Northern Ireland fiasco shows Tories cannot be trusted on UK unity– Alistair Carmichael

Back in 2019 Boris Johnson boasted of having an oven-ready deal to “get Brexit done”.

He claimed his deal could take us out the customs union, preserve the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom and honour the Good Friday Agreement.

It was nonsense, of course. At best you could meet only two of these objectives. All three could never happen.

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Someone who truly believed in preserving the United Kingdom and honouring our treaty obligations that had maintained a fragile peace in Northern Ireland for two decades would have stayed in the Customs Union.

Instead our Prime Minister, while insisting all three were possible, threw the most important two under a bus. Now we have to deal with the consequences.

Liz Truss has now confirmed Mr Johnson’s deal is not working, but, instead of renegotiating it, they plan to repudiate it unliaterally. As the DUP’s Ian Paisley observed recently, this is an English nationalist government.

In 2019, ahead of votes on the Johnson deal, I wrote to Scottish Conservative colleagues asking them to reject the Prime Minister’s Brexit plan, because it was plain from the start that such a deal would involve a border in the Irish Sea and add to the sense of grievance around the country. It was a deal that could damage the integrity of the UK, possibly beyond repair.

The silence that followed was deafening. Not for the first time Scottish Conservatives put party loyalty above national interest.

That was then, this is now. How do we get ourselves out of the mess in which the Conservatives have placed us?

We cannot tear up the Withdrawal Agreement. Its faults are many and obvious. For good or ill, however, the UK signed it and we now must find a way to make it work.

You cannot lecture Russia one day about the importance of international law and then, on the next day, start tearing it up yourself.

We also cannot allow the DUP to hold government to ransom. Remember they did not support the Good Friday Agreement. For them, the restoration of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic would be a price worth paying.

What is needed now is good faith negotiation to make the best of the very bad job with which the Prime Minister and his party have landed us. Compromise will be inevitable.

At a time when inflation is skyrocketing and our economy is reeling, the last thing we need is an escalating series of tit-for-tat tariffs and trade blocks.

Unilateral action will be the start of our problems, not their solution. Our Government risks poisoning the well of international co-operation by making it clear the UK does not follow the law and will not hold to any agreement it makes. Why would the EU negotiate a new agreement when we have been so quick to trash the old one?

Families and businesses already under the cosh from the cost-of-living crisis are sick and tired of Mr Johnson’s fecklessness.

Everyone who really cares about the future of the UK has got to start behaving as if they mean it.

- MP Alistair Carmichael is spokesperson for home affairs, constitutional reform, and Northern Ireland for the Liberal Democrats

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