Should Scotland really be aspiring to the tension and chaos of the Northern Ireland Protocol? - Willie Rennie MSP

The European Union played a largely unrecognised, but central, role in the Northern Ireland peace process.

It formed a cradle within which peace could thrive.

Now that these two countries were part of one union, the border between north and south could be removed, allowing for the free movement of goods and people across the island of Ireland and with the rest of the United Kingdom.

When the UK was deciding whether to remain in or leave the EU, the Leave campaign recklessly ignored the consequences of disturbing and removing that cradle.

An anti-Northern Ireland Protocol sign close to Larne Port, as a Bill to amend the Northern Ireland Protocol unilaterally will be introduced in Parliament today, amid controversy over whether the legislation will break international law. Picture: Press Association

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After the UK voted to leave, the Prime Minister was dishonest when he told people that he had found a solution. Why? Because there is no good solution. Whether the border is north-south or east-west, leaving the EU meant the resurrection of a border. And borders cost.

Boris Johnson’s “solution” took the form of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which effectively places a border in the Irish sea between the UK and Ireland, rather than a land border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The Protocol ignited a storm of opposition from unionists and the changes the government now proposes for the Protocol have sparked anger from the EU.

It isn’t difficult to see why peace between Ireland and the UK is suddenly under threat again.

The Boris Johnson of 2022 seems to agree that the Boris Johnson of 2019 was dishonest. The protocol he condemns today was the protocol he praised three years ago.

I would love to say that there is a solution to the Northern Ireland problems caused by Brexit. Admittedly, there are least worst options, and the Protocol may be the least worst. But let’s not pretend that choosing the least worst option is a model for success.

And yet, the chaos, the tension, the disruption is, according to Nicola Sturgeon, a template Scotland should be aspiring to.

When she was interviewed by the Irish Times last April, she was very optimistic about the Protocol and its implications for her independence campaign. “Yes, I think that does offer some template,” she said, adding that it would offer “any practical difficulties for businesses trading across the England-Scotland border”.

To hitch her independence ambitions to anything from Northern Ireland was brave. And to hitch it to the wreckage of Brexit left me speechless.

Last month, the First Minister warned the protocol could trigger a trade war with the EU, tipping the UK into a recession. The First Minister’s model for Scotland has careered towards a trade war in just twelve months.

It only emphasises the chaos that would ensue if we were ever to break from the United Kingdom. That chaos would only mushroom if Scotland were to join the EU. Breaking away builds borders that simply threaten to unravel hard-won peace.

What is being thrown into sharp focus is this: that the SNP are just not ready with a considered or robust plan for independence.

The Prime Minister is playing fast and loose with the peace process, with international law, with our relations with our trading partners, with good local democracy in Northern Ireland. But he has done so because he is in an impossible position of his own making. It looks like the SNP are trying to make the same mistake themselves.

Willie Rennie MSP (North East Fife), Scottish Liberal Democrats

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