Rishi Sunak's Brexit travesty
No wonder a doe-eyed EU Commission president swooned over him
Did anyone really imagine, on that glorious June morning in 2016 when we woke up to find that the people of the United Kingdom had voted to gain independence from European control over the laws passed by their democratically elected parliament, that they would actually be allowed to do so?
Did anyone really believe, in the unbelievable war of attrition that followed in which virtually the entire British establishment — the civil service, financiers, big business, most members of Parliament, the BBC and much of the media, the higher judiciary and legal world, in fact virtually the whole of the university-educated nomenklatura that had voted Remain and then worked hand-in-glove with the European Union to subvert that 2016 referendum vote and keep the UK trapped under EU control — that they wouldn’t win in the end?
If anyone did believe that, they now should be sadder and wiser. The so-called “Windsor Framework”, which Britain’s prime minister Rishi Sunak has agreed with the EU Commission president Ursula van der Leyen, is being hailed as a near-miraculous resolution of the dangerously destabilising problem created by the anomalous position of Northern Ireland within the UK.
Sunak is being extolled as a quiet genius for having untied the Gordian knot created by the 2020 Brexit deal negotiated by Boris Johnson, which left Northern Ireland inside the EU’s single market.
This Northern Ireland “Protocol” was included to avoid destabilising the fragile 1998 “Good Friday Agreement” which has brought peace between Ireland, which is a member of the EU, and Northern Ireland. But this Protocol created in effect a border between Britain and Northern Ireland down the middle of the Irish Sea, thus dismembering the United Kingdom.
The Protocol was a bad mistake, as I wrote here at the time. Boris Johnson’s subsequent attempt to resile from his own agreement was viewed as an unconscionable breach of international law. The EU refused to bend. The impasse seemed insoluble.
Now, though, the Windsor Framework consists of a number of concessions made by the EU. Who would have thought, people are marvelling, that the EU would ever make such concessions?
But although these will certainly ease a number of logistical difficulties and practical log-jams that have arisen in Northern Ireland as a result of the Protocol, they amount to minor window-dressing to conceal a far deeper EU victory.
For as a number of commentators have immediately realised, the UK has certainly not “taken back control” as Sunak has been boasting. On the contrary, Northern Ireland will remain under EU control. The de-facto border will still remain down the middle of the Irish Sea.
Sunak is obscuring this unpalatable fact. Differences between the UK’s version of the agreement, which it calls The Windsor Framework: A New Way Forward,” and the EU’s version, which it calls the Windsor Political Declaration, are instructive in this regard.
For example, the EU states:
The envisaged amendment does not amount to a change of the essential elements of the Withdrawal Agreement.
The UK fails to acknowledge this fact.
EU laws will continue to apply in Northern Ireland under the Protocol.
The UK fails to acknowledge this fact. It says instead: “EU laws will apply only where strictly necessary to provide privileged access to the whole of the EU market”.
Northern Ireland will still be ultimately accountable to the European Court of Justice.
The UK fails to acknowledge this fact. Its says instead that the new framework will address the Protocol’s “democratic deficit” by “changing and rewriting the core dynamic alignment legal text as it stood in the old Protocol” and “entrenching democratic oversight and ending the prospect of damaging new goods rules being imposed on Northern Ireland”.
Really? Just look at this. There will be an expanded “Trusted Trader” scheme with “ dramatically simplified procedures” related to the movement of goods. Controls will only be performed “if a risk is assessed or abuse detected”.
But the Trusted Trader scheme can be suspended unilaterally by the EU (or the UK). This, says the EU,
will allow the EU to react quickly to protect the integrity of the EU Single Market. If the trusted trader scheme is suspended, goods cannot be moved between Great Britain and Northern Ireland based on the customs facilitations granted to operators under the scheme. Consequently, all the movements of goods will be subject to the same requirements as those for goods at risk of entering the EU.
The UK will still be tied by the Northern Ireland Protocol. The Prime Minister declared, “We have changed the original Protocol”. But the EU’s explanatory note says:
The Windsor Framework has been fully carried out within the framework of the  Withdrawal Agreement, of which the Protocol is an integral part… All new arrangements fall within this pre-established framework.
The framework supposedly provides Northern Ireland with a “Stormont Brake” which purports to allow Northern Ireland to say no to a specific EU law. Yet in practice this safeguard will be non-existent. As the EU admits:
That mechanism could be triggered in the most exceptional circumstances and as a last resort.
Moreover, if Northern Ireland were to exercise such a veto the EU could retaliate with sanctions in other areas. And if the Northern Ireland Executive at Stormont — currently suspended because it is being boycotted by the Democratic Unionist Party —isn’t resurrected, the brake won’t exist at all.
Most important of all from the perspective of UK sovereignty, Northern Ireland will still be under the ultimate jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. The EU rejected UK calls to replace the ECJ with an independent arbitration panel to rule on disputes. As van der Leyen said when the deal was announced yesterday, the ECJ will remain the “sole and final arbiter of EU law”.
