Is ditching the NI Protocol good for the union?

While visiting relatives in London, I was invited to give an interview to Times Radio yesterday, writes John Bruton. 

It was a great chance to speak to to an English audience.

The subject was the stated policy of Liz Truss not only to enact , but to implement, the legislation that would unilaterally dis-apply a Protocol that the  UK freely agreed to in an international treaty, signed and then ratified by the UK Parliament. 

Liz Truss

This extraordinary and damaging course for the UK is being justified on the grounds that it is good for the Union, by which is meant in this case the union of Britain and 
Northern Ireland.

 Indeed it is being pressed forward by a self-described “Conservative” and supposedly “Unionist” party.

My argument to Times Radio listeners was that this  radical, and deeply unConservative,  attempt to break a solemn treaty , is actually DAMAGING to the Union, for the following reasons:

Reasons to be cheerful…

1. It is opposed by a majority in Northern Ireland. A majority there would like changes to the Protocol alright , but do not favour such a radical course as Truss is insisting upon. Adopting a course , in defiance of a majority view in Northern Ireland,  politically weakens “unionist” sentiment there. That should be fairly obvious.

2. Northern Ireland has prospered disproportionately under the Protocol.  

From being one of the worst performing regions of the UK before the Protocol, Northern Ireland has become second best, after London, under the Protocol. 

Prosperity in Northern Ireland, as part of the UK and under the Protocol, is objectively good for the Union. Business in Northern Ireland knows this. The “ Conservative and Unionist” party in Britain does not seem to care. 

Incidentally, the more Northern Ireland prospers under the Protocol, the less subsidisation will it require from London, which also would strengthen the Union.  

3 . Unilaterally ditching the Protocol will initiate a a major trade war between the UK, including Northern Ireland, and the EU. Liz Truss, a former Trade Secretary, knows this.

This trade war will inevitably be disproportionately severe on Northern Ireland , because it is a region  directly on the UK/EU frontier. Again this is obvious. 

The consequences of this UK-initiated trade war will thus be bad for the Union because it will hurt the people of Northern Ireland more than anyone else in the UK. Again, that is bad for the Union.

Incidentally, this UK-initiated trade war will also weaken the western alliance’s economic and political capacity to support Ukraine, a concern for democrats everywhere.

4 . Ditching it will not restore the  economic status quo ante for Northern Ireland that preceded the Protocol, when it was lagging behind the rest of the UK.

The new situation will be much worse This is because the economy there will be engulfed in  new duplicative bureaucracy of a kind never seen before.

Long existing links will be broken. 
Supply chains will be destroyed. 
Expensive investments will be rendered valueless. 

This is because the ditching of the Protocol will allow the UK to impose increasingly different product regulations in Northern Ireland to the ones it uses at the moment and which allow it free access to the EU market, the only market in the world to which Northern Ireland has  unimpeded road access. 

Crying over spilt milk?

The damage will be be felt especially severely by Northern Ireland’s dairy sector.

 One third of Northern Ireland milk is processed in the EU ( in Ireland).  There are 5400 dairy businesses in Northern Ireland and the business generates 1.5 billion sterling every year.. This cross border processing  of Northern Ireland milk have to stop if  the milk is longer produced to EU standards. This will be massively disruptive .

 To get around that,  a special supply chain would have to developed, separate from the one for milk destined for the NI/ UK. Northern Ireland farmers will be forced to choose to be EU or UK suppliers, whereas they can be both at the moment.

Massive duplication and additional expense would the thus be imposed on dairy producers in Northern Ireland , most of whom probably vote for “unionist” parties, and who are enterprising people and vital contributors to their neighbourhoods. They do not deserve this.

So ditching the Protocol will not only be bad for the Union, it will be bad for unionists.

For all these reasons Liz Truss’ policy is not only unConservative, it is anti-Unionist !

Maybe some of her friends listened to Times Radio!

John Bruton is a former Taioseach and EU Ambassador to the US (inter alia).