20 September 2023

Don’t let Labour use Northern Ireland to take us back into the EU

By Sammy Wilson MP

Despite the Prime Minister’s boast that he has resolved the problems caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol with his Windsor Framework, the reality is that trade between Great Britain and the province is still disrupted, new EU laws are being imposed on NI on a weekly basis, and only this week EU Vice President Maroš Šefčovič marched into Belfast to announce how £1bn of EU money would be spent. There could be no starker reminder that NI is still an EU vassal state.

Hopes that power sharing would be restored have also not been realised because the Good Friday Agreement requires that the operation of the Assembly must have the support of both unionists and nationalists. This cannot be met while unionists would be required by law to implement the Windsor Framework if they were to take up ministerial office.

In order to maintain the integrity of the UK, restore political institutions in NI and resolve the outstanding issues which have prevented Brexit being completed, it is important the defective and unworkable Windsor Framework is replaced. For those who are concerned about the determination of Remainers to undo Brexit, resolving the EU influence in NI should be a priority. At an early stage, EU negotiators decided that they would use NI as a way of keeping their foot in the door and constraining the UK government’s ability to free itself from EU influence. Theresa May and Boris Johnson fell into their trap and accepted the EU argument that only by keeping NI within the EU sphere of influence could a hard border be avoided on the island of Ireland.

The result was changes having to be made in the Act of Union, border posts erected within the UK, foreign laws being applied to a part of the UK and NI being subject to rule by the ECJ. EU politicians and negotiators frequently argue that most of these issues would be resolved if only the UK would align itself with EU regulations – especially those pertaining to animals, foodstuffs and medicines. Of course, should a UK government go down that road, arguments would be made for further alignment and it would not be too long before we would find the UK chained once again to the EU, and Brexit undone.

Anyone who thinks this government would never do such a thing should remember that within the last two weeks we have rejoined the EU Horizon programme and Frontex, the EU border and coast guard. Only last week in the House of Commons we had arch Brexiteer, NI minister Steve Baker arguing that there could be no change in the Windsor Framework because the ‘EU and its stakeholders would not accept it’. Conservative policy towards the EU seems to be increasing driven by the Remain wing of that party.

But what about Labour? They have made no secret of the fact that they want closer relations with the EU, and the problems with the Windsor Framework will give them the perfect opportunity to argue that closer alignment is the answer. The new Shadow NI sec, Hilary Benn, is a zealous Remainer, a clever political operator and not a person to miss a chance to promote his agenda while parcelling it up in attractive wrapping paper.

The present government’s unwillingness to face up to the problems caused by its botched Brexit negotiations today will hand a gift to a future Labour government wishing to entangle the UK with the EU.

Some may ask whether unionists should welcome closer alignment, since it would mean that the whole of the UK being dragged into the EU sphere of influence, not just NI. Whilst that may be true it would contrary to the will of the majority of the people of the UK who voted to leave, and to the firm belief which I have that the UK is better off out of the EU. Furthermore, there is an alternative which would honour the Brexit vote yet allow trading relationships with the EU to operate smoothly.

If the government were to pursue the option of mutual enforcement – as set out by the Centre for Brexit Policy – where the UK and the EU respected each others regulations, ensured that traders operating across the Irish border adhered to the requirements of the jurisdiction they were selling to, heavily sanctioned traders who broke the rules and, using trade intelligence, targeted those suspected of taking advantage of a totally frictionless border, then the current impasse could be resolved.

Sadly on the current political trajectory it looks more like the legacy of this government will be that it gave the country a vote to get out of the EU, let the people down with botched negotiations and handed a Labour government the opportunity to ease the UK back into the EU.

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Sammy Wilson is MP for East Antrim and Director at the Centre for Brexit Policy.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.