Monday, 21 October 2019

Boris, Backstop and No Brexit

By Willie Drennan
Sometime in the distant future Stormont might, or might not, get to decide the flag it flies.

Boris has been a shining light amidst the dull world of the political elite. A charmer, comedian and lovable clown. But he is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and that's no joke.

Boris had opportunity to go down in history as the 21st Century Churchillian hero who led a sovereign Britain out across the seven seas to befriend the world. Instead he seems to have chosen the much easier well-trodden path of achieving glory within the confines of the European Union Project. They are just loving him now in Brussels, Strasbourg, Berlin and Bantry Bay.

There are many reasons why I think this Treaty is bad for the whole of the UK but one major deception in the Boris version of the Theresa EU Treaty is the claim that the Irish Backstop is gone. It's not gone, it's there in Article 18 of the Irish Protocol section of the proposed Treaty. And worse, it is now Backstop-Plus.

The EU and their Irish agents were belligerently adamant that the Backstop was absolutely essential. It was obvious they were totally serious and resolute on this. They are now jumping up and down in glee and bombarding praise upon Boris for handing them the Backstop-Plus. Even Theresa May was unwilling to give them a border in the Irish Sea.

The Irish Protocol reads like a Halloween horror story for people in Northern Ireland: Article 18 is where the full content of the witch's backstop brew is revealed and understood.

Article 18 is where Boris and his new-found EU cronies try to tell the plebs of Northern Ireland that the Backstop is gone: that they will be able to vote to leave the EU and be British once again at some stage. Aye right!

The deal is that four years after the EU/ UK transition period has ended the public representatives in Stormont will be able to vote to continue within the EU's Single Market under EU rules and regulations. Two years after that any decisions for change may be implemented after discussion among all the political bodies concerned.

There are many problems with this. First of all I can't find anywhere in the text where it explains how Northern Ireland might return to being a fully fledged member of the UK again: should Stormont ever manage to organise a vote and vote against the status quo. They don't seem to have considered this an option.

The transition period that is referred to, I assume, relates to the transition to a UK/ EU Free Trade Deal: thus eliminating the need for customs tariffs etc. That really could take many years as under the Boris Deal and Backstop-Plus, the EU will have no incentive to permit the end of that transition period.

Should the transition period ever end for real then 4 years later the MLA's of Stormont would be allowed a vote . But that's only if anyone at Stormont is home. Currently that assembly doesn't function at all, and when it once did it couldn't agree on anything due to its mandatory coalition set-up.

In Stormont any decisions had to have cross community support in accordance with the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. However, while curiously making an exception to the GFA to allow a majority vote, Article 18 does also emphasise that the result of that vote must to be addressed in accordance with the fine details of the Agreement of 1998.

This to me reads like the crucial legal wriggle room that the EU requires to ensure that this part of the UK remains under its domain until it becomes a fully fledged member of the EU: as part of a United Ireland. It's the Irish Backstop in new legal jargon.

This becomes the Backstop-Plus when the customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK is added to the mix. 

Brexiteers in England may think it is all fair enough as Northern Ireland voted 56 to 44% to Remain in the EU. But, as the result of Scottish /UK Referendum of 2014 demonstrated there is a big difference between voting to stay in the UK and voting to stay in the EU. Unionists in England need to understand and consider this.

Why is Article 18 with it's Backstop-Plus necessary at all? Why is it necessary to keep Northern Ireland tied into the EU Customs Union indefinitely if the UK and EU are going to have a free trade deal? There are obvious answers to the above and they are not good ones.

Seems like Article 18/Backstop-Plus would give the EU good enough reason to delay a UK Free Trade Deal until such times as the break-up of the United Kingdom is officially under way. This has been the EU's game plan for a long time and it's all falling into place for them and their new compatriots in Ireland and Scotland.

This is why the threat of a hard Irish Border was prioritised at the start of the referendum campaign. It is why Irish and Scottish separatists, who became EU devotees over night, boasted that Brexit would cause the end of the UK - as England would vote Leave and rest of the UK would vote Remain.

Another dangerous misconception in relation to Northern Ireland and this Treaty is that we will have the economic best of both worlds: with business and investment flocking here from across the UK, Ireland and EU. The opposite is much more likely. Investors require certainty. The only certainty in NI under this Treaty will be uncertainty - for years to come.

In Article 18 there is no facilitation for the electorate of Northern Ireland to have opportunity for a straightforward referendum on this Treaty before it is approved. This is blatantly anti-democratic, and potentially illegal in international law - whatever that means nowadays. It also contravenes the consent aspect of the Belfast/GFA and most certainly goes against the spirit of that Agreement. And there is also the Act of Union of 1801. Has that been changed without proper process?

A 2nd EU Referendum in Northern Ireland is the same as a Border Poll. It will be about choosing Britain or Brussels. It should only be happening a few years after the UK has left the EU. But the goal posts have changed. Northern Ireland should be given the opportunity to decide our own destiny now. It is most unlikely future generations will be given that democratic choice under the EU Project.

A Border Poll of any sort in these circumstances will be very divisive and potentially very dangerous in a land only just recovering from 25 years of horrendous violent conflict. But the Boris Deal /Treaty will reignite those divisions anyway as it throws the 1998 Agreement to the wind.

Referendums are democratic - at least when they are respected and implemented. This Treaty would abandon the democratic options as outlined in the 1998 Agreement. Northern Ireland's status within the UK would be altered before the people were allowed to vote on it.

The only possible way to advert a long period of crisis for Northern Ireland, which will impact across the UK, is for this Treaty to be postponed until there is at least a Westminster election where the future of the UK is on the table. Or, until Northern Ireland has had a chance to have a referendum on what has been deviously thrust upon us.

Three years of relentless obstruction of Brexit have made people desperate to get on with it. But this Treaty is being rushed through too quickly. People need time to understand and digest the complex details.

If not, future generations will be shocked at what our generation allowed to happen.

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