What do you call Boris Johnson brazenly bragging at the poker table with an empty hand? The protocol bill

For the UK government, there is a method behind the apparent insanity of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill. While so many in Ireland and the rest of the EU are outraged by the content, it is important not to lose sight of that apparent plan. Not least because it’s not really very good to the extent that it’s based on other parties thinking the UK Prime Minister is a man of his word, which is the last way he should be described.

Roughly, as can be deduced from the chaos of UK government operations under Boris Johnson, the intention is that by convincingly threatening to break an international treaty, they will force the Democratic Unionist Party to take their place in the Northern Ireland Executive. , and the EU to change its mandate, ultimately accepting everything the UK wants. Troublingly, however, close observers may note that this plan already backfired last month when the threat alone proved insufficient.

The fact that others do not play their part is surely due to the different value they would apply to the currency in use: the threat from the UK government. On the UK side, this is seen as highly important, almost an order, which the EU and Ireland would do well to follow, otherwise the consequences will be dire. For so many others, this is becoming a running joke: when can we expect Johnson’s annual capitulation in negotiations?

Not that we should joke about a UK government repeatedly threatening a treaty it signed, blatantly thinking only of one community in Northern Ireland, wanting to give ministers the powers to do what they want without parliament, and using a justification law so absurd that it could have come from President Putin. But this is the behavior of the empty-handed braggart at the poker table, raising the stakes to mountainous heights in the hope and expectation that others will fold.

The UK government does not really intend for the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill to become law. You can get through a House of Commons where any Conservative who even thinks of being nice to the EU is immediately attacked by their colleagues, but you don’t stand a chance in a House of Lords which could be one of the last institutions in the country still takes the international reputation of the United Kingdom. for serious fair play.

However, by that time, the UK government hopes that the pieces have somehow started to fall into place. If that’s not the case, then you could pocket what the EU has already offered and call it a victory, though even the UK media, slavishly loyal to Johnson, are beginning to call it a failure. Johnson is most likely waiting for something else to come up as a distraction, as the braggart does, or he could have been dragged out of Downing Street, ultimately found electorally guilty.

promising the impossible

Any resulting Conservative Party leadership contest is unlikely to be an uplifting spectacle, rather a contest to promise more than the impossible while criticizing the EU. Ostensibly sensible potential candidates with a military background, such as defense secretary Ben Wallace or the chairman of parliament’s foreign affairs committee, Tom Tugendhat, would not be immune. Even the possibility of such a contest also plays into the current situation, with Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, evidently being conned by the Prime Minister to take the blame for the failure on her this time.

What neither candidate will admit is that Brexit is failing because the Conservative Party’s anti-EU position has hardened into an ideological and visceral one, even though any UK government that wants economic growth and international relations must deal with the neighbors. The pursuit of Brexit regulatory divergence is based on the mistaken belief that the EU is uniquely overregulated, ignoring the failure in six years to find specific examples of how to de-regulate, apart from the widely derided return to imperial measures, and causing considerable business uncertainty and possible future costs. It is becoming increasingly clear that free trade agreements with distant countries cannot outperform UK companies facing higher barriers than their counterparts in 30 neighboring countries.

With the protocol bill raising the possibility of EU retaliation in the form of a trade war, the problem is exacerbated. Arguably, the fact that the UK has been unable to confirm its participation in the Horizon research and innovation programme, and that universities are beginning to worry about the resulting brain drain, shows that it has begun. Those tempted to invest will find good reason to pause. Meanwhile, the apparent business side is stuck, unable to admit that it needs the EU but also unable to walk away, a contradiction in which all plans are likely to fail until it can be resolved.

None of this discussion has focused on the problems Northern Ireland companies have faced with the protocol, nor on the survival of the Belfast Agreement under pressure from trade unionists. This is not to downplay them, it’s just that the protocol bill is more like the stage for another UK skirmish with the EU. If the government were serious about solving the problems, it would be calling debates in Belfast, not proposing legislation in Westminster.

Ultimately, then, the UK government’s plan for the protocol is the same old folly, the continuation of the Conservative Party’s endless debate over what to do about relations with the EU, a flimsy plan to disguise this which is unlikely. surviving contact with others, and the growing collateral damage to the UK. In other words, the same old pattern seen since the referendum, showing no signs of a quick conclusion.

David Henig is director of the UK Trade Policy Project at the European Center for International Political Economy.


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