In the tortuous months of negotiations between officials in London and Brussels leading up to the eventual Withdrawal Agreement that lead to the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, the special position of Northern Ireland remained a contentious sticking point.
Nothing, the EU27 leaders as well as representatives in Washington and the United Nations warned, must be done to undermine the hard-won peace in Northern Ireland.
Throughout those negotiations and in two separate agreements reached first with Theresa May and then with Boris Johnson as leaders of Her Majesty’s Govermnent, every effort was made to ensure that there would be no return to a hard border on the island of Ireland.
That deal Johnson negotiated, championed and campaigned on, is suddenly unacceptable – and he seeks now to overturn that deal and break international treaties, to change it to suit his ends now
The so-called “backstop” was included in the deal reached with May – she couldn’t get that passed at Westminster – and Johnson himself later agreed to a customs check running down the Irish Sea, meaning no return to that hard border. He campaigned in a general election on the basis of that deal, and won a majority – in part on the basis of that deal.
Now, with the clock winding down on the year-long transition period where things remain as they are between London and Brussels and little time left to reach a deal on the future trading relationship between the bloc and the UK, Johnson has suddenly changed his tune.
That deal he negotiated, championed and campaigned on, is suddenly unacceptable – and he seeks now to overturn that deal and break international treaties, to change it to suit his ends now.
Not the way of leaders
This is not the way of the UK government. It is not the way of statesmen. It is not the way of diplomats nor leaders of substance or stature. It is the move of carnival showmen.
The internal market bill threatens to trigger deep divisions within the Conservative party, meeting a wall of opposition in the House of Lords, and doing harm to Britain’s international reputation.
Already representatives in Washington are warning that they will be unable to conclude a free trade agreement between the UK and the US if it acts in bad faith. More importantly, they warn that anything that undermines the peace process in Northern Ireland cannot be contemplated nor entertained.
It is a dangerous path for Johnson’s government to tread – and the five living former Prime Ministers of the UK have added their opposition to this sleight of hand now. That certainly speaks volumes.