Boris Johnson has a problem – he just lost local elections, his attempt to divert attention from his Covid lockdown parties by smearing the leader of the opposition with having a beer during a work meeting are failing, and his approval rates are going the opposite direction as inflation rates. What to do – oh well, why not start another conflict with the European Union to pander to the right-wing in his own party and unionists (by now minority) in Northern Ireland. The vast majority of Northern Ireland voted against Brexit in 2016 and voted for parties in favour of keeping the Northern Ireland Protocol a few weeks ago. Supply-chain problems are fewer in Northern Ireland than in Great Britain and most of Northern Irish businesses want certainty, including the protocol, even though they might not like all parts of it. But this certainly does not prevent Boris Johnson to use the opposition of unionists in Northern Ireland (again: a minority of the electorate and in the assembly) to start a new conflict with the European Union. When the economy is in dire straits and popularity sinks, identify an outside enemy and declare a conflict. This is what the Argentine military junta did in 1982 when starting a war over the Falkland Islands – it did not end well.
Just to remind ourselves, the Northern Ireland Protocol is the result of the Northern Ireland trilemma. Theresa May wanted to solve this by keeping the whole of the United Kingdom in the customs union (as backstop, though it would probably have turned into a permanent arrangement) to prevent an Irish sea border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Boris Johnson dropped this idea in favour of the Protocol, which established the Irish Sea Border while preventing a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. What was acclaimed as great success and a great deal in late 2019 and used by Johnson to win the General Elections (the Tory manifesto clearly states: ‘no renegotiation’) is now described by the same people as having been signed under duress and imposed by the EU and should therefore be renegotiated. Other lies put forward by Brexiters include the idea that the Protocol was meant to be temporary until a trade agreement was signed (false) or that it violated the Good Friday Agreement (by avoiding a land border on the Irish island, it does the opposite).
Her Majesty’s Government has also announced (using its media outlets) that there will be a Brexit bonfire of regulations to jumpstart growth in the UK – in translation: take powers away from Parliament and allow the government to change law without parliamentary approval; certainly an interesting way to reclaim sovereignty. In the meantime, the minister for Brexit opportunities is still busy searching for such opportunities. Early successes include importing possibly radioactive meat, dumping shit into rivers (pardon my language) and allowing teenagers to drive HGVs.
In summary, the UK has moved to a phase of exclusively performative government. It very much resembles the double-speak in 1984: foster peace in Northern Ireland by taking the side of a party that just lost the elections, effectively creating space for new conflict and declaring the views of the majority irrelevant; a bonfire of regulations to jumpstart the economy that makes trade with Europe even more difficult and will further depress growth; taking back control of borders by allowing without controls the import of food even if this risks more diseases and animal and food safety. Given how miserably Tories have failed over the past 12 years in government in improving the economy, rather damaging it wherever they could, first with austerity and then with Brexit, they have turned to simplistic populist ‘solutions’ – send refugees to Rwanda, force civil servants back to the office instead of working from home, criminalise peaceful but noisy protests and classify anyone who questions them as ‘Remoaners’ or EU agents. Supported by the press that has been bought off with taxpayer money during the pandemic and having cowed BBC into not report anything too critical about the government, the Orbanisation of the UK is in full process. Political ideas and arguments replaced by slogans and smears! A sad decline for a proud and once strong European democracy!
13. May, 2022