The whole point of the referendum to leave the EU was for the Westminster Parliament to gain back control of law making so that the British government not Brussels could decide what was best for Britain. The Prime Minister has made “take back control” his mantra. However the truth of the matter is, that as it stands, the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) still leaves the EU with a firm grip on important areas of UK economic policy and law making powers.
One of the ways in which this has been achieved is through the NI protocol and is the EU’s Trojan Horse to get its bureaucrats, policies and the influence of the European Court of Justice into the very heart of UK governance. We will never be a sovereign nation whilst this protocol is in place. As a unionist I am appalled at its impact on the integrity of the UK. It moves law making in NI from Westminster to Brussels. It smashes the Act of Union which has the idea of a single UK market at its core, by putting up formidable barriers to trade from NI to GB and GB to NI. This is totally contrary to Article 6 of the Act of Union which states that “subjects are to be on the same footing with respect to trade and treaties with foreign powers”. Finally it breaks the terms of the Belfast Agreement which promises no change in the status of NI without the consent of the people of NI.
Already government departments especially DEFRA and HMRC are taking action to put into practice the terms of the NI protocol including the submission of plans to the EU commission about the building of Border Control Posts at NI ports costing tens of millions of pounds, requiring the erection of tens of thousands square feet of inspection sheds and acres of lorry parks. HMRC are spelling out the costs of export declarations for NI firms selling goods to the rest of the UK – some firms will face bills of hundreds of thousands of pounds per year and explaining the need to run two VAT systems since NI will be part of the EU VAT regime as well as the UK VAT regime. The costs will be enormous and in some cases will call into question whether it is worth doing business in NI. The devastating economic consequences of undermining trade with the GB market which accounts for 65 per cent of NI exports are frightening.
The UK government has promised that any detrimental impact on costs etc will be reimbursed but since NI will be subject to EU State Aid Rules any measures to protect NI businesses from additional costs or indeed from unfair competition from subsidised producers in the Republic of Ireland or any other part of the EU will be illegal and can be stopped by the ECJ.
There are many politicians at Westminster who are sympathetic to the plight of NI but have taken the view that for the greater good of getting the UK out of the EU it is a price which has to be paid. They are wrong because the NI protocol has massive implications for the freedom of the UK government to make decisions on respect of the whole of the UK. This arises from the fact that the EU State Aid rules contained in the NI protocol apply to the UK as a whole. The protocol explains the reason for this. Any help which the UK government gives to British firms trading in NI or potentially engaging in trade in NI , could give those firms an advantage over EU firms selling in the NI market therefore to stop this EU state Aid rules have to apply in GB and if there is a dispute – wait for it – the ECJ will make the final and binding decision.
This means that grants, tax changes or regulatory revisions which the UK government introduces to make UK businesses more competitive can be challenged by the EU. The EU hasn’t just got a foot in the door it is still camped in the UK!
That is why the government has to get the NI protocol removed. Not just because it wrecks the union but it wrecks Brexit. There will never be a better opportunity. The EU countries are on their knees because of the economic consequences of Covid. Its negotiating strategy is starting to fall apart as national interests become more important that an EU wide approach. David Frost appears to be a negotiator who actually believes in standing up for the UK interests not appeasing the EU and the government cannot be undermined by fifth columnists in parliament any longer. Now is the time to put forward the alternative to the NI protocol – the Mutual Enforcement proposal, which is so excellently argued in the latest paper from the Centre for Brexit Policy. It would ensure that there was no need for border posts at NI ports or anywhere. It would actually lead to more effective enforcement of safeguards for the EU single market and the UK market. It would enable NI to be part of UK trade deals with the rest of the world. It would avoid the constitutional crisis caused by the NI protocol and would reduce the likelihood of a no deal. All that is required is that the government uses its new found authority and the EU faces reality that the dynamics of negotiations have changed and it is in its interests to get a balanced deal with its biggest trading partner the UK.