‘You made the bed and now you must sleep in it’
That is, in effect, the attitude of the EU to the difficulties we are now having with the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol which regulates trade between UK trade and Northern Ireland.
Well, yes, when I voted for the agreement, which included the protocol, my eyes were open and I was alive to its limitations.
So, why on earth did I vote for it?
The European Research Group, of which I am a long-standing member, together with the assistance of other organisations and experts in the field, put a major effort into a comprehensive report setting out how a completely seamless border could work between Northern Ireland and the Republic without intrusive physical infrastructure and checks. The principal limitation would have been the time it would have taken to implement. So it would have required an extended grace period of a year or so.
Nevertheless it was the obvious answer and infinitely preferable to the NI Protocol which establishes a border between mainland UK and Northern Ireland.
The difficulty was that the ‘pass had already been sold’ before Boris became PM and was in a position to do anything realistic about it.
We were in a race against time to get an agreement before the end of January 2020; we were without a parliamentary majority; and with Parliament refusing to dissolve and put the question to the country.
The danger was that we were not going to be able to leave the EU at all. When the outcome of the election finally did settle the matter in December 2019, there simply was no time to go back and unwind the negotiations that had already established substantial parts of the then, as yet, unfinished deal.
We had either to live within its limitations or countenance a no-deal Brexit.
It was clear however, that with goodwill and a pragmatic approach the Protocol could be made to work satisfactorily. What has become clear, is that the necessary goodwill is absent and a dogmatic approach is being taken either to cut Northern Ireland off from UK exports or to tie us indefinitely to EU regulations.
The alternatives now are that we accept the isolation of the Province, or we accept indefinite continued observance of EU rules, or that we revoke the protocol and face down the EU fury and sanctions.
Of course, there is always the remote possibility that peace and love may break out, seeing the Protocol sensibly and proportionately implemented.