AGREEING to something to make a problem go away without thinking about the long-term consequences is not what you want from your political decision makers.

Yet that is precisely what it seems that we have in the case of Boris Johnson and the long running saga of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

As I've said before in this column, Northern Ireland was barely mentioned during the Brexit referendum campaign (although I did go on about it a fair bit). The need to come to a deal that would preserve peace there and avoid the frankly impossible scenario of a hard border on the island itself was ignored.

The UK government and the European Commission agreed a protocol which Boris Johnson happily sold to the electors and the people of Northern Ireland. Indeed, he went further, saying there would be no border down the Irish Sea.

It was blindingly obvious to everybody apart from the Conservative Party that the protocol would create a trade border down the Irish Sea. The checks that the protocol required made that crystal clear.

I suspect though that, in keeping with Boris Johnson’s nature, he just wanted to agree to anything to make a problem go away and now it's coming back to bite him on the backside.


Yet in his world and in those of the Brexit ultras who support him, none of this apparently is his fault even though he signed the agreement and should have known full well what was in it. For them it's all fault of the European Commission who simply thought that they had an agreement that the British government would keep.

Some of the comments that have come from Brexiteers have been woeful. I listened to an interview with John Redwood on Newsnight where he basically accused the European Commission of being unreasonable for simply looking to enforce the agreement that they thought they had.

The DUP, who supported Brexit, even though the majority of the people of Northern Ireland did not, are demanding changes but without actually explaining what it is they want.

Their narrative has changed as the unionist majority in Northern Ireland has disappeared and the DUP now hold to the principle that community consensus is needed on the Protocol.

This argument has also been deployed by Sinn Fein on behalf of their voters but this is the same DUP of course who refused to accept that very principle of consensus at the time of the Good Friday Agreement.   

I was even contacted by a former prominent Brexiteer to suggest that one of the solutions might be to put a barrier between the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the European single market thus forcing Brexit down the throats of another country.

I suggested that the people of Ireland were unlikely to support that position to say the least.

The great difficulty with the position that the UK government has taken is that it is so far aimed squarely at pleasing the DUP.

READ MORE: Boris Johnson ‘in cahoots’ with DUP on Stormont blocking tactics, Sinn Fein says

Of course getting them on board is important but no thought has yet been given to the other political strands in Northern Ireland. For example, the UK government might get to a position which could be supported by the DUP but not something that Sinn Fein could support. What happens then?  The situation is a great deal more complicated than Boris Johnson would have us believe.

Then of course there is the image that the UK presents to the world. As far as everybody else can see, the UK government entered into an agreement with the European Union and is now trying to get out of the agreement that it signed.

It makes the UK look like a flaky country whose word cannot be trusted.

READ MORE: Brexit and broken promises: Why Northern Ireland is back in the news

This may have far reaching effects. Boris Johnson has recently been to Finland and Sweden and offered them security guarantees against Russian aggression.

He has said that the UK will come to the aid of those countries if they are attacked. Let me say at this point that I agree with the stance that he has taken. But why should Finland and Sweden have any faith that Boris Johnson would keep to an agreement when he is threatening the exact opposite with the European Union?

If there was any kind of threat to the security of those two countries, could the UK’s present government be depended upon to assist given that their track record with agreements?

The UK agreed the protocol, the UK signed the protocol and now the UK is trying to change the protocol.

The EU can be forgiven for being exasperated at the unravelling of an agreement that they thought they had with the country whose word they could depend on.

Sadly, with the current government, the UK is not seen as a country of its word and that is a situation that’s corrosive to its reputation.

All because of a failure of leadership at the signing of the Protocol and a lack of it ever since.

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