The Brexiteers’ permanent breach of trust is unforgivableby Jonathan Lis / September 11, 2020 / Leave a comment
After four long years, Brexit’s collision with reality was always going to hurt. The government’s lies about Northern Irish trade were going to be exposed; the Brexit hardliners were going to feel betrayed. But what few people reckoned upon was the UK’s answer to that. This week the government decided that it would not shy from reality, but cancel it altogether. Faced with the impending consequences of its actions, it has chosen instead to violate international law.
We needn’t dwell too much on the technicalities. The Internal Market Bill breaches key elements of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which comprised the most significant and contentious element of the Withdrawal Treaty. The EU knows we are breaking the law. So do the government’s lawyers. So do UK ministers. In what may become one of the most notorious comments ever uttered by a minister in the Commons, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis described the law-breaking as “specific and limited.” No amount of illegality was tolerable for the head of the Government Legal Department, who resigned on Tuesday. It should not be tolerable for anyone else either.
If we cannot credit the government with good faith or adherence to the law, we can with imagination. In the last few days it has invented countless creative excuses. The deal was signed in a rush. The consequences were unforeseen. It is a bad deal which threatens British sovereignty and the union.
These excuses range from spurious to outrageous. Yes, the deal was signed in a rush. That was the direct fault of a government which allotted less parliamentary time for the agreement than for the Wild Animals in Circuses Act, then forced all Conservative election candidates to endorse it. They could have given MPs several weeks to scrutinise the most important legislation in a generation, but instead scoffed that parliament had already had three years. This was a rush, alright: one insisted upon by the prime minister.
The government is of course right on another point. This is indeed a bad deal. But its consequences were not unforeseen. Commentators warned about them tirelessly. When the exit negotiations began, it quickly became clear that Brexit would hinge around borders. Because an invisible frontier had to be preserved on the island of Ireland, either the whole UK would have to stay in the…