Dear Brexiters – What if this was your mother? Vanessa’s Story

Dear Brexiters – What if this was your mother? Vanessa’s Story

One of the most under-reported and tragic consequences of Brexit has been the impact on those with deep family connections to Europe

Lisa Burtonby Lisa Burton

At the 2019 Conservative party conference, Priti Patel announced, “I have a particular responsibility when it comes to taking back control. It is to end the free movement of people once and for all”. Her statement was met with rapturous applause, and Brexiters all over the country rejoiced and boasted of this perceived win.

This celebration always struck me as bizarrely nonsensical. After all, the only people losing their freedom of movement were the British – no one else. The repercussions and consequences are complex and multi-faceted, affecting trade, goods, and people.

UK nationals can no longer retire in the EU if on a basic UK state pension. The minimum income requirements for a non-lucrative visa are €27,793 a year. Young adults can no longer pop over for the experience of a summer job, and the option to ‘try before you buy’, i.e. come over for a few months, get a job and see how it goes, has now gone.

Most people in the UK understand that the United Kingdom now has third country status in the EU and that the loss of freedom of movement affects their future options for living and working in another EU country. However, little is understood about how this status change affects British nationals residing in a European Union member state. These issues are far-reaching and complex. Here is just one story.

Meet Vanessa and Margot

Vanessa lives in Byfleet, Surrey, and her mother, Margot, 86, lives in the town of Jávea, in Spain’s Costa Blanca region. Margot moved to Spain 22 years ago to retire and has, like many others, come to love her host country, which she now calls home. 

On 5 May, Vanessa received a call from a close friend of her mother, informing her that Margot had a fall and was acting confused. At the time, Margot was suffering from a urinary tract infection, but Vanessa felt something more was going on, so she flew out to Spain as quickly as possible and is thankful she did.

Margot was taken to the hospital for an MRI, which showed she’d had a stroke. She was admitted to the hospital for three days and then had to return three times weekly for physiotherapy. Margot had paralysis on her left side and needed speech and language therapy.

The 90 in 180-day rule for third-country nationals

Margot needed help with cooking, cleaning and taking care of herself. Naturally, Vanessa wanted to, and, as an only child, felt she had no option but to be the one to stay and take care of her mother while she recuperated. This would not have been a problem pre-Brexit, as Vanessa could have stayed and obtained residency, but it is now.

With the UK’s third-country status, the time its citizens can spend within the European Union is subject to restrictions.

UK nationals are only allowed to spend 90 days in the whole of the Schengen zone in any 180. If you spend three months in Spain, you cannot visit anywhere else in the EU for another three months. Vanessa and Margot were about to realise the enormous implications of this.

An impossible situation

Vanessa visited her mother earlier in the year, so she had used part of her 90/180-day allowance by the time of her mother’s stroke. They knew that if Vanessa stayed past June, she would breach immigration laws. Overstaying would be committing a serious infraction that could lead to significant penalties, including being banned from entering Spain altogether, so she had to leave in July for a week and returned a week later to start the process. Little did they know, though, just how difficult it would be.

Jumping through hoops

For tourists, a visa to overstay is only given in exceptional circumstances. Suppose you had a car crash and could not leave the hospital, for example. There are family unification visas, but they are very restrictive, and you can only regroup children if they are under 18.

You must apply for the visa through Spain’s Ministry of the Interior and the National Police. It is not a simple process. Vanessa tried to make an appointment, but none were available in time, so on 20 June, she approached a lawyer.

The National Police and the lawyer were based in Alicante. Neither Margot nor Vanessa have a car, so it took three round bus trips to complete the paperwork. The first two round trips took 16 hours, and the second 12.

All documents needed to be officially translated into Spanish. The cost for Vanessa’s birth certificate to be translated, notarised and apostilled cost 300 euros. She required extra health insurance and proof of that and proof of enough funds to live on 100 euros per day. Her visa would grant her an additional 61 days. That equated to over 6,000 euros, money neither Vanessa nor her mother had, so she had to borrow money from her daughter and husband to put in her bank account and submit statements as evidence.

