Northern Ireland Protocol: The Poison Pill of Consent


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Hello. Do you remember when Brexit was “done”? It was a fun week. Inevitably, it returned to the agenda. Some thoughts on the politics and politics of that in today’s bulletin.

We experienced some time displacement in yesterday’s email, with a reference to power Boris Johnson did not have ‘in 2022’. As I hope it was clear from the context, it should have said “in 2020”. Apologies. Contact us at the email address below.


Inside Politics is edited by Georgina Quach. Follow Stéphane on Twitter @stephenkb and please send gossip, thoughts and comments to [email protected].


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Put the curb out to sea until the end of the season

The UK government is advancing legislation to scrap large swaths of the Northern Ireland Protocol and give ministers the power to reshape it as they see fit. (George Parker has written an excellent explainer of exactly what the Protocol Bill does). This prompted Brussels to threaten legal action against the UK, Maroš Šefčovič, the European Commissioner for Brexit, saying in a report that “unilateral action undermines mutual trust”.

Eagle-eyed readers will know that the Northern Ireland protocol itself contains a mechanism that gives the UK government the ability to opt out of it at will. It is Article 16, which allows each of the parties to take unilateral measures if the operation of the protocol causes “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties likely to persist or diversion of traffic”.

It is difficult to see how anyone can credibly claim that the operation of the Northern Ireland Protocol poses a serious threat to the Good Friday Agreement, but it is not resulting in “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties likely to persist”. It’s obviously not clear why the UK government wouldn’t want to just trigger Article 16.

One of the reasons to go this route is if you want to avoid an all-out confrontation over protocol and the ensuing EU-UK trade war, but want to be able to tell the DUP that you are serious about ending to the protocol. In my view, this is the real reason why Boris Johnson used his great Belfast Telegraph article, which outlines the changes his government is seeking, to also argue that now is the time to resume power-sharing and that the DUP starts working again. North Ireland.

It’s about doing enough to restart a fully functioning devolved executive in Belfast, but not so much that the UK finds itself in a trade war. As we have seen, Johnson’s government does not really have the courage to do this.

The other reason is to find a way to get rid of the poison pill that is the consent mechanism of the protocol. The fact that Stormont voted on the future of the protocol was Johnson’s big win at the EU-UK talks in 2019: the Northern Ireland protocol is otherwise a carbon copy of the regulatory sea border which Theresa May rejected.

But the consent mechanism creates two problems for the Johnson government. Firstly, while there is a pro-protocol majority among members of the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly (MLA), the vote on continuing the protocol in 2024 is another looming crisis that could cause a government collapse. decentralized. (Because remember, it’s not enough to have a majority in Stormont; you need a cross-community majority, both Unionist and Nationalist parties.) It’s also a potential embarrassment for a British government which insists loud and clear on the fact that the protocol will not achieve this objective while a majority of deputies would vote, in the current state of things, to keep it.

Both of these objectives carry significant risk. By simply introducing this legislation in the House of Commons, the UK government has put itself on a collision course with the EU at a time when it can ill afford to be embroiled in an economically damaging trade war.

OK, boom

At King’s College London, Bobby Duffy, director of the Policy Institute, shared a illuminating map series on how different generations in the UK view the UK housing crisis. What’s striking about the research from King’s College’s Policy Institute and the Institute of Gerontology is how united respondents are, regardless of age.

© King’s College London, Policy Institute and Institute of Gerontology

Chart showing the following: The main reasons young adults today cannot afford to buy their own homes are things like rising house prices, tighter lending rules and weak wage growth

© King’s College London, Policy Institute and Institute of Gerontology

I really like these charts because, as I wrote recently in my column, I think “generations” are all so talkative. I would say they are about as useful and accurate as horoscopes. With the latter at least, you can have a fun conversation every day in the office about what the stars claim to have in store for you that day.

As Jane Green and Roosmarijn de Geus explain in more detail here, politics is still largely about economics.

Chart showing economic insecurity and voting choice of Conservative and Labor votes in 2019

The great success of former Prime Minister Theresa May (who may have lost the Tory majority but succeeded in attracting huge new Tory voters) and Boris Johnson has not been in getting former Labor voters to vote ‘against their economic interests. ”. Their success was to end the Conservative Party’s regional underperformance among voters who elsewhere in England are typically swing voters.

This change was facilitated by the focus on Brexit and “cultural” issues. But we shouldn’t rule out that growing economic insecurity will force politics back to its pre-2019 shape sooner rather than later. Just because a trade war increases Brexit talk doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for keeping post-Brexit divisions intact.

Now try this

I was supposed to see the new Francois Ozon movie Everything went well yesterday but my partner had to work late so i stayed and watched the latest marvel series Mrs. Wonder on Disney+. Iman Vellani is charming and immediately engaging as the titular character, the latest essentially fungible Marvel superhero. (Our review is here.)

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