Politics Explained

Why the Northern Ireland protocol row could be another bad Brexit gamble by Boris Johnson

Downing Street is gambling that the EU and Ireland will agree to just forget the Protocol, given the obvious alternative would be to impose a trade barrier along the Irish border. Sean O’Grady explains why this is a very risky move

Monday 17 May 2021 21:30
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<p>Out of the box: Brexit border checks in the Port of Larne, Northern Ireland</p>

Out of the box: Brexit border checks in the Port of Larne, Northern Ireland

If nothing else David, now Lord, Frost seems a prime example of nominative determinism. In recent weeks, relations between the UK and the EU have indeed grown decidedly nippy, and the temperature continues to drop. Frosty the No Man, as some call him, has taken to the pages of the Eurosceptic press to complain about EU intransigence over trade via Northern Ireland, the short-lived threat to stop vaccines entering the province, and fishing. And, of course, there was that Lilliputian re-enactment of the Battle of Trafalgar just off Jersey. He hasn’t quite got around to asking President Macron “who do you think you are, Napoleon?”, but it cannot be far off.

Appearing before the warm hearth of a Lords Select Committee, Lord Frost offered a seemingly attractive answer to the problem of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which is to just pretend it doesn’t exist. The Protocol was negotiated by Lord Frost, agreed by Boris Johnson, backed by parliament and then, to all intents and purposes, endorsed by the British people at the general election of 2019. The text, part of the Withdrawal Agreement and the overall Brexit deal, was in the public domain and provoked some discussion.

Though few will have read it through (possibly including Mr Johnson), its implications were debated and well remarked upon. The Democratic Unionists, who regard it as a betrayal, voted against it and complained loudly. It was clear, as it was ever since Michel Barnier suggested it years ago, that it would mean an economic border down the Irish Sea and within the United Kingdom, and thus adding some checks to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In October and again at the turn of next year, further grace periods on GB-NI trade will expire, and the frictions at the border at the port of Larne – bureaucratic and political – will intensify.

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