Eventually, after being in limbo and having an irregular immigration status for weeks and expenses of 1,000 euros, the extension was granted on 22 August.

On 8 September, Vanessa will have to leave her mother again

Although the visa was issued on 22 August, it was backdated. Otherwise, Vanessa would have been deemed overstaying when trying to obtain the visa. Vanessa has to fly back to the UK on 8th September and leave her mother alone for a minimum of three months before she can visit again. What happens if Margot has another fall or her health deteriorates? It would be illegal for Vanessa to fly and see her in Spain. The worry of this is enormous.


The effect on the family

Vanessa has a husband and twin adult daughters. Her husband has been living alone without his wife. One of the daughters is entering her third year studying Spanish and French in France. Vanessa wanted to attend her introduction week at university there. She now can’t. Vanessa had to give up her job as a private swimming instructor. All her old clients have moved on to someone else.

Some say Margot should return to the UK so her family can care for her there. Margot says, “no way”. She lives in a small apartment in a modest area, likes her neighbours and gets on well with them. She has grown to love the sense of community her Spanish town gives her.

How typical is Vanessa’s story?

While most British immigrants residing in the EU are of working age, Spain is different. It has always been a highly attractive place for the British to retire.

It is impossible to know how many people are affected, but Vanessa and Margot are certainly not the only ones.

There are 407,000 Brits who took up their right to live in Spain, and 152,000 of them are pensioners. Many families could face formidable, life-changing decisions they never thought they would have to consider, and it is all down to Brexit.

Like Johnson, Truss and Sunak commit to treating the devolved nations with disdain

Like Johnson, Truss and Sunak commit to treating the devolved nations with disdain

Sunak and Truss have consistently voted against giving further powers to the devolved nations – and their recent comments do not bode well

Lisa Burtonby Lisa Burton

Recently, we’ve all witnessed a true ‘blue on blue’ war of words as Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak battle to become the next leader of the Conservative Party and thereby the next prime minister of the not-so-United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

In their desperation to appease a tiny minority of the population – the Conservative Party membership – they have indulged in a game of ‘who can stoop the lowest and swerve hardest right’. In doing this, they have exposed their ignorance and intention to continue to show disdain for the devolved nations of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, their people, and their elected leaders.

Both candidates have consistently voted against giving further powers to the devolved nations. Sunak and Truss have rejected further devolution to the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments over 90% of the time when they have voted on the issue at Westminster, including an amendment to the Scotland bill, which would have required the consent of the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish people before Holyrood could be abolished.

Sunak on Wales

Both candidates had strong words of criticism for devolution. At the leadership hustings in Cardiff on 3 August, Sunak declared that “the path of onward devolution has not worked” and suggested that leaders at Westminster needed to “fix” it. Precisely what he means by ‘fixing’ is unknown. It could mean anything from reducing powers to total abolishment.

He then accused the Welsh Government of “squandering” millions and “failing” children and hospital patients, saying he wanted to “make sure that people in Wales get the public services that they demand”. If only those living in England knew that all they had to do was demand required services.

As for accusations of squandering money? That’s a bit rich coming from a chancellor whose party wasted £37bn alone on a failed track and trace system and billions more on unusable PPE, fraudulent Covid business relief funds and unfair levelling up funds, to name a few.

Truss on Wales

Truss had a similar approach to Wales but added a personal touch in attacking Mark Drakeford, the elected First Minister of Wales:

“The fact is that there are too many people in this country who are ashamed of our, who talk our country down and say the best days are behind us. They are completely wrong, and one of those is Mark Drakeford. Whether it’s stopping the M4 relief road, whacking a tax on our tourist industry, I will crack down on his negativity about Wales and the United Kingdom.”

She added, “We will be able to take on the low-energy version of Jeremy Corbyn that is Mark Drakeford”.

The Welsh Government ditched the M4 relief road project for environmental reasons in favour of six new train stations between Cardiff and Newport. Yet Johnson pledged to build the M4 relief road anyway, leading to Drakeford accusing the UK Government of “pretending” to have the power to do it.

When Truss was explicitly asked if she would build the M4 relief road, she also said: “Yes”. Neither Westminster nor the PM has the power to force Wales to build the road. They know this, but it’s all part of their divisive power playing.

