anything else this is Northern Ireland we’re talking about. It isn’t Kent. It isn’t Cumbria. It’s a part of the world in which sovereignty is a live, difficult and contested question. Everyone who thought Northern Ireland could be quietly cut off from the UK and that everything would be fine – whether that’s Boris or Brussels, the Taoiseach or the pro-Remain commentariat – has behaved with staggering naivety. Will the current violence wake them up?

The problem isn’t Brexit. It’s that albatross that hangs around the neck of Brexit – the Northern Ireland Protocol. The protocol is undemocratic, given that it dilutes the free, fair UK vote for our entire nation to cease being tied to the EU. It is duplicitous, given that it creates what our political leaders promised never to create – a border down the Irish Sea. And it is unfair, given that it changed the status of Northern Ireland over the heads of the people who live there. The protocol is an insult to British democracy and to the freedoms of the people of Northern Ireland – it has to go.

The UK is undergoing a kind of neo-Partition. Northern Ireland, against the wishes of its Unionist majority, is being partitioned from the rest of the UK on certain economic, political and legal matters. This is wrong. And I say this as someone who has long wanted to see a United Ireland. But not this kind of United Ireland. Not an Ireland being increasingly united under the undemocratic purview of EU rule and against the wishes of both the Unionist electorate in Northern Ireland and the British people more broadly, who in 2016 voted in good faith for the entire UK to be an independent nation free of EU rules and regulations. Such a ‘United Ireland’ would be little more than an outpost of the EU Empire, undermining British democracy and keeping Brexit Britain in check on behalf of the Brussels elites.

No thanks. Right now, for everyone who believes in democracy, defending the Union is the thing to do. Ditch the Protocol, make Brexit a reality.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty.

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