Friday, 14 February 2020

King for a day, fool for a lifetime

We've heard Johnson saying there won't be a border down the Irish sea. Being a man who bloviates and ignores detail, we are left to wonder if there is a strategy in play or whether the man simply has no idea what's in his deal and doesn't care either. But now we have the new secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, echoing the assertion.
Speaking to reporters in Belfast, ahead of his meetings at Stormont House, he said that there would be no border down the Irish Sea after the Brexit transition period. Mr Lewis said: "The United Kingdom is going to be one area and all will be able to benefit from our future global trade deals. "I appreciate what Michel Barnier says, he's a very good man trying to do a good job for the EU. "But this is also the man who said we couldn't open the Withdrawal Agreement. "Our Prime Minister got that agreement open, got a new agreement. We've got it through parliament, we've left the European Union".
And there it is. They think it's negotiable. They've paid so little attention to the process that it's escaped them that this is a done deal. The UK is bound by the withdrawal treaty to police the border. But with Tories being Tories they've believed their own bullshit that Johnson has "got rid of the backstop". They're in for a major shock. Johnson has made the backstop the front stop and he's made it permanent.

Had Johnson left well alone and gone with Theresa May's deal then it would be up for renegotiation outside of the Article 50 framework, but not now. Johnson has screwed the pooch. The whole point of the backstop was that it was a backstop - a protocol to be implemented only in the event of no deal, with a further deal committing both parties to replacing the backstop should it ever be activated.

Of course the ERG knew this. They knew full well that the backstop could be replaced, but they also knew the only viable alternative was for the whole UK to stay in the single market thereby scuppering their divergence ambitions. In effect, they've traded Northern Ireland for notional regulatory independence.

It remains to be seen if Johnson realises what he has done, but it may well have been the plan all along to sign up to the withdrawal agreement with zero intention of honouring it. If that's the case then we are in wholly new territory where the British government no longer pays any regard to the law of international treaties. If that's where we're going then our relationship with the EU moves from cooperative to antagonistic. If, though, it's the case that Johnson really believes he can reopen the withdrawal agreement after we've signed it then, put simply, we are ruled by fools. That certainly seems to be the most likely scenario.

At this point I start to wonder if our politics functions in a parallel universe. It's bad enough that the minister for NI believes it but the rest of the party probably does as well. Is the penny ever going to drop? What happens when it does? How long will they keep making excuses for Johnson?

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