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Boris Johnson is risking all with his protocol brinkmanship



Boris Johnson. Photo: Oli Scarff/PA Wire

Boris Johnson. Photo: Oli Scarff/PA Wire

Boris Johnson. Photo: Oli Scarff/PA Wire

Had Solomon himself landed in the North instead of Boris Johnson, you would get good odds his first call would have been to the nearest pharmacist for a large dose of Prozac, before tackling the protocol.

Even as Downing Street was making soothing noises about “sensible landing zones” for resolving differences, UK foreign secretary Liz Truss was signalling to assume crash positions in preparation for an “overriding” of the deal that was struck in order to avoid a hard border.

Today she is expected to lay down plans for legislation which would allow the UK to unilaterally usurp the protocol. The enormity of the move must not be downplayed.

The compromise was deemed critical to keeping the Border open post Brexit. A Pandora’s box may now be opened.

Brussels has repeatedly warned this would be a breach of the international treaty.

The EU retains the right to retaliate with restrictions on UK exports. The consequences for all will be costly and unpredictable.

Our own Foreign Minister Simon Coveney has made plain that the zero-tariff, zero-quota arrangements in the EU/UK – the key to the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) – would be jeopardised should Downing Street plough ahead and break the law. Mr Coveney was explicit. “Unilateral action means tension, rancour, stand-offs, legal challenges – and of course calls into question the functioning of the TCA itself.”

Mr Johnson’s claims that the protocol has not been “adapted to reflect” the reality that it has disrupted trade sound distinctly bogus in a context where the North’s business community has appealed to him not to disrupt the status quo.

With power-sharing institutions in Belfast already plunged into crisis because of the DUP’s protest, any endorsement of its position by Downing Street is an affront to the democratic wishes of the majority in the North.

Both Sinn Féin and the Alliance Party have accused the UK government of “placating” the DUP. Such a perception can only add to the instability and festering resentment that already pervades.

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Brussels has made it abundantly clear that a solo run by London in which it would turn its back on the protocol deal would represent a clear breach of international law. Mr Coveney has rightly underlined the need for calmness, dialogue, compromise and partnership.

But this is only possible where there is good faith, trust and cooperation. One side cannot simply change the rules arbitrarily and champion the cause of a minority because it is politically expedient to do so. There is still scope and space for accommodation if the will is there.

With so much disruption already, to risk provoking a trade war and jeopardising the security of the North seems massively irresponsible. More periods of paralysis, followed by intermittent interludes only to take time out for further recrimination, are not what the voters in the North need nor deserve.

The malign magnetic pull of post-Brexit brinkmanship has wreaked political havoc in these islands far too long.

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