Brexit: We mustn't let Covid mask the effects of leaving the EU – Scotsman comment

One problem with Brexit is that its effects are being masked by the Covid pandemic.

Will Boris Johnson work constructively with the EU to sort out the Northern Ireland Protocol's problems? (Picture: Yui Mok/pool/ Getty Images)

Given the extraordinary impact of the virus, the level of scrutiny about leaving the European Union has been much less than it otherwise would have been and it is also more difficult to tell what it has done to the economy. However, it is important to try.

During a visit to Stranraer, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar pointed to difficulties created by the Northern Ireland Protocol for Scottish export businesses, rightly saying that Boris Johnson had created “a mess and he has a personal responsibility to fix it”.

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The UK government has called for the protocol to be renegotiated to reduce trade ‘friction’ between the British mainland and Northern Ireland, but in a manner that suggests they are more interested in turning the EU into a bogeyman to blame for its problems.

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UK Government demands 'significant changes' to Northern Ireland protocol negotia...

There is a cynical school of political philosophy that sees the creation of an outside enemy as key to rallying nationalistic support behind a government.

If that’s what Johnson and co are up to, the British public needs to get wise to the fact because this kind of attitude will only damage the prospects of a revised protocol that benefits both exporters on the UK mainland and the people of Northern Ireland.

As Sarwar highlighted the protocol’s failings, SNP MSP Jim Fairlie spoke out about concerns among farmers and crofters over the free-trade deal with Australia.

He said a number had contacted him saying they were terrified that the deal could lead to the British agriculture being undercut by imports produced to lower standards – and not just from Australia but other parts of the world if similar deals were struck with countries like the US. This is particularly important for Scotland because of our reputation for high-quality produce.

One reason to watch the ‘Brexit effect’ closely is that it will put pressure on the UK government to sort out problems like the protocol, rather than exploiting them for political ends, and to make trade deals that accord with our values.

Another is the UK’s divorce from the EU provides a case study of the difficulties that might be created by independence. This will be of interest to unionists, but sensible nationalists should also pay close attention.

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