One notable side effect of the Brexit referendum has been to force everyone in public life to show us their true intentions, hence the title of this blog series. If the last four years have achieved nothing else, they have demonstrated beyond any doubt exactly what we’re dealing with both at home and on the Continent.
Publication of the Internal Market Bill this week seems to have shocked many commentators, although it shouldn’t really be a surprise. While the amended Withdrawal Agreement was less egregious following the re-drafting of the hated Irish Backstop, it was still a fudge that couldn’t square the circle of the EU’s internal market and the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement. However, despite its manifest shortcomings, the Withdrawal Agreement served its political purpose and made Brexit a reality.
Anyone who thought the matter of Northern Ireland wouldn’t rear its head again was being extremely naïve.
To put it simply, it was never possible to reconcile the EU’s single market requirements with the Good Friday Agreement. The first demands checks at the border while the second makes them illegal.
Both Remainers and Brexiteers have played fast and loose with this inevitable legal paradox when it’s suited their ends. However, from the perspective of having left the EU, the UK’s decision over which treaty to favour is a very simple one.
So, with clockwork predictability, the very moment the EU’s back door into the UK’s legal system was threatened by the Internal Market Bill, dark mutterings of retribution blockades quickly bubbled to the surface. It’s very hard to see how such threats qualify as the “good faith” the Remainer commentariat have been screeching about all week.
Writing in the Telegraph, Boris Johnson has gone on record and made it clear that the Internal Market Bill is intended to protect against the EU deploying an extreme interpretation of the Northern Ireland Protocol and legally separating the province from the rest of the United Kingdom. While much of the mainstream media froths and wails about the UK being a “rogue state”, they seem to have forgotten that no EU official has yet gone on record to refute the Prime Minister’s very serious claim about their real intentions.
Johnson’s article makes it clear that the government has got wind of the EU’s willingness to use the Protocol as a means of exercising continued economic and political control over a non-member state, which would be business as usual from Brussels’ perspective.
This is why I’ve consistently said it was unlikely that the UK and EU would reach any kind of meaningful trade deal following Brexit. This impasse has everything to do with power politics and very little to do with mutual respect or prosperity.
Nothing has changed.