Baroness Hoey: I expect that Liz Truss will soon know that the Northern Ireland Protocol must go in its entirety

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has a huge job with a daily constant stream of international issues needing attention.

By Kate Hoey
Thursday, 30th December 2021, 2:45 pm
Updated Thursday, 30th December 2021, 3:19 pm
Liz Truss is a determined woman who won’t have taken much festive break. Hopefully top of her civil service reading papers over the holiday period was the Belfast Agreement
Liz Truss is a determined woman who won’t have taken much festive break. Hopefully top of her civil service reading papers over the holiday period was the Belfast Agreement

She is a very capable and determined woman who will not have taken much time off over the Christmas break to relax. Her reading list of civil service briefings will have been immense and now she has the added responsibility for the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Hopefully top of her papers in her box will have been the Belfast Agreement.

She really needs not just to read it but to understand it. Lord Frost, the former cabinet minister, did understand it and saw how the protocol had carved a fissure right through the middle of the agreement with the careful balance between North South and East West shattered.

Baroness Hoey of Lylehill and Rathlin is a former Labour MP for Vauxhall. Pictured at a fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference, against the Northern Ireland Protocol, in Manchester on Monday October 4, 2021

The entire Brexit negotiations have been infected from the beginning by the deliberate misrepresentation of the Belfast Agreement; in effect what has transpired is that the default position has been to view the agreement through the ‘principle of nationalist/Irish government interpretation’.

Put simply, every constructive ambiguity and provision has been resolved in favour of those who want to destroy Northern Ireland’s place in the Union. That is unsustainable.

It was a cardinal error to unilaterally disapply cross community consent mechanisms when it comes to the protocol vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly. To the Pro Union community that means that for twenty-three years whilst mostly in the majority, they had to govern in a manner that garnered cross community consent. That balance at the heart of the Belfast Agreement has now gone.

When it comes to the protocol, that cross community consent mechanism for key decisions (enshrined in Strand One (5) (d) of the Agreement) has been disapplied in order to neutralise any unionist effort to utilise that provision to vote down the protocol.

There is no cross community consent for the protocol. It is not difficult to see why unionism is setting its face against this imbalance, and thus the agreement itself, in increasing numbers.

There is an instinctive feeling at the grassroots that the core ethos of the Belfast Agreement is that those who support the Union must give, and those in support of nationalism must get.

However, there is a more fundamental issue.

In the legal challenge to the protocol, in which I am one of the applicants the government has claimed that the terms of the protocol “subjugates” the Acts of Union 1800.

The Union, as a legal construct, is the Act of Union. It follows that by subjugating the core terms of it Northern Ireland’s place in the Union is subjugated.

If you can subjugate the fundamental constitutional basis of the Union and hand law making powers to a foreign jurisdiction, without offending the principle of consent, then what protection in substance does it really afford the Union?

Rather, it seems the principle of consent has been reduced to merely symbolism and put simply, when it comes to Northern Ireland, you can change everything but the last thing.

The last thing being the symbolic handing over of the territorial deeds to Dublin.

The government must rectify all these issues if they wish to maintain peace and stability in Northern Ireland.

I am increasingly worried about the simmering anger amongst loyalist communities and fear the potential for serious violence has been underestimated.

We must avoid that.

All the foregoing faces Liz Truss in her new post.

All the core issues circle back to a fundamental question.

If Northern Ireland is to be left in the single market, then that requires a fundamental change to the substance of the Union (and that is why the government are seeking to ‘subjugate’ the Acts of Union).

Tinkering with the trading issues at the Irish Sea border may help alleviate some of the ridiculous bureaucracy and expense for business but the Foreign Secretary needs to understand that will not be enough to stop instability.

Liz Truss must not fudge the issue; If the protocol, inherent within which is Northern Ireland remaining in the single market stays then that is and always will be incompatible with the Union.

Northern Ireland cannot be left under foreign rule with a foreign court supreme.

If, however, as they say, they want to protect Northern Ireland’s integral part in the Union then that leads to only one conclusion — the Protocol in its entirety must go.

The Prime Minister knows this must happen one way or another and I expect Liz Truss will soon realise this too

Baroness Hoey of Lylehill and Rathlin is a former Labour MP for Vauxhall