Sunak on Scotland

Sunak told the Spectator podcast in July that another referendum on Scottish independence is “not the priority” for people in Scotland. Quite a sweeping and factually incorrect statement considering over 50% of the Scottish electorate support Scottish independence and, therefore, a 2nd referendum. His arrogance also fails to recognise that the SNP, a party whose objective is to bring about independence, has a huge mandate from the Scottish electorate. They hold 64 out of 129 seats. Impressive, considering Scotland has a form of proportional representation, not first past the post as Westminster does.

Although Sunak did have a nice little story about working in Darlington, Scotland. Darlington is in England and over 100 miles from the Scottish border.

Truss on Scotland

“What’s happening in Scotland is the entire resources of the Scottish Government are being used to run essentially an independence campaign, and I think that is grossly irresponsible”, Truss said.

Apart from being ludicrous, it’s also hugely hypocritical. The Conservatives brought Brexit for their version of ‘independence’ against the wishes of the Scots, who voted 62% to remain in the EU, while Brexit has been sucking the life out of the UK Government and country for six years, costing billions and taking 25,000 civil servants to implement it.

Truss didn’t stop there; she took another leaf out of Donald Trump’s tactic book and went after Nicola Sturgeon personally. Truss questioned how she would tackle the growing separatist sentiment in Scotland, “The best thing to do with Nicola Sturgeon is ignore her.” After hoots of laughter from the Tory membership, she added: “I’m sorry, she’s an attention seeker, that’s what she is.”

This coming from a woman who is regularly mocked for her indulgence in a bit of cosplay for photo opportunities and obsession with image. However, after recent reports that the only time Truss and Sturgeon met at Cop26, Truss asked Sturgeon, “How do you get into Vogue?” It all makes sense. Jealousy is not an admirable trait Ms Truss.

Increasing support for Scottish independence

The Conservatives continue to be a gift to the SNP by driving an increase in support for independence. The Perth hustings held on 16 August garnered quite a protest outside. Tempers were flared.

Sunak doubled down on previous comments, saying he could not “imagine the circumstances” in which he would allow a second independence vote and that “now or anytime in the near future” would not be the time to focus on it.

Truss was greeted with loud cheers from Conservative members when she said: “If I am elected as prime minister, I will not allow another independence referendum.”

Their tactics are arrogant and failing. Recent polling has shown that whether it be Truss or Sunak that becomes PM, both candidates will increase the ‘Yes vote’ for Scottish independence.

Johnson also devised his own plan this week, the day before the Perth hustings – he decided he would take Scotland’s water for England. Did he think the Scots were going to cheer this on? No, of course not; he just doesn’t think of the Scots’ needs at all.

Northern Ireland

Simply put, if the Conservatives cared about Northern Ireland, its people and maintaining peace under the Good Friday Agreement, they would not have chosen the version of Brexit they did and this version will almost certainly lead to the reunification of Ireland.

Like Scotland, Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union. The UK could have left the political institutions of the EU but remained in the single market. Doing that would have been the sensible option and compromise between Leave and Remain, particularly on such a narrow result. More importantly, it would have meant no border in the Irish Sea or between the North and South of Ireland.

With a softer Brexit, equivalence could have been maintained between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, but the Tory party’s hard right had long since hijacked Brexit for their agenda. In Johnson, they found the perfect dodgy salesman.

The Northern Ireland protocol is the solution to the hard Brexit the Conservatives fought for, not the problem.

Johnson announced he had his “oven-ready” Brexit deal within weeks of taking office. He repeatedly lied in the media to business leaders and the people of Northern Ireland, saying there would be no checks or forms on the movement of goods and animals. It was a blatant and calculated lie.

Not only did he throw Northern Ireland under the Brexit bus, but the government also signed an international treaty with the European Union in bad faith. Johnson knew the border would cause issues with unionists, but he also knew he had no intention of honouring the details in the deal.

Belfast Hustings

The Conservative membership comprises fewer than 600 members in Northern Ireland and the hustings itself was always going to be awkward for the leadership candidates.

