Irish ‘turnip farmers’ route around car-crash Britain

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Despite a senior British minister claiming that a no-deal Brexit would only affect a few Irish farmers “with turnips in the back of their trucks”, huge amounts of trade between Ireland and the EU are now taking place by sea around the island of Britain.

Alexandra Hall Hall, the lead Brexit envoy to the US who quit her job in late 2019 because she was unwilling to “peddle half-truths on behalf of a government I do not trust”, condemned Boris Johnson’s government for being “wilfully disingenuous” in the official messages she was asked to deliver about Brexit in the US.

In an article published in a US academic journal, the former career diplomat accused Boris Johnson’s government of damagingly downplaying the cost and impact of Brexit, particularly on Ireland’s peace process, and using a racist anti-Irish trope.

Ms Hall Hall wrote that one colleague at the British embassy in Washington was “nearly in tears” as he “could not get his minister to register the enormous damage that would be done to the fabric of Northern Ireland, politically and economically, if the United Kingdom left the European Union without a deal”.

“A low point for me was when I heard a senior British minister openly and offensively, in front of a US audience, dismiss the impact of a no-deal Brexit on Irish businesses as just affecting ‘a few farmers with turnips in the back of their trucks,’” she wrote.

The former diplomat said that when she was asked to brief American businesses with significant investments in Britain, she struggled to maintain the line that there would be no harmful consequences for them if Britain left the EU without a deal.

“I found it hard to brush aside the concerns of congressional aides working for members of the Irish-American caucus,” she wrote.

“Sometimes I had no answers to the questions that US stakeholders posed to me. The internal dissonance became acute: the professional ethos of the British diplomatic service was that we were upstanding civil servants, steeped in integrity, who never told lies.

“And yet, that was precisely what I was being asked to do.”

The details came to light as it emerged that a clear majority of people in the north of Ireland support the Irish Protocol of Brexit, which the British government is currently attempting to weasel out of.

The Protocol to Britain’s Withdrawal Agreement was negotiated to avoid a hard Brexit, and has the status of international law.

But there is increasing concern that London will take the ‘nuclear option’ of triggering Article 16 of the Protocol, effectively a unilateral collapse. EU negotiators believe the talks are heading “into a ditch”, according to reports.

While a trade war would be the likely outcome, that might appeal to the Tory government as a means to present themselves as warriors for Britain’s cause.

Unionists in the north of Ireland are increasingly rejecting the selfish Tory approach. Polls now show a clear majority in the Six Counties supports the Protocol and the customs-free trade across Britain and the EU it provides.

Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill has warned “there is no alternative”.

“We campaigned for special status and we went on a diplomatic offensive across Europe and the USA. The Irish protocol represents that special status and there is no credible alternative,” she said.

“The protocol was the alternative to the backstop which was painstakingly negotiated, agreed and ratified by the Westminster parliament and by the European Parliament by no less than David Frost himself, who is now trying to renegotiate. It’s an international law, it must be respected.”

Hauliers seeking to avoid being caught in the dispute have already taken to the high seas connecting Ireland to mainland Europe instead of using the ‘land bridge’ via Britain. The number of ferry services connecting Ireland directly to mainland Europe has quadrupled to 44 over the past year.

An early skirmish in the deteriorating relations between the EU and Britain is being seen in the row over fishing rights off the coast of France, where a British scallop dredger was detained this week.

France’s Europe minister, Clement Beaune, told French TV news channel CNews: “We have been extremely patient… our fishermen have been extremely responsible… And so, from 2 November, it’s over: we will engage in dialogue if the British want to, but we are taking retaliatory measures.”

He added: “Now we need to speak the language of force because, unfortunately, that seems to be the only thing this British Government understands.”

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