Ben Habib: We are being hoodwinked (again) by the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill

I am having a profound sense of déjà vu.

By Ben Habib
Thursday, 30th June 2022, 1:00 am
Updated Thursday, 30th June 2022, 11:02 am
Ben Habib says that the Government's legislation, in itself, makes no changes to the terms of the Protocol, and that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is 'up to his old tricks'
Ben Habib says that the Government's legislation, in itself, makes no changes to the terms of the Protocol, and that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is 'up to his old tricks'

In 2019 I said the Prime Minister’s oven ready deal was a lousy deal; worse than remaining in the EU.

I said so, in significant part, because Northern Ireland would be left bereft. I was shouted down by Tories and even Brexit Party supporters. They believed the Prime Minister.

He refused to accept the wording of his own deal which put a border down the Irish Sea. He sold it to the DUP. Even the self-anointed Tory bastion of Brexit, the ERG, endorsed it.

Theresa May railed against the deal, but of course that had the effect of reinforcing Brexiteers’ belief in it. And on the back of that false promise to Get Brexit Done, Boris Johnson won a landslide victory.

Wind the clock forward to 2022 and there is a risk of all this happening again.

Boris Johnson promises the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill will unilaterally neuter the Protocol. The DUP is tentatively supporting the legislation.

The ERG commissioned a less than independent “Star Chamber” of Tories to confirm the Prime Minister’s promise. They duly obliged.

And, bang on cue, Theresa May is railing against the legislation.

So, anyone not prepared to read the Bill themselves, could be forgiven for thinking that the government is at last taking necessary action; that the Bill is designed to bring Northern Ireland back into union with Great Britain.

It does not.

The Bill, in itself, makes no changes to the terms of the Protocol.

All it does is empower ministers to pass regulations consistent with its terms. These regulations have not been put forward for scrutiny. They have not even been drafted.

Before the government drafts them it is going to conclude a process of consultation with businesses and other stakeholders in Northern Ireland. How long this might take is anyone’s guess. One thing can be known for sure, it will not be quick.

Even once these regulations are drafted, assuming they ever are, if a variation to a past Act of Parliament is required, they must be laid before both Houses. In short, this Bill and its regulatory progeny will be stuck in Parliament for years.

This surely is the Prime Minister’s aim? To kick the can down the road as far as possible.

Had the Prime Minster been in good faith with the Bill he would have done two things which are conspicuous in their absence.

First, the necessary regulations to which I refer would already have been drafted and encompassed within it.

Second, he would have invoked Article 16 of the Protocol to suspend it while the Bill made its way through Parliament.

Sure the EU may have challenged the validity of the invocation but it would have been invoked and the Protocol would have instantly been without effect.

No, I am afraid I cannot but help conclude Boris Johnson is up to his old tricks.

We are being hoodwinked. The more the likes of Theresa May shriek about the breaching of international law, the more credence his trickery is given.

The DUP must not re-form Stormont until every letter of every regulation has been written, assessed and passed into law.

Let us not allow history to repeat itself.

* Ben Habib is a former Brexit Party MEP

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