Northern Ireland news

Blame for NI Protocol lies ‘squarely' with British Government – Dr Andrew McCormick

 Dr Andrew McCormick said that responsibility for the Northern Ireland Protocol lies “fairly and squarely” with Boris Johnson and his ministers.
Dominic McGrath, PA

A former top civil servant has attacked the UK Government’s handling of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Dr Andrew McCormick, a Stormont official who played a central role as the UK Government negotiated the Brexit deal, said that responsibility for the Northern Ireland Protocol lies “fairly and squarely” with Boris Johnson and his ministers.

In an article for The Constitution Society, the former civil servant says that the UK Government understood the consequences of the Brexit deal for Northern Ireland.

The protocol, which was designed to avoid a border on the island of Ireland, creates a new series of checks on some trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

It is fiercely opposed by loyalists and unionists.

“It is hard to imagine anything (other than Brexit itself) with greater democratic legitimacy under the UK constitution than something that was the very centre of the manifesto on which a government secured a clear majority in a general election,” says Dr McCormick.

“There is little credibility in any argument that the UK government either did not anticipate the implications of what it had agreed, or was constrained and unable to choose any other option.”

Dr McCormick was in charge of international relations for the Northern Ireland Executive Office until last year.

As Brexit lead in the Executive, he was also a regular attendee at ministerial meetings.

In the article, he is critical of the approach the UK Government took to the complexities of achieving Brexit and managing the unique situation in Northern Ireland.

“It is hard to see any basis for tolerating the unwillingness of the UK government ministers to invest fully in a fact-based, problem-solving approach to a highly complex and sensitive task,” he writes in the article.

“This exacerbated the issues of confidence that arise from Brexit when the clear responsibility of London and Dublin was (and is) to build confidence. But that requires honesty.”

The former official also suggests that there is no other solution than the protocol, despite repeated and vocal opposition from unionists.

While he does not play down the challenges involved in managing the protocol and the position of Northern Ireland, Dr McCormick suggests in the article that no one has proposed any workable alternative.

It comes amid speculation that the Queen’s Speech on May 10 may include legislation to suspend unilaterally the protocol if a negotiated solution does not emerge.

“In nearly six years of work, no credible solution that is better than the Protocol has been identified and hence its collapse would create uncertainty and instability – which cannot be in the interests of those who want Northern Ireland to succeed.”

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