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Only when Boris Johnson accepts responsibility for flaws in the Northern Ireland Protocol can we find a lasting solution

Only when Boris Johnson accepts responsibility for flaws in the Northern Ireland Protocol can we find a lasting solution

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3 min read

What is needed now is level-headed governance and a recognition of responsibility by those who created the Protocol in all its flaws, so that we can mitigate as many of them as possible.

Victory has many fathers. Failure is an orphan. Boris Johnson conceived the trade border down the Irish Sea and now he seeks to disown it.

No one on any side likes the reality of the Northern Ireland Protocol – neither nationalists nor unionists, Brexiteers nor Remainers. Those who defend the Protocol do so not because we think it is a good solution, but because we recognise that it is least-worst solution left. After all better options were eliminated by the fecklessness of Boris Johnson and his government.

What is needed now is level-headed governance and a recognition of responsibility by those who created the Protocol in all its flaws, so that we can mitigate as many of them as possible.

Shirking his obligations as the father of this deal, the Prime Minister is doing his level best to pretend that he had no hand in the Protocol or its problems. It is the result, however, of his political choices, and no one else.

It bears repeating – because Boris Johnson is seeking so desperately to deny its parentage – that the Protocol was an inevitable outcome of his decisions.

In delivering the “real” Brexit he wanted, leaving the Customs Union, the Prime Minister had to choose between a border on the island of Ireland or a border in the Irish Sea. To avoid shattering the Good Friday Agreement and the peace it guarantees, he chose the latter – and then immediately tried to pretend that he had not.

We are all familiar by now with the clips of the Prime Minister falsely declaring that there would be no border, that businesses could “throw away” their customs forms, that there would be “unfettered access” in all directions. We all recall his reckless, destructive threats to trash his own Withdrawal Agreement last year, once political gravity asserted itself and the impact of the Protocol on Northern Ireland started to become clear.

Those affected by this emotive back and forth deserve better care and thought from those at the top

We must also recognise the damaging misstep of the EU last week in threatening to override parts of the Protocol, thereby undermining its claim to the moral high ground in this messy separation. The European Commission’s actions were thoughtless and left many in Northern Ireland feeling used – no less than they did when played as a pawn by Boris Johnson.

What none of this blame slinging does is help those caught in the middle – the Northern Ireland Protocol and the people it was supposed to protect. Those affected by this emotive back and forth deserve better care and thought from those at the top.

If there is a lesson in what works and what does not in the political events of the last year, it is that shouting and flag-waving only go so far when substantive answers are needed, and that keeping uncomfortable issues at arms’ length only makes them worse. I am glad that the government is engaging with the EU quickly to discuss the issues that have been raised. Meaningful dialogue over point scoring and press briefing are a healthier approach after years of ideology coming first.

Based on past form, expecting Boris Johnson to own up to his role in fathering the Northern Ireland Protocol may be a forlorn hope. If we are to find a lasting solution for the people of Northern Ireland, however, it will come only when the Prime Minister accepts his role in creating these problems – and makes meaningful efforts to repair the damage he has done.

 

Alistair Carmichael is the Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland and Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Northern Ireland.

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