British paper on the Northern protocol soaked in the rhetoric of sovereignty

While the DUP thanked Gove for his reassuring words, the paper does not reinterpret the essentials of the protocol Johnson agreed last October

The DUP’s  Jeffrey Donaldson: “We welcome the clarity that this statement brings...”

The DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson: “We welcome the clarity that this statement brings...”

 

The British government’s command paper on implementing the Northern Ireland protocol is soaked in the rhetoric of sovereignty that has marked many of its recent statements about the future relationship with the EU.

And it is hedged with references to democratic consent and proportionality that imply that because the Northern Ireland Assembly must vote in 2024 to renew the protocol’s arrangements, it is somehow provisional.

In the House of Commons on Wednesday, Michael Gove went out of his way to reassure unionists that the British government would retain sole responsibility for implementing the protocol. And the Democratic Unionist Party MPs who felt betrayed by Boris Johnson’s decision to sign up to the protocol thanked Gove for his reassuring words.

“We welcome the clarity that this statement brings – that Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK customs territory, that there will be no new customs infrastructure, that there will be no tariffs on goods flowing between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and that Northern Ireland businesses will have unfettered access to the Great Britain market,” Jeffrey Donaldson said.

Despite Gove’s honeyed words and the paper’s patriotic bluster, however, it offers no such clarity. Nor does it seek to reinterpret the essentials of the protocol Johnson agreed to last October.

The paper rules out new customs infrastructure at ports in the North, but it acknowledges that there must be new procedures “notably new electronic import declaration requirements and safety and security information” for goods entering the North from Great Britain.

And it says facilities at ports for animal health and agrifood inspections will have to be expanded.

Little detail

It asserts that goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain will not require an export declaration, something the EU customs rules demand.

And the paper offers little detail on other elements of the protocol, including the rights of individuals, hinting that Britain will try to dodge the requirement to create “dedicated mechanisms” to implement its commitments on rights.

As far as the EU is concerned, there is no room for negotiation about what the protocol requires, and talks in a joint committee with Britain are simply about the technical details of its implementation.

The British paper signals that those talks will not be straightforward, but it also makes clear that London understands that it has no option but to implement the protocol as it was agreed in an international treaty, ratified by both sides and put into law at Westminster. 

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