Brexit: Rishi Sunak's Windsor Framework for Nothern Ireland is symptomatic of all that's wrong with today's Tories – Brian Monteith
The truth eventually had to come out about what exactly our Prime Minister and his “Brexiteer” ministers in the Northern Ireland Office had signed-off with the EU’s Ursula von der Leyen. Unfortunately, it is neither Conservative nor Unionist and deserves to be sent back under the Sale of Goods Act as not fit for purpose. It neither meets the description advertised nor delivers the benefits claimed.
Launched personally by Rishi Sunak it was more like watching Tony Blair in his pomp – being rich in platitudes that sounded comforting and reassuring – but once analysed was clearly oversold and more likely to entrench existing problems. Further, like Blair’s constitutional meddling, it will affect generations to come and could yet prove to be a ratchet towards further instability.
The liberal and protocol-leaning Belfast Telegraph reported it meets only two of the DUP’s seven tests for acceptance but despite this we can expect the UK Government to press ahead with its adoption, despite Foreign Secretary James Cleverly stating previously the DUP’s agreement would be conditional.
So thin is Sunak’s offering that it required to be wrapped up in royalty and associated with the new King. This was a shameful use of our monarch, whose constitutional job is to give Royal Assent to Acts of Parliament agreed after solemn and even disputatious scrutiny – but certainly not to become part of the marketing pitch that suggests the granting of a Royal Warrant for of a highly contentious international deal.
The Prime Minister has unfortunately made a fool of himself, claiming has removed the Irish Sea border yet significant restrictions of what can and cannot be exported from mainland Great Britain to Northern Ireland are being found daily. The idiocy of claiming the best of both worlds from Northern Ireland being in both the UK and EU internal markets will rebound in the general election campaign.
Especially telling is the wording of the agreement released by the EU – citing the continuation of the existing protocol with legal chapter and verse – and how that differs from the woolly mammoth of the Sunak’s verbose papers.
It is often held out that the DUP and recalcitrant British constitutionalists should settle for an agreement, any old deal really, because it will unleash squillions of investment from the United States, where corporations are just waiting for signs of stability and harmony. This is disingenuous and delusional. The Wall Street Journal published an editorial on Friday tearing the heart out of the British Government’s high tax, high regulation economic policy – warning it would discourage US investment in the UK. Likewise, a new report published by KPMG warned US corporations are turning away from UK investment because of its high tax low growth economic policy.
The idea that US businesses will see the Windsor Framework as somehow making Northern Ireland attractive when Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt are doing their best to make it less competitive than neighbouring Republic of Ireland – or most other countries in the developed world (in or outside the EU) – does not stand scrutiny. Unless Chancellor Hunt abandons Sunak’s 30% hike of corporation tax next week it will be game over for foreign direct investment in the UK – Windsor Framework or not.
The reality is the EU has not had to concede any material provisions of the Northern Ireland Protocol agreement which remains in place under the legal terms of the UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement. What will change are the arrangements in delivering it, which are essentially a recognition the UK was always right to not apply the Protocol rigorously as the EU repeatedly insisted since its inception.
The EU overplayed its hand and it was only the repeated appeals to renegotiate the Protocol that have delivered these baby steps towards harmony – but they do not solve the imposition of foreign laws on our land. The trusted trader solution could have been applied as originally proposed between Northern Ireland and the Republic, not between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and no border would have materialised.
The UK’s unilateral application of grace period relaxations are now being codified and accepted – but the Protocol continues and the democratic deficit remains. The constitutional vandalism of the UK implicitly repealing sections of the 1800 Act of Union without unionist consent continues – a breach of the Belfast Agreement that ensures the ending of power sharing as a result.
Instead of the Protocol saving the Good Friday Agreement in the name of maintaining a peace only the EU threatened, the GFA and power sharing have been sacrificed on the altar of protecting the EU’s Single Market from contamination by retailing British seed potatoes, Christmas trees or sausages – when the vast majority of trade is from the Republic to the UK. It should be remembered the past scandal of horse meat in burgers destined for mainland Britain came from the Southern Irish abattoirs inside the EU’s Single Market. History tells us it is our food standards that risk being compromised, not the EU’s.
There is a great deal wrong about Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party – but I and millions of others will not be blackmailed or bullied into voting Conservative merely to stop a change of government – or save a Brexit that remains confined in a straitjacket as if it was Labour’s own version.
A change in approach is needed – but the Windsor Agreement tells me I should not expect it anytime this side of a general election.
Brian Monteith is a former member of the Scottish and European Parliaments and Editor of ThinkScotland.org
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