DAVID George Hamilton Frost, Baron Frost, former diplomat, Scotch whisky tsar, Boris Johnson adviser and UK Chief Negotiator for Brexiting the European Union, has been writing in the Financial Times about the NI Protocol.
In summation, and to save you the trouble of forking up to get behind the paywall to read the article, Lord Frost says, again, he doesn’t like the Protocol. For political observers – and indeed for anyone capable of reciting the alphabet beyond the letter P – this is rather hard to accept for one very simple reason: Lord Frost was one of the people who invented the Protocol and signed off on it just last year.
That’s so incredibly crazy that it probably bears repeating very slowly and simply: The UK’s head buck Brexit cat, with great fanfare and much hearty congratulations all round, solved the problem of a hard border on the island of Ireland six months ago and now he says he didn’t. One minute Boris Johnson is so pleased with the deal that he hailed it a “fantastic moment” and “a new chapter in our nation’s history”, next minute the guy who made the deal for him is dismissing it as a duff one.
And why? Well, because the EU is insisting on taking the UK at its word, according to Lord Frost. In that Financial Times article he wrote: “The EU needs a new playbook for dealing with neighbours, one that involves pragmatic solutions between friends, not the imposition of one side’s rules on the other and legal purism.”
The direction of travel of the British post-Brexit has been clear since the Withdrawal Agreement was signed all those long, long 18 months ago – sign up to deals with the EU in order to get past any difficulties that arise and later pretend that the deal has been made impossible/unworkable by the intransigence of the scheming and bitter Europeans. It was just last autumn that the British Government came up with the Internal Market Act which unilaterally ditched elements of the Withdrawal Agreement signed just seven months earlier.
The Government admitted that the Bill broke international law, but only in a “limited and specific way”. That excuse was so threadbare and so bereft of any merit that the lowliest member of the cabinet – our very own Secretary of State Brandon Lewis – was sent out to break the news to Parliament. And while Tory ministers and MPs were content to hold their noses as this latest blow to the UK’s battered international reputation was enacted, the most senior civil servant in the Government Legal Department, Sir Jonathan Jones, immediately resigned in disgust (becoming the sixth senior civil servant to flee Whitehall in six months). Not to worry, though, a compliant British media was willing to enthusiastically forward the “nasty EU” narrative and the sorry saga caused the Tories not a blip in the polls.
And now that blaming the EU for the Tories’ calamities is a central tenet of the British political mainstream, Lord Frost has decided to up the ante by attempting to convince an already conned public into believing that pesky technicalities – or “legal purism” – are the reason that the UK has been divided by a border in the Irish Sea, as if legalities aren’t the glue that holds together every contract signed at every level.
Take Squinter’s mortgage, for instance. He’s never been fond of paying a large chunk of his wages every month to the Ulster Bank for the right to own a front door key. And of course the only thing that is stopping Squinter from cancelling the direct debit is the “legal purity” that ensures that the house will be repossessed if the payments stop.
And what about your car? Hand your old one over at the showroom, drive away a shiny new one for a cracking once-in-a-lifetime weekly payment offer and off you go. And what’s the only thing that’s stopping you from paying another penny? Why, the “legal purity” that means bailiffs in a tow truck will turn up at your house at six in the morning.
On the other hand, if you wanted to rent a car, it’s the old “legal purity” that means you can’t bring it back with three wheels and the roof missing and just walk away. House and car payments are some of the biggest contracts you’ll enter into in your life, but you’re signing smaller contracts all the time – for a smartphone, a magazine subscription, an electricity/gas supply, furniture, white goods, electronics – and regardless of the amounts involved, the imperative to honour the contract, to observe the “legal purity”, is what keeps the system working. And whether it’s signing up for a book club or putting a pen to a solemn international agreement, if one side claims a unilateral right to alter the conditions then to tweak an old phrase, the business centre cannot hold.
The Portadown Protocol Blues
SQUINTER and Doug Beattie spent the day together on Saturday. Well, not side-by-side together, but at the same event in Portadown – an anti-Protocol march and rally at the town’s war memorial.
Squinter was at the unnotified event in order to write this column. As for Upper Bann MLA Doug, well, he told the media afterwards that he was there “to help ensure that the area remained calm”.
The UUP leader was responding to criticism from Alliance Upper Bann Councillor Eoin Tennyson, who said the Mr Beattie has “serious questions to answer” as to why he had attended a parade that included a number of men wearing balaclavas.
The protest was an illegal one not just because the Parades Commission hadn’t been informed about it, but because it broke the new Covid regulations which say that no more than 500 people are allowed to attend outdoor gatherings. The parade which kicked off the event by making its way through light rain to the rally point was 300-strong. Squinter would estimate the waiting crowd underneath the church clock as between 600 and 800 – that crowd being swollen, of course, to around or over the 1,000 mark by the arrival of the parade participants.
Doug’s first couple of weeks in office have received a generally favourable response as he promised to modernise the party, even if it meant initially losing some members who don’t much like the idea of modernisation. This despite the fact that Doug has clung to a stance on the Irish language that is at least as hardline as that of the DUP. And now he’s shown up at an event which – what’s the best way of putting this? – throws a rather interesting light on Doug’s recent assertion that questions over the Bobby Storey funeral throw the future of power-sharing into question.
• He said more needs to be known about what communications took place between police and Gerry Kelly ahead of last June’s funeral.
Wouldn’t it be nice to know if Doug has any questions about communications leading up to the Portadown parade?
• He wants to know more about the stewarding of the funeral.
Well, as we’ve seen above, prominent at the Portadown parade was a veritable gallery of very interesting loyalist types with associated regalia. A bit of Dougly curiosity around that observable fact might not go amiss at this stage.
• He wants Justice Minister Naomi Long to order a “judge-led inquiry – short and sharp” to get to the bottom of the funeral.
Let’s look at some of the similarities between the rally and the funeral that Doug might like to consider in the wake of his demand for an inquiry into the Bobby Storey funeral.
Presence of senior politicians? Yes.
Alleged breaches of regulations? Yes.
Separation of cortege/parade from mourners/crowd? Yes (Belfast), No (Portadown).
Cleared to go ahead by police? Yes (Belfast), No (Portadown).
Face coverings? Yes.
Balaclavas: No (Belfast), Yes (Portadown).
Maybe Doug can take advantage of the next session of the Stormont Justice Committee, on which he sits, to answer some of Cllr Tennyson’s questions about Saturday’s event and why the organisers didn’t bother asking for permission to hold it from the Parades Commission. Or maybe he can have a word in the ear of his UUP colleague, Robin Swann, about what he thought about the numbers attending the Portadown protest.
As for the question, did the BBC cover the attendance of the UUP leader (and Upper Bann DUP MP Carla Lockhart) at the illegal, Covid regulations-busting Portadown protest? The answer is... The Biggest No in the Country.