Boris Johnson got Brexit done, Rishi Sunak's legacy will be all the greater, if he can make it work, says Mark Dolan
By Mark Dolan
Published: 26/02/2023- 21:03
We need to move on. With spiralling inflation, a cost of living crisis, public sector workers on strike, a war in Ukraine, an NHS barely fit for purpose and upwards of 1000 people entering the country illegally every day, Brexit should be a good news story, not the distraction and the thorn in our side, it has become.
Do you really want to be talking about the Northern Ireland protocol, when you're worried about your mortgage, your rent, electricity and gas bills, your job security, a scarcity of fruit and veg in supermarkets, a lack of school places for your kids, or the vanishing chance of getting a GP appointment this side of Christmas?
The issue of the Northern Ireland protocol, which disgracefully places a border down the Irish Sea, splitting our country in half, has been a disaster for the people of Northern Ireland - where I’m delighted to say I have an army of viewers and listeners - who are subject to different legal jurisdiction and customs and tax regulations, than the rest of the United Kingdom.
Not to mention the fact that they have no government in Stormont. The Northern Ireland protocol has been a crime against the people of Northern Ireland and an assault on the political, economic and territorial foundations of this country.
It looks like our new prime minister Rishi Sunak, has brokered an unprecedented deal with Brussels, which will see goods from the mainland - destined for Northern Ireland only - fast tracked on a so-called Green lane without checks. And any potential court action would go via the Northern Ireland judiciary first, prior to any involvement of the European Court of Justice.
Plus Westminster, not Brussels, would set VAT rates, taxation and state aid policy in Northern Ireland. And it’s understood that Sunak has negotiated an arrangement whereby the Assembly in Belfast gets pre-legislative scrutiny of new regulations, so that they can be ditched, if necessary.
The deal still won't be perfect, but it's but it appears to be light years away from the current arrangements, which are palpably unworkable, and which even risk restarting the troubles, given the tensions they understandably create within unionist communities.
Rumours abound that Sunak has immersed himself in the detail, confirming my instinct that this guy has all the makings of a great statesman, with the likes of Steve Baker, arch Brexiteer, potentially remaining as a Northern Ireland minister, which would place a Kitemark seal of approval, on any potential agreement.
Steve Baker is the canary in the mine, and if he keeps on singing, that will be music to sunak’s ears. However, if the likes of Baker resigns, then Sunak has a political problem.
as he will if Mark Francois, current chairman of the Eurosceptic Tory group the ERG kicks off. Mark is with me in the studio tonight at 10 – we await his verdict.
Interestingly, Caroline Wheeler and Tim Shipman in the Sunday Times today, quote a key member of Sunak’s negotiating team, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, ex-chairman of the ERG as saying: “If we’d been offered this three years ago, we would have bitten your arm off.”
Too right. On this show exactly a week ago, I said that support from the DUP is MY red Line, and it's clear that if the Democratic Unionist party are not satisfied with the deal, they will not participate in power-sharing in Stormont and it will render Sunak’s efforts a waste of time.
Whether we like it or not, we must negotiate with the EU, because even though we have the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which would allow Britain to tear up the protocol altogether, it may not be quite the silver bullet many Brexiteers perceive it to be, given the fact that it would likely spark a trade war we don’t need right now, and would see the European Union refuse to engage with Britain on ANY issue, including stopping the boats.
Plenty of legal minds better than mine, believe that even IF we tear up the Northern Ireland protocol, it may still be legally enforceable. Fines could be payable, and we’d certainly be faced with months, if not years more, of this diplomatic, political and economic turmoil.
Does anyone want that? Prolonged chaos, would further support the Remain narrative, that Brexit has been a disaster, rather than the huge opportunity it actually is. Last week, I said “don't let great be the enemy of the good” and “do not fall into the trap of ideological purity”.
I suspect that whilst not perfect, this deal is probably good enough and if it allows us to break the political deadlock, and if it sees government back in Northern Ireland, then it's good enough for me.
To his eternal credit, Boris Johnson got Brexit done. Rishi Sunak's legacy will be all the greater, if he can make Brexit work.
Let's get a deal done, so we can all get on with our bloody lives. And make Brexit the success, I’m certain it can be.