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Sun 20 September 2020
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Mike Buckley reports on how the Government’s reneging on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement has already lined up its closest allies – against the UK

Margaret Thatcher once said that the first duty of government is to uphold the law. If the Government failed to obey, then so would the governed.

That same year, she said that Britain does not break treaties. Doing so would be bad for Britain and for hopes of any future deal that the UK might want to negotiate. 

More than 40 years on, her successors have ignored her words.

Boris Johnson’s bill to create a UK internal market intentionally breaks international law and reneges on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, a binding international treaty, which he signed last year.

The US Congress voted unanimously to renew its support in December last year, calling for strict adherence to the Good Friday Agreement during Brexit negotiations.

If the Prime Minister refuses to back down, he will not just end any hopes of an EU trade deal, he will also make a US trade deal impossible and make it hard for any government around the world to trust his word. Worst of all, he is driving a stake through the heart of the Good Friday Agreement, endangering peace on the island of Ireland more than at any time since it was signed in 1998. 

The EU will not conclude a free trade agreement in these circumstances. “Breaking international law is not acceptable and does not create the confidence we need to build our future relationship,” said Charles Michel, the President of the European Council. His words were echoed across the continent by national leaders unanimous in their opposition to Johnson’s actions. 

Other than an EU deal, the one agreement that he will kill stone dead which such an approach is a trade deal with the US. American affection for Ireland and its commitment to the Good Friday Agreement is not well known in the UK, but it runs deep. The US sees itself as a guarantor of the Agreement which must be preserved, said Congressman Richard Neal in response to Johnson’s bill. Neal has dedicated much of his career to U-Ireland relations and maintaining American involvement in the Northern Ireland peace process. 


Bound on Either Side

Democrats and Republicans agree on little but on one thing they are united – their support for the Good Friday Agreement.

Congress voted unanimously to renew its support in December last year, calling for strict adherence to the Agreement during Brexit negotiations “to ensure a lasting peace in Northern Ireland”.

“Any arrangements must protect the Good Friday Agreement and prevent the return of a hard border”, tweeted Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden’s foreign policy advisor.

If Johnson is seen to have compromised the Agreement and imperilled the peace process, he will get no trade deal under Biden or Donald Trump. Congress would not allow it. The Withdrawal Agreement guarantees an open border on the island because renewed border infrastructure would be catastrophic. Biden, Neal and European leaders know a hard border is the logical result of Johnson’s bill.

At the core of the legislation is the decision not to interpret Article 10 of the Withdrawal Agreement, which applies EU state aid rules to Northern Ireland, in accordance with European case law. It gives the UK Government the power to decide what checks are made on goods going to and from Northern Ireland.

In the words of one Conservative MP opposed to the bill: “Ministers will make up the rules and the law almost at whim.”

From an EU perspective, this imperils the integrity of the Single Market. If the sea border is thereby compromised, its only option to regain control would be a land border.  

Johnson has raised the stakes for the UK’s future relationship with the EU. He has raised the stakes for the island of Ireland and united global leaders against him. The only question now is whether he will back down before it is too late.


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