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Johnson leaves us hoping for best, expecting worst

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: Reuters

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: Reuters

REUTERS

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: Reuters

Needles should not go hand and glove with statecraft but Boris Johnson seldom hesitates to use them when it comes to forcing a point.

The Internal Market Bill brought forward to override elements of the NI Protocol is the latest example of introducing something unforeseen, to provoke sharply disruptive reaction.

Five former UK prime ministers have unsurprisingly added their voices to the chorus of protest not only at the damage being done to the reputation of Britain but also to the status of peace in these islands. The move is unprecedented.

Mr Johnson had agreed to every clause with the EU. Fiendishly complex though the arrangements inevitably were - given the depth of past entanglements and weight of future engagements - a settlement was still struck in good faith.

The deliberate undermining of the whole effort has hopelessly soured relations.

It has made tariffs on trade far more likely, and imperilled chances of a trade deal. Whether it was intended to distract from a firestorm of criticism of his government's handling of the pandemic or to rouse resentment against Brussels and rally people around the flag hardly matters.

The general view is this extremely ill-judged gambit is a step beyond the point of recklessness.

As commentators in Britain have pointed out, it will further put the ties holding the UK together under further strain. You do not get away with putting your name to a treaty only to claim later: "Well, actually, I didn't really mean it."

By times, Mr Johnson likes to convey an impression he is not quite in tune with what is going on; as if the details are too minor to merit the attention of a busy man of affairs.

Such behaviour might be charming in a cheeky school prefect arguing for better access to the tuck shop for fourth formers, but it falls far short of what is expected with so much on the line for so very many. Stability and permanence are illusive in politics which is why international agreements are so respected. They are also valued because they are notoriously difficult to arrive at.

The trust which holds them together takes a lot of quarrying out. The care taken with the texts in which they are framed is exhaustive.

When the process is sealed and signed off on in law, it is a point of honour to uphold their integrity.

It is rooted in democratic values; one doesn't get to be a dictator and a diplomat simultaneously.

As Britain's hardline former attorney general Geoffrey Cox has charged, Mr Johnson is doing "unconscionable" damage to Britain's good name. Accords, after all, are meant to be instruments of unity not strategic disintegration.

Scrapping an agreement at such a time of global instability may present attractive opportunities for short-term gain but no-one should be under any illusion that the price will be long-term harm.

Had there been thought behind the move initially, one might hope they would think again. But as many feel the end was merely to cause maximum consternation in the first place, one can only prepare for the worst.

Irish Independent