There were questions around Westminster having the right to ban abortion in Northern Ireland. One audience member asked whether Truss would appoint another “fly in, fly out political landlord” instead of someone “accountable to the electorate”. While another questioned her over her continued loyalty to the outgoing prime minister, who, they said, had “continually lied” to parliament.

Both candidates doubled down on the protocol bill but with Truss confirming they would enact it in totality with Sunak trying to be the professional, saying he would try to negotiate with Brussels while simultaneously breaking international law.

Suppose the Conservatives’ protocol bill is enacted through parliament. In that case, it will lead to the EU launching legal action, likely sanctions and a possible trade war, which the UK will lose. Prices of goods will rocket, on top of a cost-of-living crisis already affecting so many. It would be a dereliction.

The channelling of Margaret Thatcher

As reported in the Spectator, the Thatcherite obsession confirms the Conservatives remain utterly indifferent to the sensitivities and history of the nations. “The misguided souls on the right, including in Scotland, who believe Holyrood should be strongly reined in by London, which is one sure way to push the electorate towards independence.”

The Thatcher government saw Scotland as an “experiment” for the divisive poll tax, and the Scottish have not forgotten. Oliver Letwin stated that a tax based on people, not property, “would create too many big losers” in England and Wales; hence they trialled it north of the border. The poll tax would, of course, be Thatcher’s downfall.

Thatcher’s confrontations with the unions were popular with some. However, in Wales, the miners’ strikes were experienced very differently and, even today, are still a source of anger and trauma in some areas.

In 1979 there was a referendum on Welsh devolution. Only 20.3% were for and 79.7% against. By 1997 a nation sick of Thatcher’s policies voted 50.3%, Yes, and Welsh devolution was born.

Thatcher became a symbol of division between Wales and England that could only be reconciled by Wales gaining at least some control over its domestic affairs. A study from Martin Johnes of Swansea University found:

“In 1986, there had been more than 166,000 people in Wales on the dole. By then, less than 40% of Welsh households were headed by someone in full-time employment. Nearly a fifth of men out of work had been so for five years or more.”

These communities are still amongst the most disadvantaged in the country. These communities have not forgotten.

No one to blame but themselves

The Conservative Party of recent years are no unionists. They are the party of populism and English nationalism. As was foretold, it is now just a matter of time before their ideological pursuit of a hard Brexit breaks the Union. The question is, who will go first?

Uncovering the truth: did Johnson mislead parliament?

Uncovering the truth: did Johnson mislead parliament?

Privileges committee inquiry aims to uncover the truth of whether Johnson misled parliament – and is being met with considerable pushback

Sue Wilson MBEby Sue Wilson MBE

Ever since the partygate scandal first reared its ugly head, Boris Johnson has been dismissing any suggestions that he broke his own Covid laws. Whether giving evidence to the Met Police, Sue Gray or parliament, the prime minister has been keen to deny or deflect, and has attempted to avoid any, if not all, scrutiny. He may have hoped that, with his impending exit from Number 10, his misdeeds would be forgiven, if not forgotten. The forthcoming House of Commons privileges committee inquiry intends to ensure that is not the case and that the truth will out.

The inquiry, which is likely to take several months, will investigate whether or not Johnson lied to parliament. That’s assuming, of course, that the incoming PM doesn’t dismiss the inquiry altogether.

The investigation into whether Johnson misled parliament

The privileges committee – who play a key role in maintaining parliamentary standards and accountability – have been mandated by parliament to investigate the situation. Back in July, the committee published a 39-page report following an earlier call for evidence. The report detailed the “proposed conduct of inquiry” and outlined the committee’s intentions.  They will hear oral evidence – including from Johnson – in the autumn, and have pledged to protect the identities of “anonymous whistle-blowers” who might be unwilling to give evidence if their identities were made public.

It will be for the committee and the House to “determine whether a contempt (of parliament) has occurred”. The committee will also determine whether or not any penalties, or “the severity of those penalties” are imposed. Those penalties could include Johnson’s suspension from the Commons and a recall petition, which would trigger a by-election in his Uxbridge seat.

