I can hear it now. Sir John Major will take to the airwaves denouncing it. Alastair Campbell and Andrew Adonis will have a fit of the vapours on Twitter. Emily Thornberry will pronounce with all the solemnity she can muster that it is a dark day when Britain breaks a treaty.
As night follows day, all these things will surely happen if and when Britain invokes Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol in a few weeks’ time. They will conveniently ignore the fact that the EU did the self-same thing earlier this year, albeit for only a few hours. The still very vocal Remain lobby will claim that it is yet another example of Britain’s cavalier attitude to international law.
Except that it would be nothing of the sort. Article 16 was written into the treaty because people on both sides anticipated that it might be needed. And it looks very much like it will be needed now.
On the face of it, the European Commission made a bold gesture towards alleviating some of the worst economic effects of the Northern Ireland Protocol a few weeks ago, but their proposals were a cosmetic attempt to appear sweet and reasonable.
The British side’s analysis is that they are not the game-changer which was needed and do little to reduce the amount of paperwork and bureaucracy which has been inflicted on many firms in Northern Ireland. They also fail to address the constitutional issues with the protocol, including the delicate matter of judicial oversight.
In any case, the fact is that the Protocol was in some ways explicitly designed to punish Britain, as Jean Claude Juncker’s adviser Martin Selmayr admitted with his famous phrase “Northern Ireland is the price the Brits must pay for Brexit”.
The EU has scant regard for peace in Northern Ireland. If it did, it wouldn’t be so ridiculously concerned about the damage a British sausage entering the Single Market could do to its integrity. It thought it could use Northern Ireland (and its puppets in Dublin, for that matter) to try to keep the whole UK in the customs union and the single market. Few people realise how close that was to happening under Theresa May.
The British mainland thankfully avoided that fate, but at the price of leaving Northern Ireland behind. The Protocol was a trap set by Brussels and Boris Johnson, consciously or unconsciously, fell into it just to “get Brexit done”.
Selmayr won in the short term. But the protocol is an unequal treaty which was never going to last. The Government’s duty is to protect the integrity of the UK’s single market, even if it failed to do so in 2019.
The worst thing you can do to a politician is to feel sorry for them. And the worst thing you can do as a writer in the Telegraph is admit to your readers that you feel sorry for the Leader of the Labour Party. But I’m sorry, I do.
Sir Keir Starmer is a patently decent sort. His lawyerly training means that he performs adequately, but rarely excites. The contrast between his deputy Angela Rayner administering a battering to Boris Johnson at PMQs last week, and Starmer’s plodding performance on Sunday’s Andrew Marr Show was something to behold. Where he should have been holding the Government’s feet to the fire on any number of issues, all he managed was to give us some pre-prepared soundbites. Where’s the passion? Where’s the beef, come to that matter?
In some ways Starmer’s situation reminds of the one Ole Gunnar Solskjaer finds himself in as manager of Manchester United. They’ve both received the dreaded vote of confidence from their respective boards, yet they appear to have lost the dressing room. The odd performance may flatter to deceive, but everyone knows what the end of their stories will be. It’s just a matter of time, and meanwhile everyone has to put on a brave face.
Quite understandably, the travails of Owen Paterson and the fallout from the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner’s findings have been dominating the headlines. However, shouldn’t we also be paying a tad more attention to the sentencing of Claudia Webbe, who was elected for Labour in Leicester East in 2019, but was suspended from the party over allegations that she had harassed a woman and threatened to throw acid in her face? She was found guilty in court and was last week given a 10 week suspended prison sentence. The Labour Party has now expelled her.
She described herself as a “black woman in a white court”. The judge was having none of it and reminded her that she was not the victim in this case. Quite. Starmer has called for her to resign her seat. For him, though, this might be out of the frying pan and into the fire. It is said that the previous MP for Leicester East, Keith Vaz, is planning a comeback and thinks he has a divine right to be selected. It’s not just the Tories who have a sleaze problem.