Northern Ireland Protocol latest: John Major declares 'there is no such thing as pure sovereignty anywhere in the world'

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​Former Prime Minister John Major has indicated that anyone seeking “pure sovereignty” for the UK as a result of Brexit are mistaken, for no such goal exists.

John Major was giving evidence before the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of the House of Commons, where he savaged the Tory government for its handling of post-Brexit negotiations.

However he also warned that those voicing opposition to the Protocol must be ready to compromise.

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The committee is investigating the effectiveness of the institutions of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Major, who was Tory Prime Minister from 1990 to 1997, began by setting out his involvement in the early days of what became known as the “peace process” in Northern Ireland.

He recalled that republicans had admitted through a private backchannel that their “war” was over as early as 1993, but would still carry out killings in a bid “to show their volunteers they were not weakening”.

Mr Major said at one point that while he had supported the 1998 Agreement, “the defects are there and may at some stage have to be dealt with”.

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He added that “one of the defects is that any one party can collapse governments in NI; that was not a defect that was foreseen”.

John Major before the committee todayJohn Major before the committee today
John Major before the committee today

The session then turned to the issue of the Protocol, which DUP MP Carla Lockhart emphasised to Mr Major is the reason her party will not re-enter government at Stormont.

“I believe we need a balanced way forward,” the DUP MP said at one point.

"I wouldn't ask my nationalist colleagues to tolerate a border between Tyrone and Monaghan.

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"Likewise I don't feel we as unionists should have to tolerate a border between Larne and Stranraer.”

Mr Major said that “the Protocol needs changing”, but cautioned that there is no such thing as a “perfect solution”.

“The protocol is a mess. It was very poorly negotiated,” he said.

“I think some of the promises made after the Protocol that there would be no checks on trade from Britain and Northern Ireland, how those promises came to be made I cannot imagine because they were patently wrong.

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“I am baffled as to how we could have reached a situation where that protocol was accepted.”

He added: “One minister said the UK signed the protocol on the basis it would be reformed.

“That must be the first agreement in history that was signed by people who decided it was useless in the first place.”

He said that while he was not a “significant Europhile” the UK had made a “colossal mistake” by leaving the EU.

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This is because “there are three great power blocs in the world today [and] the UK is not one of them – there's America, there's China… and there's the EU”.

"Suppose we had a socking great row with China,” he said.

"If Britain decided to put sanctions on China, China wouldn't be much bothered. If the EU did, because we were being maltreated, they'd feel quite differently about it.”

When it came to the issue of re-claiming UK sovereignty (something which has been a central plank of unionists’ demands around the Protocol), Mr Major said: “I understand the sovereignty arguments, though many are more semantic than real, to be frank.

“No country, not even the US, has pure sovereignty.

"Who has pure sovereignty in NATO for example? We all sign up to NATO. Nobody complains about that.

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"And yet we'd give up a degree of military sovereignty in NATO just as we give up a degree of economic and political sovereignty in the EU.

"It's a question of balancing.”

The DUP has been forthright in stressing that its seven-strong checklist will be the deciding document when it comes to judging whether any solution to the Protocol meets with its approval.

Point one and point seven, respectively, state that any deal must:

• "Fulfil Article 6 of the Act of Union” (which says all parts of the UK shall be under the same ‘regulations of trade, and liable to the same customs and duties’);


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• 7 – “Preserve the letter and spirit of Northern Ireland’s constitutional guarantee, requiring the consent of a majority of the people of NI for any diminution in its status as part of the UK.”

“There is no such thing as a perfect protocol that will have every side dancing in the streets with joy. That is not going to happen…

“A statesmanlike response would be to recognise that nobody is going to get everything they wish, but to accept compromise in the interest of returning democratic government to Northern Ireland.

“That will not be easy for anyone.

“Statesmen who do that will succeed. Politicians who keep shouting slogans to their most extreme supporters will not.”