A “witch hunt”

Johnson loyalists in both houses of parliament have been questioning the motives of committee members and the legitimacy of the inquiry itself. Unsurprisingly, one of Johnson’s most loyal cabinet supporters – the culture secretary Nadine Dorries – did not hold back. She described the inquiry as a “witch hunt” and the “most egregious abuse of power witnessed in Westminster”. Dorries asserted that the inquiry would cast “serious doubt” on the reputation of the committee members, as well as on the “processes of Parliament and democracy itself”.

Zac Goldsmith – who was elevated to the House of Lords by Johnson in 2019, following the loss of his seat in Richmond – has also been keen to defend his political ally. Goldsmith described the inquiry as “an obscene abuse of power” and accused the committee members of being “highly partisan, vengeful and vindictive”. He added that the inquiry was “clearly rigged”.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss – currently favourite to replace Johnson as PM – drew condemnation when she suggested she would vote to shut down the inquiry, given the opportunity. However, Truss was keen to downplay her comments, saying the inquiry would go ahead.

Not only is Truss proving her willingness to turn a blind eye to government deception but she’s demonstrating her own lack of principles. Lying to parliament while running the country is apparently not a problem, especially perhaps, if your intention is to carry on in the same vein.

A “terrorist campaign”

Committee member and staunch Brexiter, Sir Bernard Jenkin, was quick to respond to criticism of the committee and the inquiry. Jenkin, one of four Conservative members on the committee of seven, pledged that the inquiry would continue as long as it had the support of parliament. He described the plot to discredit the committee as a “terrorist campaign”. He said that the committee would discharge their duty, and any criticism should be made in writing directly to the committee.

In response to the comments made by Truss, deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said Truss was “aiding and abetting” Johnson’s attempts to “dodge scrutiny”. The PM had “created a rotten culture” at the heart of Downing Street, Rayner said, and had “toxified the Tory party from top to bottom”. Not only had Truss enabled Johnson but she would “continue to follow his lead” if she became PM.

Rayner insisted Truss must confirm “in no uncertain terms” that she would not undermine the committee and that she would appoint an ethics chief on day one of her leadership.

We may never fully understand the justification behind the Tory attack on the committee and their inquiry. However, a recent article in the Telegraph may hold a clue. The article confirms that three former Downing Street staffers are set to give evidence to the committee. It is claimed they intend to affirm that Johnson misled parliament and failed to deliver a full account.

Whether their evidence will confirm the wrongdoing of Johnson alone, or of the PM and others, remains to be seen. But perhaps it explains why Johnson’s supporters are so keen to shut the inquiry down.

Thanks to Johnson, the country and the Tory party are now unrecognisable. When in doubt, they use misdirection, lie, blame others, deny. It’s the Johnson way, and his most loyal followers don’t have the capacity or inclination to do any different. If they believe Johnson can be saved then they are as deluded as the PM himself. Some rats, it seems, are too foolish even to leave the ship when it’s sinking.

Working from home under attack by out-of-touch and out-of-date government

Working from home under attack by out-of-touch and out-of-date government

With their attack on WFH, Johnson and Rees-Mogg have proved just how far the Conservatives have strayed from being the ‘party of business’.

Sue Wilson MBE

by Sue Wilson MBE

When the pandemic forced employees all over the world to work from home (WFH) – many for the first time ever – remote working was regarded as an efficient and useful tool. Companies were quick to embrace the philosophy, provide the necessary tools and benefit from the cost-effectiveness working from home can bring.

Fast forward to post-lockdown Britain and WFH is no longer regarded by the government as a suitable method of working. In response, companies and individuals benefitting from remote working practices are less WFH and more, WTF?

Efficiency minister living in the past

Having encouraged the British public to ‘stay home, save lives’, it seems the government has made another about-turn. The first obvious criticism of WFH came from the Brexit opportunities and government efficiency minister, Jacob Rees-Mogg, back in April. He insisted civil servants should immediately return to their offices, claiming it was important for the public to see that the government was working properly. I can’t argue with the reasoning – we’d all like to see evidence of the government ‘working properly’ – but I suspect we’re all far more concerned with the efficiency and decision-making abilities of our politicians than our civil servants.

