Britain now has a moral duty to ditch the Northern Ireland Protocol - Telegraph - 03.04.22

Liz Truss must act immediately to preserve the peace says Dan Hannan


A moment of reckoning with the EU is at hand says our Editor Ben Philips. While Covid recedes as a front-line public policy issue, another takes its place.


The time has surely come, argues Daniel Hannan in this weekend’s Telegraph, for the UK government to invoke Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol to protect the national interest in the face of EU intransigence.


With assembly elections in the Province now in full swing and no prospect of power-sharing being restored, the current situation is regarded as wholly unsatisfactory by Ulster MPs and Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) alike:


“Northern Ireland is sundered from its largest market (it sells more to Great Britain than to Ireland, the rest of the EU and the rest of the world combined). It cannot benefit from, for example, the scrapping of VAT on solar panels, heat pumps and insulation announced last week by Rishi Sunak, because Brussels continues to set parts of its tax policy. As Lord Dodds, the DUP veteran, puts it, “the Protocol’s assault on basic principles of democracy is so breath-taking as to be scarcely believable in a modern society”.


The UK has been strenuous in its attempts to address the EU’s concerns over the integrity of the Single Market:


“It has spent £500 million helping Northern Irish businesses adapt, and is spending a further £150 million on the digital certification of agri-foods.


It has offered European officials unprecedented access to its customs data. All it asks is that other aspects of the Protocol be wrapped into the Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA), the deal signed at the end of 2020, which governs UK-EU relations as a whole.”


Furthermore:


“The TCA is a comprehensive document, going well beyond normal trade deals in, for example, its “level playing field” clauses. How can Brussels argue that these arrangements are good enough for every other aspect of UK-EU trade, but not for that minuscule portion that takes place across the Irish border?”


There are constitutional imperatives to consider too:


“Dropping the most obviously destructive parts of the Protocol would in no sense be unfriendly. Rather, it would be a proportionate measure aimed at preserving the Belfast Agreement. Britain is entitled in law to make such an adjustment. And, since it is putting in place unique and binding measures to prevent the leakage of goods across the Irish frontier, the EU will find it difficult to point to any harm it has suffered in consequence.”


As things stand, therefore, it would appear the UK is quite within its rights to revoke:


“Article 16 sets out the conditions that would justify a unilateral disapplication of parts of the Protocol, including political or economic disruption or trade diversion, all three of which are plainly happening.”


Furthermore, any retaliatory action undertaken by the EU has to be proportionate to the damage it suffers:


The EU’s problem, as even Eurofanatical lawyers privately admit, is that it won’t be able to identify any damage, because there will be no leakage of unwarranted goods across the border.”


Whether the EU responds constructively or destructively


“will be determined by the extent to which its real motives are its stated ones. If its sole concern is the integrity of its single market, the EU will have no grounds for complaint – as Maroš Šefčovič, its negotiator, privately knows. But there may be unstated motives, too. Some EU officials – and some Irish politicians – are nervous that Britain will sign trade agreements with older trading partners which will result in the import of beef from the US, Canada, Argentina and Uruguay rather than from Ireland and France.


More widely, there is a fear that Britain will go further with trade than the EU can – and, while Britain wants a prosperous EU as a neighbour, not everyone in Brussels reciprocates that feeling. If the Northern Ireland Protocol can be used to make Britain stick to EU standards, trade deals become harder. Naturally, many Eurocrats share M Castex’s desire to punish Britain for Brexit – he was unusual only in saying the quiet bit out loud.”


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Liz Truss - Foreign Secretary


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