The word which best describes every Conservative government since 2010 is “weak”.
The absence of any form of ideology has rendered them weak in defending British values; weak in defending our culture and heritage; weak in controlling our borders; weak on crime; and weak on the economy. But their greatest weakness was in standing up to the European Union.
Even though the British people gave them the biggest democratic mandate in history, when we voted for Brexit, they chose not to deliver the country out of the EU and instead to take the knee to that undemocratic foreign power.
The entire deal with the EU is awful. Instead of enabling the UK to chart an independent course for its own benefit, we are joined to it at the hip. But by far the worst aspect of the deal is the Northern Ireland Protocol. There is no excuse Johnson might make for agreeing to it and then so totally failing to fix it that could absolve him of responsibility for this egregious constitutional self-harm.
When Johnson signed the Withdrawal Agreement, he became the first premier in history voluntarily to partition his country. His Irish sea border breaks Great Britain from Northern Ireland. Wars are fought over this sort of thing, yet Johnson conceded part of the United Kingdom without a single shot being fired.
Throughout 2020, after we had technically left the EU, Johnson, Gove and Frost promised to put this right. Johnson himself wrote in the Telegraph on 12 September 2020 that the Protocol threatened the very fabric of the country, but still he did not act.
People like me campaigned against the Protocol throughout 2020 without success. So, in March 2021, realising the government would not move, I decided legally to challenge it. I was joined in the conception of the case by Baroness Hoey and Jim Allister, leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice. Once the case had been framed, we were in turn joined by Arlene Foster (now Baroness), then leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, Steve Aiken, then leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and the late Lord Trimble.
Lord Trimble’s desire to join us was at once heartening but also poignant. He was an architect of the Belfast Agreement, the peace settlement with the Republic of Ireland, and knew his lifetime’s work was threatened. Very sadly, he died earlier this year before our court case reached its conclusion.
The progress of our case has been slow; going via the High Court and Appeal’s Court in Belfast and culminating in a Supreme Court hearing last week.
Whatever the judgement that emanates from the highest court in our land, we have, in fact, already won. We won the moment it was ruled by the High Court that the Acts of Union had been breached – even though it claimed this somehow to have been lawful. With that ruling was revealed the many misrepresentations by Johnson claiming the entire country had left the EU. It has not – Northern Ireland has been left behind.
Indeed, at every juncture government lawyers have argued that crucial aspects of the Acts of Union have been breached, subjugated and/ or disapplied. The choice of word they use changes every time public opinion rounds on them. But they are clear – Great Britain and Northern Ireland are not on an equal footing.
And, given the Acts of Union have been breached, it follows also that so has the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. No sensible person could conclude otherwise. The East/ West strand of that agreement is every bit as important as the North/ South one. Lord Trimble said in 1998, when the Belfast Agreement was signed, the Acts of Union are the Union – the United Kingdom no longer exists.
Moreover, all of this has taken place without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland – collectively or on a cross community basis. The principle of consent is the bedrock of the Belfast Agreement and, as it happens, a human right.
For all its self-professed virtuous support of the Belfast Agreement, the Protocol instead threatens it, and undermined the rights of British citizens in Northern Ireland.
We would, of course, like to win our case. That would surely force the government to ditch the Protocol. But I suspect the Supreme Court will once again confirm the Acts of Union are not intact but that the government has not acted unlawfully. It is likely, as in the lower courts, to do legal cartwheels to justify this decision.
To the man on the Clapham omnibus this may all be legal nonsense. But beneath the legalese, the trashing of our once proud country is clear for all to see.