An ‘insulting’ note left by Rees-Mogg for civil servants not at the desks drew widespread condemnation, not least from Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA trade union, responsible for civil servants and public service professionals. Penman said, “With every pronouncement and display like this, he demonstrates that he has no clue how the modern workplace operates and cares little about the effective delivery of vital public services”.

When a photograph of Rees-Mogg recently appeared in The Telegraph, sat behind a neat desk, free of modern technology, his lack of understanding of the modern workplace was again brought into question. Who, in this modern age, doesn’t have a computer on their desk? Personally, I found the lack of a quill more of a surprise.

WFH doesn’t work, says workshy PM

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has a rather different take on why we should all be back in the office. WFH simply doesn’t work, apparently. Speaking as one whose job it is literally to work from home, his entire justification is based on personal experience – that of being a lazy, easily distracted, workshy laggard. Rather than demonstrate how inefficient home-workers are, Johnson has reaffirmed his own inadequacies to the nation.

Once again, a fridge was to feature largely in this PM story. Apparently, cheese is a terrible distraction from the business of running the country (into the ground). Coffee too. Then there’s the slow walk to and from the fridge, wasting more valuable work time. This surprised me frankly, as I rather assumed the PM would have a fridge under his desk. But perhaps that one is just for wine.

Whether the PM spoke with cabinet members before making his anti WFH pronouncement is unclear. It’s hard to imagine that those ministers rarely seen in Westminster – Gove springs to mind – would be comfortable having to be in the office on a regular basis. Nor will the likes of former attorney general Geoffrey Cox be too delighted, I imagine, preferring to conduct his business from the Caribbean.

WFH: the pros

Regardless of the ramblings of a behind-the-times minister supposedly responsible for ‘government efficiency’, or a lazy workshy PM, there are considerable benefits for employers and employees alike.

For the individual, perhaps the most obvious benefit is the ruling out of expensive, time-consuming and stressful commuting. While saving countless hours, and in many cases thousands of pounds, a year, the removal of unnecessary travel also benefits the environment. Something that, supposedly, is high on our government’s agenda (not so’s you would notice).

Another considerable benefit is the impact on work-life balance. Working from home provides more independence and flexibility. This can be demonstrated by the freedom to work in your pyjamas or to time-shift your day to start/end when it suits. That flexibility also means the avoidance of being tied to a particular location, suitable for travel to and from the office. To not exploit the opportunity, should you so choose, to work from a remote location, or even another country, would seem a terrible waste of modern technological advantages.

You could also develop new skills while working at home, such as self-discipline and communication. Thanks to the pandemic, many home-workers have become experts in virtual meetings by necessity. The avoidance of more formal in person meetings is also widely regarded as a benefit, alongside the freedom from interruption by work colleagues.

Employers benefit from having staff work remotely too, with considerable cost-savings and efficiencies. Those efficiencies help keep profits up and prices down, which also benefits their customers.

WFH: the cons

Of course, the freedom from working with others can also be seen as a negative – not everyone works best, or efficiently, in isolation. The lack of opportunity to collaborate with or to learn from others may make some employees feel as though they are missing out.

A common complaint from remote workers is the risk of forgetting to ‘clock off’, resulting in working longer hours. Work life can blur into home life, especially if you don’t have the luxury of physically separating your work area from your living area. That may also cause the appearance of being unprofessional, when the delivery driver rings the doorbell or the dog barks in the middle of an important Zoom meeting.

The recent announcement that 90,000 civil service jobs are to be axed may be a significant factor in the return to the office for public service professionals. For private businesses, and their employees, decisions on future WFH arrangements will be made based on common sense, business needs and cost-benefit analyses. The pronouncements of the PM and the efficiency minister will be largely disregarded as out-of-date, out-of-touch postering.

All that Johnson and Rees-Mogg have achieved with their comments on WFH is to prove just how far the Conservatives have strayed from being the ‘party of business’. They have failed business over Brexit, they have failed business over covid, they have failed business over the economy. WFH is just more proof that they don’t listen, they don’t learn and they don’t act. This government does not represent the needs of business. In fact, it’s difficult to see whose needs they do represent. Apart from their own.

