By Willie Drennan
The so-called No-Deal is The Deal. It is not a real No-Deal. It is a No-Deal Agreement. It all hinges around the NI/Irish Protocol. It is not Brexit.
The so-called No-Deal scenario seems like a sophisicated con that will merit a Hollywood movie some day. It appears to be a brilliantly contrived immaculate deception: a collusion between masterminds who currently control the EU and their fellow masterminds who currently control the British Establishment.
There was always going to be a last-minute fudge in the EU/ Brexit negotiations: an elaborate attempt to bluff us British people who voted for Brexit. Everyone expected it: it was inevitable.
The amazing thing is that in spite of this common awareness they seem to be pulling it off: at the very last-minute. Well, so far anyway. It really is quite ingenious.
The events of this past week should have triggered loud ringing of alarm bells across the land. First of all Michael Gove nipped over to Brussels to scrap the Internal Market Bill and reassure the EU that in a No-Deal scenario the NI Protocol would remain a legal agreement. He apparently even signed a wee bit of paper to legally ratify. But I suppose folk were thinking this protocol only related to Northern Ireland: no big deal.
Boris Johnston then followed up by nipping over for dinner with Ursula von der Leyen. Well, if you are going to do some dastardly wee deal it is always best to slyly do it in private. As predicted this meeting broke up with, apparently, nothing gained.
This was in contrast to the private meeting Boris had with Leo Varadkar in a secluded English estate prior to getting approval for the Withdrawal Bill. On that occasion, whatever Boris whispered in the ear of Leo Varadkar, it caused the Irish taoiseach to bounce out of that meeting with a beaming smile as if he'd just won the Euro Lottery.
Ursula was a much more professional actor, or maybe she just doesn't do bouncing around and beaming smiles. To the world it all looked like a massive waste of time.. a brilliant bluff, worthy of an oscar apiece.
This grand deceit has been allowed to happen because the vast majority of Brexit voters seemingly have not read the finer detail of the Northern Ireland Protocol section of the Withdrawal Agreement. And who could blame them? It was a deliberately convoluted painful read.
The politisation of the Irish Border has been the EU masterplan from the moment the EU Referendum campaign kicked-off in 2016. This masterplan came to fruition when the NI/Irish Protocol was quietly inserted into the much more convoluted Withdrawal Agreement.
It is no coincidence that the only aspect of the Withdrawal Agreement that will remain in this No-Deal Agreement is the Protocol.
The Protocol had the calculated illusion of being trivial as it appeared to only relate to wee Northern Ireland and its border with the Republic of Ireland. They reckoned only a few would bother to read it and analyse it. They were right. In actual fact this would be the master stroke that would keep all of the UK tied to EU influence and regulations for a long time to come. At least long enough for the EU to demonstrate to its other member states that it's not a good idea to mess with their EU masters.
Back in November 2019 I posted a blog, shared it on Twitter and that tweet has been my pinned tweet ever since. I presented 20 observations as to why I thought the Northern Ireland Protocol was potentially very detrimenatal for Northern Ireland, the rest of the UK and indeed all people on the island of Ireland. I said in the blog that I really hoped some expert could convince me that there was no foundation to my concerns.
A couple of very well-informed persons did go to considerable lengths to convince me, by quoting various aspects of the Withdrawal Agreement, that my fears were unfounded. They did provide me with some hope that Boris Johnson was very slyly navigating and working the establishment system and would deliver a real Brexit for the whole of the UK. That glimmer of hope is still there but it is now comparable to the faint glimmer from dying embers in the fireplace of a darkened room.
The NI Protocol explains how a part of the UK will remain in the EU's Single Market under EU legislation, potentially for ever. There is no clear escape mechanism provided in the document. The permitted vote after 4 years is just a ruse. The EU's European Court of Justice will not only have the final say on all relevant points of contention that crop up in one part of the UK but will therefore automatically have impact and legal influence over other UK-wide regulations relating to the UK Internal Market.
When I listen to discussions on social media and talk radio I am amazed at the lack of awareness of this fact in Great Britain. I can understand why some British people would think that because a slight majority of Northern Irish voted Remain in the EU Referendum, that perhaps it's just better to let them Remain in the EU and let the rest of the UK get on with being an independent nation again. If only it was that simple. First of all, it was of course a UK-wide vote and a majority Remain vote in Northern Ireland, Scotland or London did not mean that the majority of people living in those parts of the UK wanted to Leave the UK. Absolutely not.
