Johnson wants to tear up the ‘oven ready’ Brexit deal

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By Brian Feeney (for Irish News)

Simon Coveney tweeted on Saturday: “Does the UK government actually want an agreed way forward or a further breakdown in relations?”

After five years of British confrontation and bad faith he should know better. Coveney was asking the wrong question. The answer is neither.

It’s blindingly obvious what the British government wants, and by the way let’s stop calling it the UK government because the devolved administrations of the UK, including the north of Ireland, don’t agree with anything Johnson’s crisis-ridden government does. What Johnson, currently sunning himself in Marbella, wants is to tear up the ‘oven-ready’ Withdrawal Agreement of 2019 and the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) of 2020: “a fantastic deal”, he lied at the time. His election winning slogan, ‘Get Brexit Done’ was a deceit for he knew Brexit wasn’t done and furthermore, those parts of it which were done are disastrous for Britain.

Johnson’s front man Frost was explicit yesterday in Portugal that it’s not simply the protocol that’s the issue but the arrangements whereby the European Court of Justice (CJEU) adjudicates on items of contention between Britain and the EU. Frost, a Johnson yes man who rose without trace to become the UK’s chief negotiator, adheres to an eccentric eighteenth century concept of sovereignty, also advocated by a key Downing Street Spad, John Bew. Essentially it boils down to the notion that Britain can’t be bound by any international agreement it doesn’t like and should not submit to an overriding decision enforced by any international body. That would mean in their opinion a loss of sovereignty. It’s an absurd stance in the modern world, but it harks back to ideas about Britain’s period of ‘splendid isolation’ at the end of the nineteenth century. That ended well, didn’t it?

Which brings us back to the protocol, the British pretext or instrument for unravelling the cat’s cradle of international treaties Johnson signed up to in 2019-20. You will hear the usual rubbish from Jeffrey ‘I could live with 40,000 job losses’ Donaldson about this being a response to unionist protests, but in reality the British government has played the unionists like a trout, first the Orange card at Brussels, then street protests, then pretending to lend a sympathetic ear, but all designed to provide leverage to re-engineer the disastrous outcome of Brexit Frost negotiated.

As Coveney and others have pointed out, the EU cannot agree to sideline the CJEU and Frost knows it. It’s the supreme authority of the single market and customs union. Besides, no business organisation in the north has complained about the CJEU, only English Brexiteers. Isn’t it extraordinary that it remains forever beyond the grasp of uber-Brexiteers like Frost, that when you say you want to make a deal with a union of 27 countries which has its own rules and legal code, you demand that it changes the rules specially to accommodate you?

However, the British demands outlined yesterday will provoke a real crisis which will not be easily resolved. The veiled British demand, complete with new legal text, to open the Withdrawal Agreement and Trade and Cooperation Agreement and incorporate a new protocol in them, will lead to retaliation from the EU, not immediately for they will invoke legal remedies first. However, the British will try to force the re-establishment of a British customs border in Ireland. That’s why Donaldson was prepared to accept 40,000 job losses if there was no deal. The border was more important for unionists like him than prosperity for people here.

Eventually in exasperation the EU will have no option but to retaliate. They could use the power in the TCA to walk away, but more likely they will use trade sanctions. All the whinging about the protocol obscures the fact that exactly the same paperwork and delays operate at Dover and have wrecked sections of Britain’s business like fishing and cheese. But hey, what’s 40,000 jobs when sovereignty’s at stake?

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