The Irish Times view on EU-UK gridlock on the North : a breach of the protocol’s spirit

It is conceivable that one of the few real-world effects of the change may be to make Northern Ireland less attractive to tourists.

Boris Johnson’s absurd and offensive linking of Brexit’s “fight for freedom” to Ukraine’s calvary was no mistake or throwaway line. It was deliberate and strategic, reflecting the continued salience of Brexit in British politics. It was apparently a reminder to disaffected Tory voters, who polls show are wavering ahead of May local elections, of Johnson’s chief claim in office: that he “got Brexit done”.

The irony that Ukraine’s leaders see securing EU membership as a crucial vindication of their fight for freedom is lost on Johnson.

Continued gridlock in the Northern Ireland protocol talks between British foreign secretary Liz Truss and the European Commission's Maros Sefcovic also reflects the issue's political toxicity, particularly in the North.

Truss appears to see political advantage in provoking a showdown with the commission ahead of May with proposals for a "unilateral green lane" in the Irish Sea, allowing intra-UK trade to enter Northern Ireland with minimal paperwork. She either hopes such unilateral action will prompt the EU to trigger article 16, or believes the increased EU-UK co-operation manifest over Ukraine might stay the commission's hand. Either way, such posturing on London's part would play well, Brexiters believe, with unionists and hard-line Tory voters.

The Northern Ireland Court of Appeal last week helped take some steam out of the issue by rejecting a case brought by leading unionist politicians arguing the protocol was unconstitutional because it superseded the 1800 Act of Union and breached the Belfast Agreement's consent principle. By puncturing the "consent" claim – which applies only to border polls – the court also undermined one of the central, spurious political arguments of opponents of the protocol.

But Northern Ireland has also been once again caught up in backwash from Tory immigration paranoia. In rejecting a Northern Ireland exemption from immigration reform legislation, the House of Commons on Tuesday reinstated the requirement for a US-style visa waiver for non-Irish EU citizens crossing the Border.

Although the British insist Border checks will not be reimposed, non-Irish EU citizens lose the free, automatic access to the common travel area – and to a part of it, Northern Ireland, that is still in the EU single market. That is a breach of the spirit if not the letter of the protocol.

The requirement for an online visa waiver is a pointless measure from a security point of view – there is no evidence in recent times of terrorists slipping in to Britain from the North – and will be completely ignored by non-Irish residents travelling backwards and forwards across the Border. It is conceivable that one of the few real-world effects of the change may be to make Northern Ireland less attractive to tourists.

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