Got questions about the Northern Ireland protocol? John Rentoul is on hand to answer your questions
Boris Johnson has visited Irlanda do Norte to urge the EU to give him a deal that would persuade the Democratic Unionist Party to restore the devolved government in Belfast. He has also written an article in the Belfast Telegraph setting out his position at some length.
The article may confuse people who have seen so many headlines about the UK government intending to break international law in the dispute over the Northern Ireland protocol. The prime minister says in it that he has no intention of tearing up the protocol. He says “those who want to scrap the protocol” – that is, some of the loudest unionist voices in Northern Ireland – “rather than seeking changes, are focusing on the wrong thing”.
He sets out what appear to be reasonable arguments for changing an agreement he signed “in good faith”, saying that “many things have changed” since it was agreed. Em particular, he points out that the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement requires the UK government to ensure “just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos and aspirations of both communities”, and that the unionist community is opposed to the protocol “as currently constituted”.
He does not mention that most members of the Northern Ireland assembly who were elected this month support the protocol, and that opinion polls suggest a narrow majority of Northern Irish voters do too. But he claims that “every party … seeks mitigations and change”, and that no party agrees with the EU policy, which he describes as a “zealous zero-risk” approach to implementing the protocol, imposing checks at the Irish Sea border on all goods, regardless of how likely they are to end up going to the Irish Republic.
My view is that the prime minister’s position, as stated, is broadly sensible. I think he has undermined his case by allowing it to be reported that he wants to “tear up” the protocol and “break international law”, which I assume is a misguided attempt to exert negotiating leverage over the EU side.
I wrote at the weekend that Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, has been sabre-rattling about legislating to override the protocol, but that if we look closely at the wording of those parts of the government’s legal advice from Suella Braverman, the attorney general, that have been leaked, it would seem that the government is considering emergency action under article 16 of the protocol – that is, acting within its terms rather than “tearing it up”.
Na minha opinião, Johnson’s case for the protocol has always been stronger than his critics allow, although he has often spoiled it by misleading claims about what it requires, which have drawn attention away from the EU’s unreasonable and inflexible interpretation of its terms.
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