by Frank Schnittger
Thu Oct 28th, 2021 at 08:40:39 AM EST
The disconnect between British government policy and rhetoric and what the people of Northern actually want grows ever wider. The ground is shifting under Lord Frost's feet and he doesn't have a democratic leg to stand on in his stand-off with the EU (not that he was ever elected to anything in the first place). A survey carried out by respected pollster Lucidtalk for a Queen's University study has found that 52% of N. Ireland adults thought the Protocol was, on balance, "a good thing" for Northern Ireland, compared with 43 per cent in a similar survey in June.
The percentage of respondents who agreed the protocol provided Northern Ireland with a "unique set of post-Brexit economic opportunities" that could be beneficial also rose to 62 per cent compared with 57 in June.
The emphasis of the UK government on the removal of the European Court of Justice from the protocol as an "over-riding priority" was "not a priority concern of voters in Northern Ireland", Prof Phinnemore said.
Most participants - 53 per cent - now agree or strongly agree the protocol provides an "appropriate means for managing the effects of Brexit for Northern Ireland, compared with 46 per cent in June. A total of 53 per cent also disagree that the UK would be justified in triggering article 16.
The report also found continuing high levels of distrust of those involved in managing the protocol in Northern Ireland, particularly regarding the UK government, with 87 per cent saying they distrusted its ability to manage Northern Ireland's interests regarding the protocol.
The only group that was trusted by a majority - 54 per cent - were Northern Ireland representatives.
That figure of 87% distrusting the British governments handling of the issue is truly astonishing. With the DUP currently languishing at 13% in the polls (from their prior Brexit average in the mid 30's), it means that every single adult in N. Ireland bar the DUP now distrusts the British Government.
Part of the reason for this distrust may be illustrated by a leading British diplomat's account of why she resigned her postion: UK diplomat asked to `peddle half-truths' about Brexit's impact on Ireland
A former top British diplomat in Washington has accused Boris Johnson's government of damagingly downplaying the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland's "delicate peace process" in statements intended for an American audience.
Alexandra Hall Hall, the lead Brexit envoy to the US who quit her job in late 2019 because she was unwilling to "peddle half-truths on behalf of a government I do not trust", has condemned Mr Johnson's government for being "wilfully disingenuous" in the official messages she was asked to deliver about Brexit in the US.
In a lengthy article published in a US academic journal, the former career diplomat excoriated the UK government for downplaying the cost and impact of Brexit in "public talking points" aimed at presenting the official UK government line in Washington.
"They downplayed the increased friction that was likely for businesses trading between the United Kingdom and the EU countries as well as third countries such as the United States, " wrote Ms Hall Hall in the Texas National Security Review journal.
"But, most damagingly, the talking points also downplayed the consequences of Brexit for the delicate peace process in Northern Ireland, in which the United States was a core stakeholder, having helped to broker the [Belfast] Agreement and supported it since then," she wrote.
Ms Hall Hall wrote that one colleague at the UK embassy in Washington working on Northern Ireland was "nearly in tears" as he "could not get his minister to register the enormous damage that would be done to the fabric of Northern Ireland, politically and economically, if the United Kingdom left the European Union without a deal".
"A low point for me was when I heard a senior British minister openly and offensively, in front of a US audience, dismiss the impact of a no-deal Brexit on Irish businesses as just affecting `a few farmers with turnips in the back of their trucks,' " she wrote.
Another reason for the distrust of the British government in Northern Ireland is laid bare in a unionist commentator's column in the Irish Times today: Newton Emerson: No hurry in London for Stormont stability
Although collapsing devolution has some appeal to hardliners on both sides, it is deeply unpopular with the electorate overall. Voters punished Sinn Féin and the DUP for the last collapse and it is evident both parties fear history would repeat itself.
The sense of fragility despite this brings us to a third threat to Stormont, from the UK government itself.
The House of Commons did pass a piece of NDNA [New Decade, New Approach deal signed by all N. Ireland parties and the British and Irish governments] legislation this week, designed to prevent an executive collapse. The Bill, which must now go to the Lords, will extend the period between one of the two main parties walking out and a collapse from one week to six months.
The DUP demanded this legislation and O'Neill welcomed its progress this week. Neither party objected to it taking priority over their language or protocol concerns. However, its progress has still been frustratingly slow.
The UK government has been warned throughout this year, including by its own backbenchers, to get on with it as a matter of urgency. The Bill's passage was substantially complete by early July and could have been through the Lords before parliament's summer recess.
Westminster can pass laws for Northern Ireland in days when the government orders it. UUP leader Doug Beattie noted his disappointed this week the Bill has not benefited from accelerated passage.
The obvious suspicion is the UK government finds Stormont's fragility useful in negotiations with the European Union. "Serious societal difficulties" are a trigger to suspend the protocol under article 16.
So basically, the UK wants the DUP to be able to collapse the power sharing institutions established in Northern Ireland under the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement without delay so it can point to a "societal crisis" as an excuse to trigger Article 16 to suspend the Protocol. Moderate unionist Alliance Party Leader and Ex-MEP Naomi Long had this to say:
Boris Johnson's government is using Northern Ireland as a lever to gain advantage over the EU, Alliance leader Naomi Long has told a parliamentary committee at Westminster.
Ms Long told the House of Lords constitution committee that Northern Ireland was "not so much an afterthought as a political football" for Downing Street.
"I don't believe the current government negotiates with Northern Ireland's best interests at heart, but I do believe that they use us for leverage over the European Union," she said. "And I do believe that Northern Ireland has become essentially a lever rather than the priority in terms of the protocol."
Britain and the EU are negotiating changes to how the post-Brexit Northern Ireland protocol operates after the European Commission said most checks on goods moving from Britain to the North could be eliminated.
Britain is demanding that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) should no longer have a role in the protocol's governance, but Ms Long said her constituents were more interested in practical issues.
"No one in my constituency has contacted me specifically concerned with respect to the sovereignty issues around the protocol, the European Court of Justice or those issues. Those are not the issues that businesses bring to us daily. Those are not the issues that are causing practical challenges."
Ms Long, who is Stormont's justice minister, said the strain Brexit had created in the relationship between Dublin and London was affecting political relationships in Northern Ireland as well as North-South co-operation.
"It's a bit like being the child of a divorce at this point where the parents are not speaking and the children are essentially vying for attention. It's not a pleasant place to be," she said.
The power sharing institutions established under the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement of 1998 have resulted in 23 years of relative peace and stability in Northern Ireland after a war which cost over 3,000 lives. That the British government could play fast and loose with these arrangements in a bid to further its dispute with the EU on entirely spurious grounds is a measure of just how despicable these people are. That even most unionists have woken up to how they are being used in a dispute not of their making shows how transparent and obvious this perfidy has become.
Is there no low to which Boris Johnson's government cannot sink?