America often wonders why it can be so unpopular at times: well part of the reason is its tendency to butt into things that have nothing to do with it. Despite Joe Biden’s tenuous claim to be Irish, nowhere so is this more true than in the case of Northern Ireland.
So it was disappointing yesterday to read that America’s top diplomatic official in the UK, Yael Lempert, recently issued the UK’s Brexit Minister, Lord Frost, with a demarche – an unprecedented diplomatic rebuke. The UK’s crime? To leave all options open to ensure the Good Friday Agreement doesn’t totally collapse, which in light of the behaviour of the EU and Irish Government, is now very much at risk of doing so.
It is worth going over some of the issues at stake, because there is no way that the United States would not be acting in the same way in a similar situation.
Coerced into signing up to the Irish Sea border, following the disgraceful narrative spun to the EU – by Ireland’s brit-bashing prime-minister Leo Varadkar, alongside belligerent Foreign Minister Simon Coveney – that a return to violence by the IRA would be inevitable if an Irish Sea Border was not put in place, to avoid a no deal Brexit the UK Government reluctantly signed the deal, naively hoping the EU would implement the terms flexibly. Not so.
Consequently, ever since its implementation on the 1 January, the sea border has not only causing complete chaos in trade terms, with shortages of many products on the shelves due to the levels of new bureaucracy involved, but also more worryingly serious political and constitutional instability.
Already the leaders of the two main unionist parties have been dethroned, with Edwin Poots, the new leader of the largest party the DUP, seen to be much more hardline. Worse, rioting and violence has already started to break out onto the streets, alongside customs officials administering the checks having been threatened.
Taking us up to the present day, what is most concerning is that in the face of EU intransigence, these instabilities are only set to get worse in the near future. For example, with the expiry of a grace period at the end of June, the import of fresh meat products like Cumberland sausages coming from England will be totally banned – as, according to the EU, such products could apparently pose a grave risk to consumers across the Single Market.
Similarly, from the end of October all foods and plants sent to Northern Ireland from Great Britain will require cumbersome export health certificate forms, an uneconomic expense for many small and medium sized businesses. All in all, Northern Ireland is set to face as many checks as the whole of the EU’s eastern frontier put together in a matter of weeks – a recipe for disaster considering Northern Ireland’s levels of integration with the rest of the UK economy.
Yet in spite of these problems the EU refuses to move, with France’s President Macron today promising to veto any attempts to re-open talks. Indeed, worse than that, the EU impulsively insists on claiming that the Protocol is the only way to protect the Good Friday Agreement, despite the fact every unionist politician opposes it, including the Agreement’s co-negotiator David Trimble – an act that ultimately risks the denunciation of the Agreement by unionists if it continues to be misconstrued.
Given Northern Ireland still technically remains part of the UK (tenuously though the Protocol now makes that seem), in the interests of good governance and to protect the Good Friday Agreement – not the Single Market, as is clearly the EU’s priority – without change, it is clear the UK is soon going to have to act unilaterally. Knowing America’s long history of independent action, as just demonstrated by their six-month long vaccine export ban, undoubtably in a similar situation Biden would do exactly the same.