EU-UK Relations Deteriorating Rapidly

EU-UK Relations Deteriorating Rapidly

In the run up to the Stormont elections in Northern Ireland, UK/EU negotiations were put on hold, so as not to interfere with the democratic election process. Now those elections are behind us the UK government have wasted no time in ramping up the rhetoric and further damaging relations with the European Union.

Minister for Brexit Opportunities, Jacob Rees-Mogg, recently let the cat out of the bag about government plans to bring forward a bill to override the Brexit deal. Despite the government signing a legally-binding international treaty, supposedly in good faith, it seems they never meant to abide by it. Although the new legislation did not appear in the Queens Speech on 10 May, it appears to still be in the legislation pipeline.

Northern Ireland Protocol – signed in bad faith

The deal that the UK signed, the same deal that was presented to parliament and the public as the best thing since sliced bread, is now widely despised by the Brexiters. Steve Baker MP, claimed the Protocol was signed “under duress”, while Rees-Mogg insisted the deal was only signed “on the basis that it would be reformed”. Strange that nobody told MPs that at the time of rushing the deal through parliament with little scrutiny.

Threats of unilateral action by the UK government over the Protocol are not new. We have heard it all before from various Brexit negotiators and from the Prime Minister himself. The supposed justifications for overriding the deal are similarly old excuses. However, this time around does feel less of a bluff. Judging by the response from Brussels, it would seem the EU think so too.

The response from Brussels

On 12 May, European Commission Vice President, Maroš Šefčovič, issued a statement following “tetchy” talks with Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss.  In his statement he said,

“… it continues to be of serious concern that the UK government intends to embark on the path of unilateral action … effectively dis-applying an international agreement is simply not acceptable”.

Šefčovič, who is also the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, drew attention to the fact that the EU have already proposed “wide-ranging and impactful solutions” following intensive discussions with the people of Northern Ireland. The UK government, on the other hand, seems only to be talking to the DUP, who are refusing to join the new N.I. executive unless the Protocol is scrapped.

Any unilateral action, Šefčovič said, “would undermine trust between the EU and UK as well as compromise our ultimate objective – to protect the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement”. The UK government continue to insist that their planned actions would protect peace and the Good Friday Agreement (GFA). They seem to be the only ones who believe that. As the EU have pointed out on numerous occasions, the Protocol is the solution – to Brexit, especially the hard Brexit the UK government chose – not the problem.

Condemnation of UK’s unilateral destructions plans has come from further afield too, not least from Biden’s America. A delegation of influential US Congress representatives is set to arrive in Europe within days, amid growing concerns about rising tensions. They are expected to visit, London, Brussels, Dublin and Belfast, and will be underlining the US commitment to the GFA of which they are guarantors.

The new ‘no-deal’ Brexit?

It is no longer a secret – except to the deluded Brexiters – that Brexit is going badly. Nor is it a secret that the Prime Minister’s popularity has hit rock bottom. What better time to ramp up the rhetoric, make false accusations or cause further division, in an attempt to appeal to their right-wing voter base?

Threatening to scrap the Protocol is the new ‘no-deal’ Brexit. For many of the more extreme Brexiters, no deal was always the aim. Having failed to attain their goal the first time around, perhaps they see another opportunity to grasp that nettle. After all, the Brexiters do seem to see Brexit opportunities everywhere, despite their invisibility to the rest of us.

Meanwhile, as Brexit continues to damage the country, the government seems determined to damage relations with our neighbours. It could hardly have happened at a worse time, when Europe should be working together to defeat out common enemy.

Not only will pursuit of this policy cause untold damage to European relationships, it will make other countries think twice before trusting the word, or the signature, of our PM. Having just signed security pacts with the UK, Finland and Sweden must already be wondering if they are worth the paper they are printed on.

Of course, there is always the possibility that the UK will back down. They have plenty of form of doing just that, which rather makes a nonsense of all the posturing and bad temper. But, if they proceed down this dangerous path, they need to do so with their eyes wide open to the possible consequences.

The EU have run out of patience. If the UK takes unilateral action, they will act, as they did with Trump’s America. A trade war threatens and there can only be one loser. And it won’t be the EU.