John Baron is MP for Basildon and Billericay.
As someone who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, the Government and the European Commission deserve congratulations on successfully negotiating the Windsor Framework.
There has been give and take on both sides, but the prizes are political and economic benefits for Northern Ireland, alongside a much-improved relationship between the UK and EU that is beginning to pay dividends, and may lead to further progress on a number of fronts.
The post-Brexit history of the border arrangements in Northern Ireland probably fits comfortably into the category of “I wouldn’t start from here”.
In the wake of the referendum, while the UK indulged in a change of leadership followed by an unnecessary general election, the Irish Government ensured EU members and the Commission, along with the Americans, saw the border issue almost exclusively in terms of the north/south relationship.
There should be a frank recognition that it was a key British failure not to conduct a similar exercise highlighting the east/west relationship, because it led the Government, at a time of great political and diplomatic weakness, to concede to the EU’s so-called solution at the December 2017 meeting.
Its reasonable and well-founded concerns about the implications of an internal British border were either unheard or dismissed. The road to the backstop and the Northern Ireland Protocol was set.
It took considerable time, and the experience of the partial application of the Protocol, for the EU and its many cheerleaders in the UK to accept that the Government was making valid points.
Though calculations vary, one study concluded that 20 per cent of all the EU’s border checks were taking place in Belfast, despite GB-NI trade accounting for a tiny share of the amount of goods entering the EU’s Single Market. A full application of the Protocol would increase this further.
The Government under Boris Johnson responded with threats to break international law “in a limited and specific way”, which ran counter to our bedrock principle as a country which respected its international obligations and the rule of law. The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, though understood to be a negotiating tactic, did little to achieve its aim of persuading the EU to come to the negotiating table, while tarnishing our international reputation.
Sunak deserves great credit for changing the dynamic and negotiating in a much more consensual and cordial spirit. The Windsor Framework is the result, and it demonstrates that a return to careful and respectful diplomacy pays off.
The Protocol was a stone in the shoe of our wider relationship with the EU, and indeed with the Americans, and getting beyond this issue opens up the broader prizes of progress on other areas – including action on small boats in the Channel, financial agreements between the City and the EU, the resumption of scientific co-operation, as well as further combined action against the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
It would be extremely unwise for Conservative MPs to oppose this agreement. The concessions appear almost all to be coming our way from the EU, and it is clear that Brussels has recognised the special situation of Northern Ireland created by the Belfast Agreement by coming up with a bespoke set of rules.
By any yardstick the Prime Minister and his team have pulled off a diplomatic coup and have earned our support. After a rocky few years, Sunak is winning back the Conservatives’ reputation for competence and application.
Politicians in Northern Ireland will take their time to consider the Framework, and let us hope they will feel able to accept it too. There appears to be little scope for further negotiations, and even if the terms are not ideal they are a step-change better than the current situation.
We should not make the perfect the enemy of the good. The new Stormont Brake won’t operate if the Northern Ireland Executive isn’t up and running, so there is an added incentive to get the Assembly back together.
More broadly, the deal helps to secure Northern Ireland’s integral position in the United Kingdom, and the stability and predictability it should provide should act as a spur to economic growth – for Ulster, for the UK, and for the EU itself.
The Prime Minister is right to point to Northern Ireland’s unique status, with a foot in both the EU’s Single Market and the UK’s internal market (which is now free to plough its own furrow outside the EU’s orbit) as a particular selling point for investment and economic activity.
Given my experience as a soldier during the Troubles, this is unalloyed good news; prosperity solves many problems.
Sunak has sensibly got onto the front foot by promising Parliament a vote on the Windsor Framework. With Labour in overt support, there is little doubt that it will cross this hurdle comfortably.
All eyes will be on the Democratic Unionist Party, who are valued colleagues and proud unionists, but it should not be overlooked that there are many strands of opinion in Northern Ireland, and indeed within unionism itself. With the Framework addressing many of the issues raised in the DUP’s Seven Tests, in large part if not wholly, a continued refusal to return to Stormont will raise eyebrows.
With the Windsor Framework signed and sealed, the Prime Minister will arguably be in his strongest position since he entered Downing Street. He was undoubtedly the engine behind the negotiations, and to him consequently redounds much of the credit for this success.
This crowns a successful few months for the Government, whose stance on triggering Section 35 of the Scotland Act appears to have resonated with public opinion in Scotland; notably, two of the three SNP leadership candidates have not committed to take this up with the Supreme Court.
Famous last words, but these twin developments may mean our union is on the most secure footing for some time.
The post John Baron: The Windsor Framework. Conservatives and Unionists must not make the perfect the enemy of the good. appeared first on Conservative Home.
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Author: John Baron MP
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