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Far more to protocol stance of PMs than they let on, suggests senior civil servant

6 32 10

As swathes of the NI Protocol are perhaps about to be torn up, new light has been shed on how this document came about — and that light may illuminate what is happening now.

The protocol was signed by Boris Johnson in late 2019, but evolved under his predecessor, Theresa May, and there were two key decisions taken by her which made little sense at the time, but which academic interviews with key Brexit players now suggest were part of a grander plan.

In December 2017, Mrs May was famously forced to return from Brussels in humiliation after DUP leader Arlene Foster objected to a key UK-EU negotiating document — known as the Joint Report — referring to Northern Ireland keeping many EU laws.

After a few days, that was fudged, and the DUP backed down.

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But the Joint Report contained an equally significant commitment to which the DUP did not object. Paragraph 43 of the document pledged the UK to avoid a hard border and defined that phrase to mean “any physical infrastructure or related checks and control”.

That sweeping definition went far beyond the public understanding of a ‘hard border’ and did not accord with how the dictionary defines those words. It meant that a single discreet camera at a border crossing would be as unacceptable as machine guns. Not only was this absurd, but it ignored the reality that the police and security services already have multiple cameras at the border — and those are not deemed to make it ‘hard’.

In a document whose every word had been scrutinised, why would Mrs May deliver such a pledge?

It was clearly not an oversight because three months earlier Mrs May had in her Florence speech pledged: “We will not accept any physical infrastructure at the border”.

Choosing to tie her hands in this way was all the more curious because academic polling several months earlier had found that just 14% of Northern Irish people found border cameras “almost impossible” to accept and just 5% supported vandalism of such infrastructure.

The following year, Mrs May came to Belfast and made a major speech in which she said that “the seamless border is a foundation stone on which the Belfast Agreement rests”. While most people had welcomed the softer post-1998 border and it was particularly important for nationalists, the Agreement itself made........

© Belfast Telegraph

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