Those currently in charge of the British Establishment, such as Johnson and Gove, may believe that the people of Northern Ireland will eventually simply demand another referendum: choose to totally leave the UK and Remain in the EU. First of all that currently seems highly unlikely, at least in the short term. The majority of people in Northern Ireland clearly do not want to Leave the UK.
This will not be of concern to the hierarchy of the EU as they have consistently believed that they have the where-with-all to con, persuade, intimidate or bribe any nation state to stay on board. This seems to be true to date. They will not understand why Northern Ireland might be any different: especially with an EU-friendly British Establishment and a likely pro-EU American president on their side. And with the way the UK Establishment has, to date, handled the 2016 democratic decision of the British people it's easy to understand the EU's continued confidence.
There is another crucial element in this grand scheme that seemingly hasn't been thought through in the UK. I have been amazed that the Common Travel Area didn't feature in any Brexit debate in the UK: before, during or since the referendum.
The EU clearly understood the significance of the CTA, however. The NI Protocol stipulates that the Common Travel Area Agreement between UK and Republic of Ireland would essentially become an agreement between the UK and the EU: with the ECJ overseeing any changes that the UK may wish to make at some time in the future... For instance if the EU chose to abuse the CTA Agreement in any way the UK would not be able to make changes to counteract. This is my interpretation anyway. I sincerely hope I have read it wrong. This CTA has worked very well for all concerned in these islands to date. The EU could abuse it in its pusuit of expansion.
So, even in the unlikely scenario that the people of Northern Ireland would vote to leave the UK, in favour of rule from Brussels, the problem will not go away for Brexit seekers in England, Wales or Scotland. There will still be the reality of millions of EU citizens on the island of Ireland who could freely go live, work and vote in GB.
There would also be the possibility that the EU could easily adjust EU law to allow millions of other non-Irish EU residents to very quickly gain the access to a vibrant, prosperous UK via Ireland. This is just speculation of course, that might never materialise for various reasons, but the point remains that under this proposed international treaty there is nothing the UK could unilaterally do about it. Take heed, people in GB who believed that voting for Brexit would address mass immigration.
All that aside, this EU Withdrawal, No-Deal, Deal would surely be the beginning of the end of the United Kingdom in other ways. Michael Gove has boasted that Northern Ireland will have the “best of both worlds”. Most folk here seem to believe it would be the worst of all worlds – stuck in Limbo Land - supposedly still part of the UK but under EU laws, tariffs, and taxes with no representation whatsoever in the EU governance.
In this scenario it is highly likely that circumstances in Northern Ireland will be artificially manipulated by Brussels, London and Washington so that Northern Ireland would indeed have the best of both worlds: temporarily of course.
Why then would people in Scotland, Wales, London and other parts of England not want the best of both worlds as well? Why would they not want the same perks as Northern Ireland? I could take this train of thought a step further by asking, why not just stay totally in the EU? - instead of just being a wee bit in and a wee bit out.
Under this No-Deal Agreement the European Court of Justice will retain significant leverage and influence over UK laws, rights, regulations and trade. Sure; in theory, on paper, the UK will be free to trade with other independent nations across the globe: provided in doing so they do not trample over the EU's level playing fields.
The other element of the No-Deal Deal that will be potentially detrimental to the United Kingdom is the simple fact that the government of this once proud upstanding nation will have permitted a foreign regime to control part of its territory. It's not difficult to imagine how this might escalate rapidly in various toxic ways.
There will undoubtedly be legal challenges to this from Ulster Unionists on the grounds that the terms and spirit of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and the Act of Union of 1801 have been contravened. Regardless of how international courts would rule on this – there's not a lot of confidence in global justice systems any more - it will be of considerable embarrassment for many British people. I'm pretty sure there have not been too many independent nations who have capitulated to foreign rule on such a scale in recent times.
I regret having to bring such not-so-glad tidings at this time of year. I only wish I could participate in celebrations for British independence on January 1st, but it's not looking good from a Northern Irish perspective at the moment. It was always going to be the case that the people on the island of Ireland would be used as pawns in the EU game. Conning Brexit voters at the last minute was always going to be more challenging. I do hope they do not succeed in that. It is not too late to call the bluff. Even at this last hour.
Please do examine the details of the NI Protocol. If my interpretation of its detail is wrong, do let me know. I will be one of the happiest people in the UK if you can explain why I've got it wrong. I will gladly eat nothing but humble pie over Christmas and crack open a bottle of English bubbly wine on New Year's Eve.