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NI Protocol legislation: a trivial adjustment?

Nothing is what it seems with the new Brexit protocol

19 June 2022

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss announces plans to make changes to the NI Protocol.

The British government claims that the proposed unilateral changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol that they themselves drafted, are trivial adjustments.  No-one seems to believe them.

They claim that the adjustments are necessary to preserve the economy and political stability in the North.  People seem to believe this, but the claims are equally false. The Democratic Unionist Party claims that their central concern is the protocol. This is also false.

The NI protocol dispute is not about the North. Earlier EU proposals for a red and green customs channel would solve many of the issues around transport of goods. In fact, the local economy is growing.  It is the British economy, especially the English economy, that is suffering.

Normally the economic interests of a capitalist state line up with the dominant ideology and with the political discourse within it. As Britain decays, that is no longer the case. The Brexit programme is designed to ensure a secure capitalist government through an appeal to racism and nationalism. All the evidence is that the economy is weakening, but manufacturing capital is a small fraction of the economy and finance capital and the hedge funds have a free hand. The Labour party would rather go along with the right than risk any sort of working-class mobilisation. Johnson, with no real conviction for or against Europe, is happy to distract and to firm up the far right.

The Tories hope to use the protocol to allow freer movement of British goods and disguising the failure of their own programme. In the meantime, defying Europe and asserting the unity of the UK keeps their supporters happy.

In the North concern about the protocol covers up a similar failure by the Democratic Unionist Party. Few believed that the union was under threat and many saw the economic benefits of a position in both markets. The DUP's slavish support for Johnson led to betrayal.

The claim by Johnson is that the protocol has to be dumped in order to avoid what in practice was ineffective revolt by loyalism and for the DUP to agree to the setting up of an executive

The DUP immediately rejected this argument and indicated that more needs to be done.  In reality, given the large vote for the ultra-right, there is no prospect of them agreeing to an executive with Sinn Féin taking the First Minister's position.

So, the British government, for their own reasons, are pursuing a policy that will destabilise Irish politics, and the DUP, a sectarian policy which has collapsed the local administration. Some argue that this instability will lead to a United Ireland, even though the immediate effect would be the return of a land border. The legislation, in the small print, changes any Stormont vote on Brexit from a simple majority to one involving a unionist veto. Despite the ups and downs, the conspiracy between Britain and the DUP to prevent an Irish democracy holds firm.

For their part, claims by Sinn Féin to be the champions of an Irish democracy have been put to the test. It is only a few weeks since they won the largest vote in the election. The aim was to leave aside the issue of a united Ireland in favour of winning the First Minister's position in a partitionist assembly.

Now there is no First Minister and Sinn Féin are dancing in the cracks in a shadow Assembly, operating limited administration in the absence of an Executive, their main contribution full throated support for a capitalist Europe that oversees a longstanding assault on the living standards of the Irish working-class.

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