Ben Habib: Why I am challenging the Irish Sea border in court

Boris Johnson entered the office of prime minister with all the exceptionalism and bombast of a would-be Churchill.

Thursday, 11th March 2021, 12:30 pm
Boris Johnson in December signs the Brexit deal that included an Irish Sea border. Ban Habib says that the prime minister talked like Winston Churchill, but acted like Neville Chamberlain

With his inability to stand up to the European Union over Northern Ireland, he has all but completed his transformation to a Neville Chamberlain.

The only difference is, Chamberlain initially inadequately responded to the annexation of another country.

Johnson’s timidity comes in the face of the annexation of part of the United Kingdom.

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Ben Habib, then a Brexit Party MEP, centre, with Kate Hoey, then a Labour MP, and Jim Allister MLA standing on the Republic of Ireland side of the Monaghan-Fermanagh border in August 2019

Johnson has, during the course of just over a year, broken the union of the United Kingdom and handed part of it over to a foreign power.

He has done so in breach of the Act of Union 1800, the so oft-cited, Belfast Agreement, its supporting legislation and even the Article 50 process laid out in the Treaties of the European Union for countries (whole countries!) to leave the EU.

The Northern Ireland Protocol has been imposed on Northern Ireland without even a shred of consent from its people, let alone the cross community consent which is at the heart of the Belfast Agreement.

When Michael Gove wrote to Maroš Šefčovič, his opposite number in the EU, in early February he did not demand that problems in the protocol be fixed.

Oh no, that would have required backbone.

What he mainly requested was the extension of grace periods for goods coming into Northern Ireland.

Grace periods which already exist and which have done nothing to calm the turbulence.

With a touch of sentimentality he also requested pets be allowed to travel freely between Great Britain and Northern Ireland — how that got to the top of his priority list is a mystery, albeit a touching one.

Šefčovič’s response: a blank refusal to entertain any deviations from agreements previously reached.

Šefčovič did not given an inch.

And with the haughty authority afforded only to rulers, he demanded access to all our IT systems at the crossing.

It is welcome that Gove’s replacement, Lord Frost, has taken unilateral action to extend these grace periods to October but he too has missed the point.

These grace periods add up to half of no benefit for trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

They are already in place and the protocol is not working.

Northern Ireland’s circumstances will worsen as the other provisions of the protocol begin to take effect.

Northern Ireland is only beginning to know how it feels to be annexed.

The full effect of being subject to EU laws and the Court of Justice of the European Union have not yet shown themselves.

It is not as if the prime minister is unaware of the dangers in the protocol.

Writing in the Telegraph on September 12 last year he said he had negotiated the protocol with one arm tied behind his back and that he recognised the threat it posed to the fabric of the United Kingdom.

Yet he has taken no definite action to put right that which he has done wrong.

The prime minister is famous for promising all things to all people.

Nothing will now hide the reality of the protocol and the EU will enforce it to the nth degree.

Any representation by him, Gove or Frost that all will be fine in due course would be another misrep in a long line of misreps.

Northern Ireland has all but been abandoned by our government.

That is why Baroness Catharine Hoey and I, together with the leaders of the three main unionist parties, including the First Minister of Northern Ireland, Lord Trimble (the Nobel Peace Prize winning architect of the Belfast Agreement), have launched a legal challenge against the protocol.

Our application for a judicial review is now in court.

We are represented by John Larkin, former Attorney General of Northern Ireland.

It is far from satisfactory that we have been forced to take legal action but political channels simply had not worked.

We would not have brought this action unless we had full confidence in our legal position.

There is only so much people will take of being misled.

The reality of the protocol is now knocking hard at previous deceptions.

My advice to the prime minister is to do the right thing and terminate the protocol.

He would be best advised to do so before a court finds a British prime minister to have acted illegally in undermining the union of the United Kingdom – down that road lies a spot of personal political risk.

• Ben Habib is a businessman and former MEP for the Brexit Party

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