By Willie Drennan
I have been railing against the NI Protocol from the moment this devious assault on fundamental principles and rights was announced.
Pro-EU and pro-Protocol people often chide, scoff and smugly ask “what are the alternatives?” Fair enough.
Basically, I have long held optimism that Brexit, after initial dangerous times, could lead to Glorious Opportunity for the ancient divisions in Ireland to be permanently sealed away behind some glass case in a museum. More on that coming up.
First of all, on the short term, there are simple alternatives to the ludicrous Sea Border aspect of the Protocol. There is really no need at all for a hard border – anywhere within the British Isles. The movement of goods between EU and any part of the UK can be registered, monitored, traced and checked at any point of transaction: at source and destination or at at any point of transport in between.
Occasional physical checks on vehicles transporting goods in either direction can take place at any time and anywhere. Such checks do not need to take place at a border post to disrupt flow of travel. All this can be assisted by mutual cross-border enforcement and sharing of cross-border intelligence.
The short-term alternatives and mutually beneficial solutions could really be that simple if there was a genuine will for them to happen.
The longer-term and even more crucial problem with the Protocol is more complex to remedy. The Protocol rides roughshod over the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement of 1998, The Act of Union of 1801 and the ignored Common Travel Area.
Politically, a petition to invoke Article 16 of the Protocol has been received by the UK government and will hopefully be debated at Westminster. Article 16 allows a unilateral challenge to any aspect of the protocol that appears to cause economic or societal harm. This in itself will not solve the problems of the protocol as any discrepancies are first of all debated by the EU's Joint Committee, then by the EU's Arbitration Panel, and all over-seen by the EU's European Court of Justice. The EU have good reason to confidently believe they have the legalities all sussed.
It is still important for Article 16 to be triggered and debated so that the public can have some understanding of what has taken place and what is going on.
A legal action against the protocol has also been initiated and has the wide support of Unionists in Northern Ireland as well as prominent people in Great Britain. This is on the basis that the NI Protocol breaches the Act of Union, implemented in 1801, and the Agreement of 1998.
Once again the EU, the Tony Blair Institute, pro-EU political elites in UK and Irish Nationalists all believe they have all the legal loopholes covered: as part of their Weaponisation of the Irish Border Strategy. They probably have good reason for their smug confidence because they know that the Belfast/ Good Friday Agreement was necessarily vague: with essential “constructive ambiguity” and unconstructive ambiguity.
This essentially means it can be interpreted in any way by any justice system that might want to interpret it to suit their needs. The Protocol gives license to the EU and its ECJ to use, abuse and interpret to suit its agenda.
The UK courts may rule that the NI Protocol breaches both the Act of 1800/01 and the 1998 Agreement.
In which case alternatives need to be sought regardless of what the EU think.
On the other hand the UK courts may decide that the protocol breaches the purpose and spirit of the previous legislation, or something similar in their jargon, but does not legally breach anything.
In which case alternatives still need to be sought regardless of what the EU think.
I say this as it will still be the case that the vast majority of unionists will remain convinced that the constitutional promises made to them have been blatantly breached. Regardless of what any court decides the legal position to be, the Belfast Agreement and NI Protocol will be unsustainable and unworkable anyway.
So, regardless of judicial or political de:isions, the pro-EU and pro- protocol contingent are quite right to ask what the alternatives are to the EU's elaborately-contrived grand scheme.
On the short term what is required is cool heads all around. On the longer term everyone on the island of Ireland, and indeed everyone in the British Isles as a whole, need to consider and debate a way forward that could be mutually beneficial and economically stabilising. We should all be thinking about alternatives to the Protocol that would offer peace and stability for future generations.
In recent times relationships within Northern Ireland and relationships between the Republic of Ireland and the UK have been positive and mutually respectful - perhaps more so than at any time in history. Well, that was up until recently when the EU managed to pull the ancient trick of divide and conquer. EU supporters will of course blame it all on Brexit and pro-Brexit politicians, but that is now a redundant debate because we are where we are.
This is what is happening on the island of Ireland right now. Along with elite politicians and their devotees in Ireland and UK, the EU has stolen the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement from all of the people.
The Irish political elite are no longer either Free Staters or Irish Republicans. They seem to have lost respect for their forbears who campaigned for, and fought and died for, liberty from a foreign power.
It will seem unrealistic to project for an independent Irish nation once again, in these times when a clear majority still seem to support the notion that “Ireland is the EU” - to quote Leo Varadkar. But there is a movement for Irish freedom and it is surely bound to grow the more it becomes evident the EU couldn't care less about the Irish people. The movement for "Irexit" is surely bound to grow as it becomes more evident that the EU will use and abuse the people, in any of their states, whenever considered necessary to solidify and expand the EU's power base.
This should be at least considered as a potential alternative.
This would mean that, while the Republic of Ireland would have its independence again, the people in Northern Ireland would have the same connection to the rest of Ireland as the rest of the UK would have.
The border would be back to being invisible while people in Northern Ireland would retain its present place and democratic freedoms within the United Kingdom.
An independent ROI would have free trade with its closest market and benefit from an independent UK's new trade deals across the globe.
An independent ROI would secure the Common Travel Area Agreement with the UK as it would no longer be susceptible to potential EU interference.
Should there develop a clear desire for a border poll, as allowed for in the 1998 Agreement, that could take place in a more suitable peaceful and stable environment. The people could decide if they wanted to change who they paid their taxes to, and which flags to fly, at that point. A Border Poll/ 2nd EU Referendum is currently highly improbable for obvious reasons.
It is even possible that an independent Ireland could have a different relationship with the EU than the UK currently has: as part of EFTA perhaps? It is even possible that an independent Ireland could have the best of both worlds if the majority in Ireland wanted that.