Lord Dodds, former deputy leader of the DUP, writes that there can be no question of trade unionism getting back to working under a political agreement which has been so flagrantly violated and whose guarantees and safeguards have been so deliberately set aside. The Protocol’s assault on the fundamental principles of democracy is so breathtaking that it is hardly believable in a modern society of the 21st century. Vast swathes of laws are now being drafted by a foreign institution in their interests, with no final say or vote by anyone elected by the people of Northern Ireland, whether in Stormont or Westminster.
Brexit may seem like the least of our concerns right now. However, Northern Ireland’s unfinished business threatens a major crisis for the government on top of everything else it deals with.
The collapse of the necessary cross-community consensus for Belfast’s political institutions portends serious long-term problems for Downing Street.
Yet large sections of Whitehall appear to be sleepwalking towards disaster. The infamous protocol that was hastily agreed ‘to get Brexit done’ is now rejected by its own authors, including Boris. And no wonder. It destroys the very Belfast Agreement it is supposed to protect. This is because it tears up the principle of consent which is its basis. Not a single MP or MP from a Unionist party supports the Protocol.
It destroys the East/West relationship (part 3 of the Belfast Agreement) by erecting barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom in order to uplift and safeguard North/South relations (part 2) . And Tier 1 arrangements for local government in Stormont are in shambles with the Prime Minister’s resignation leaving the executive unable to function.
The Belfast Court of Appeal has just ruled that essential parts of the Act of Union itself are now subject to or overruled by the Protocol, demonstrating its incompatibility with Northern Ireland’s position as a party from the United Kingdom.
The creation of a customs border by which Britain is designated a ‘third country’ for the purposes of Northern Ireland, as well as regulatory borders, are anathema to those who appreciate the Union.
In discussions with the governments of Theresa May and Boris Johnston, this has always been made clear and we have voted against such a proposal whenever it has come up. The Protocol’s assault on the fundamental principles of democracy is so breathtaking that it is hardly believable in a 21st century modern society.
Vast swathes of laws are now being drafted by a foreign institution in their interests, with no final say or vote by anyone elected by the people of Northern Ireland, whether in Stormont or Westminster. This is similar to taxation without representation. Meanwhile the rest of our country can make their own laws and over time there will be a growing divergence between Northern Ireland and Britain with more barriers and greater forced reliance on EU.
All this before getting to the commercial and economic aspects with barriers erected between us and our greatest source of goods and food. Ulster is now also separated into overseas VAT and state aid schemes. It also has far-reaching implications for EU involvement in the rest of the UK.
Due to repeated delays in remedying the situation and restoring Northern Ireland’s full place in the UK, the government let the issue dominate the Assembly election in May.
This will make any rollback of the executive much more difficult later on.
After all, what good is an Assembly if it cannot legislate vast areas of its own economy, but must accept laws made by others?
There can be no question of trade unionism once again functioning within the framework of a political settlement which has been so flagrantly violated and whose guarantees and safeguards have been so blindly set aside.
We will have to act to restore Northern Ireland to its place in the United Kingdom, its single market and its customs union, with democratic control over our own laws. Temporary waivers, light checks and subsidized business support can never be a cure for the long-term divergence the protocol will cause between one part of the UK and the rest.
In July last year, the government recognized that there were grounds for unilateral action.
Various events, both inside and outside government control, were allowed to thwart the necessary action. This is wrong and there is still time for the government to act.
Long after Covid investigative reports and the war in Ukraine have shifted to another form of conflict, Downing Street will be grappling with the consequences of today’s inaction in Northern Ireland. And history shows that it will be a crisis that will take much longer to resolve.
Lord Nigel Dodds is a Cambridge trained barrister is DUP Peer and was Deputy Leader of the DUP from 2008 to 2021