As the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator Lord Frost writes:
So the changes talked up by the Government aren’t always quite what they seem because they have to take place within this existing framework. For example, we are told that 1,700 pages of EU law have been “disapplied” in Northern Ireland. In fact, what has happened is that the EU says it will pass a law itself (it hasn’t yet) setting the conditions under which UK-standard food and drink may move from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. In this Kafka-esque world, “disapplication” of EU law is actually a new EU law — one which the EU can change or suspend unilaterally if it wishes…
The deal leaves a slightly amended Protocol and EU law in place in Northern Ireland and the EU has agreed to change its own laws so that they bite less tightly. That is worth having, but it isn’t taking back control. Indeed, it may entrench the Protocol superstructure rather than weaken it.
Worse still are the implications of this deal for the rest of the UK.
A key advantage of Brexit was that that the UK would be free to pursue its own policies that would give it a competitive edge over the EU. The EU, however, exists to negate other countries’ competitive advantage over itself. Sunak has agreed to destroy that advantage in Northern Ireland. We can now see very clearly that he intends this to be the same direction of travel for the rest of the UK.
Indeed, paragraph 52 of the UK text states specifically:
We also recognise, as we have done since 2020, that the Government needs to ensure that we monitor and tackle risks of regulatory divergence within the UK internal market.
So the British government believes that “regulatory divergence” — which would give it a competitive edge over the EU through promoting its own independent policies in the interests of the UK — is a risk?
Sunak inadvertently revealed his mindset by remarks he made on a visit yesterday to the Coca-Cola factory in Lisburn, near Belfast. He said:
If we get this right, if we get this framework implemented, if we get the Executive back up and running here, Northern Ireland is in the unbelievably special position — unique position in the entire world, European continent — in having privileged access, not just to the UK home market, which is enormous... but also the European Union single market.
Not surprisingly, this led a number of people to conclude that he wanted the same combination — Brexit and access to the EU’s single market — for the whole of the UK. Any such access inescapably entails EU control. This blunder forced Downing Street to deny that Sunak was endorsing EU single market benefits for the whole of the UK, claiming he had only meant to say that Northern Ireland
needed access to both markets because of its unique situation.
Given the details of his Windsor Framework deal, that really doesn’t wash.
So now we can see how the Brexit adventure is likely to end. The UK is to use its freedom from EU membership to sidle back under EU control. It is to use its so-bitterly regained sovereign independence from vassalage to tie its own hands to its former overlords. Even now, it still finds itself in the EU’s version of Hotel California —
You can check out any time you like but you can never leave.
No wonder a doe-eyed van der Leyen has swooned over Britain’s prime minister as “dear Rishi”.
At time of writing, the possible opposition to this fresh Brexit travesty appears to have collapsed. Nigel Farage, the individual who galvanised the British people to fight to restore their sovereign democratic independence, has left the battlefield. Northern Ireland’s Unionist politicians are split. Steve Baker, the former leader of the most implacable Brexiteers in Parliament but who has signalled he won’t oppose the Windsor Framework, is a beaten man, telling the BBC that seven years of the Brexit battle destroyed his mental health.
That battle took a toll on everyone. It destroyed friendships and families. No-one wants to go through all that again.
Brexit gave the UK a chance — very slim, but it was its one chance — that it could realise its potential and prosper in the world once again. It has so far failed to use this chance, not just because of Covid and Ukraine but also because of its profound, long-lasting structural problems — the collapse of education standards, the related decline of the civil service into mediocrity and outright incompetence, inept politicians who are followers rather than leaders, and the sapping effects of half a century of a culture of entitlement.
The public is deeply disappointed and discouraged that the benefits of Brexit have not yet been realised.
Now they never will be.
My most recent exclusive post for my premium subscribers argues in the wake of yet another atrocity against Israeli Jews that revenge attacks are wrong. This is how the piece begins:
And you can read my most recent post that’s available to everyone, suggesting that the Biden administration has now crossed two red lines over Israel, by clicking here.
One more thing…
This is how my website works.
It has two subscription levels: my free service and the premium service.
Anyone can sign up to the free service on this website. You can of course unsubscribe at any time by clicking “unsubscribe” at the foot of each email.
Everyone on the free list will receive the full text of pieces I write for outlets such as the Jewish News Syndicate and the Jewish Chronicle, as well as other posts and links to my broadcasting work.
But why not subscribe to my premium service? For that you’ll also receive pieces that I write specially for my premium subscribers. Those articles will not be published elsewhere. They’ll arrive in your inbox as soon as I have written them.
There is a monthly fee of $6.99 for the premium service, or $70 for an annual subscription. Although the fee is charged in US dollars, you can sign up with any credit card. Just click on the “subscribe now” button below to see the available options for subscribing either to the premium or the free service.
A note on subscriptions
If you purchase a subscription to my site, you will be authorising a payment to my company Dirah Associates. In the past, that is the name that may have appeared on your credit card statement. In future, though, the charge should appear instead as Melanie Phillips.
And thank you for following my work.