On Tuesday at Westminster — the mother of all parliaments — Brandon Lewis, the minister responsible for Northern Ireland in Boris Johnson’s cabinet, stood up and told the House of Commons that the government would be breaking international law.
It’s official. A matter of policy. Britannia is waiving the rules, the UK is ignoring its international obligations and thumbing its nose at legal and diplomatic conventions. What’s more, that Withdrawal Agreement, the one Johnson described last November as “oven ready” and on which he campaigned and won a majority at Westminster, was all a lie. Now, 10 months on, the truth comes out: It was all a sham.
Should we be surprised? Hardly. After all, this is a government that makes its own rules — laws be damned. That’s why Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s personal and chief adviser, went on a 900-kilometre round trip at the height of the coronavirus lockdown. Rules don’t apply to them, only to us.
Over the past days, a succession of Johnson minions have gone into television studios and tried to explain straight and brazen-faced why they are deliberately breaking the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement and putting the hard-won peace of Northern Ireland at risk. It’s all absolute tosh — and Johnson knew that by signing the Withdrawal Agreement there would be a customs border down the Irish Sea, keeping a soft border on the island of Ireland and keeping Northern Ireland attached to the customs regimen of the rest of the European Union.
So, for them to now say that they will make rule changes to eliminate those customs checks — the issue on goods going from Northern Ireland into the rest of the UK — is infuriating.
The European Union says it will take action and activate the dispute resolution process provided for in that agreement. Sanctions might very well follow.
Here’s the thing: Either Boris knew back then that the deal sucked and he would change it and signed it in bad faith anyway, or he lied to the electorate and always intended to do this anyway — meaning he lied to the European Union and acted in bad faith anyway. Take your pick.
The Brits now have the audacity to suggest that it is Brussels who are running down the clock. Another bare-faced lie. It was Boris who wanted the end of the transition period to be December 31, and it was Boris who refused to extend that period when the notice period for doing so came around at the end of June.
As things stand right now, there will be no trade deal, no deal of governance, and no deal on fisheries. Besides, even if there was, it wouldn’t be worth the paper it was written on. It’s a good thing that coronavirus has led to a shortage of toilet paper — there’s every chance Boris would want that trade deal written on the tissue.
Trying to hammer out a trade now is like trying to perform a triple heart bypass while the patient is still awake and wriggling on the table. There is little chance of success.
Was this Boris’ plan all along?
Does he really expect the majority of 60 million Brits now to put their hands in their pockets and fork out 8 per cent more on their weekly groceries come January 1. And without a governance deal in place for the British economy, gone are protections for the health, well-being and environmental standards to ensure they will remain broadly similar to the rest of the EU.
No deal means the hard-won gains in the workplace, on the environment, on safety and any other issues that affect the running of companies and businesses — and their employees — can and will be eroded at the whim of ministers. Sure, they might say otherwise, but they have the ability now to lie at will. Don’t forget, Johnson made a career out of politics when he was sacked for lying as a journalist.
This brazen act, this lie, this display of spinal atrophy merely ensures that the fragile bonds that hold together the United Kingdom now will fray at a far faster rate.
For the nationalist community in Northern Ireland, there is now complete distrust of Westminster — officially sanctioned mistrust. The results of the 2021 census will most probably confirm that for the first time in the 100 years since the partition of the island of Ireland by the Brits, Roman Catholics will be in a majority there — an important demographic and democratic element when a border poll on the re-unification of Ireland is inevitably held.
In Scotland, where First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already set out a plan for a second independence referendum, the lies from London are equally hard to swallow. Why should Scots trust a government that breaks its word, doesn’t respect the rule of law and consigns treaties to the waste bin? So much then, sovereigntists will no doubt argue, for British laws that might prevent a referendum held by a government of, by and for Scots in Scotland. And who could blame them?
Already, the European Union says it will take action and activate the dispute resolution process provided for in that agreement. Sanctions might very well follow.
But this move will do nothing to dispel a growing sense of unease in the ranks of Boris’ own ruling Conservative party. Disquiet is growing at his actions over the summer, whispers are heard in hallways, the nudge and wink campaign is already underway. Is he really up to the task, they wonder? Now, he treats with disdain the reputation of the institution of government. Yeo, Britain might have given the world the rule of law, but laws aren’t worth the ink they’re now written with. Yes, Britannia does indeed waive the rules.