Northern Ireland news

Analysis: Sir Jeffrey should seek Steve Baker's advice on eating humble pie

Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office Steve Baker said the UK must "show humility" with the EU if a deal on the Northern Ireland Protocol was to be reached
John Manley

ARGUABLY resolving the issues around the protocol has never ranked lower in the British government's priorities.

The Liz Truss administration makes its immediate predecessor look unified and accomplished in comparison as it reels from one catastrophe to the next against the background of the war in Ukraine, an attendant energy crisis and a plummeting international reputation.

The odds on the Conservatives being returned to power lengthen by the day but if there's more self-inflicted damage to come in the vein of the cack-handed 45p income tax rate for higher earners, then it's possible we could be at the polls before Christmas.

At this point, this is a government that needs all the friends it can find – and that includes the Brussels bogeyman.

Steve Baker's conciliatory remarks, coupled with the more significant signs of a detente following last week's phone call between Maros Sefcovic and James Cleverly, are a huge symbolic step forward in a row that to date has been dogged by rabble-rousing rhetoric.

The UK hasn't conceded anything concrete yet but there appears to be a clear acknowledgement that they've played this poorly – an honest assessment that has long chimed with that of most observers.

Finding a solution that meets the expectations of both sides when talks resume this week after eight months will be difficult but a soundtrack of mollifying mood music is a good start.

Arguably resolving the issues around the protocol has never ranked higher in the DUP's priorities.

The party has painted itself into a corner on the advice of anti-power-sharing unionists and appears to have no get out strategy.

The prospects of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill being passed any time soon, never mind implemented, are remote, while Sir Jeffrey Donaldson's hope that any outcome will meet the DUP's seven tests are at best ambitious.

Despite its public bravado, the DUP doesn't want an election both for practical reasons and more crucially because voters will likely punish the party for its recent shenanigans.

The DUP will hold its party conference this coming weekend and while we can expect plenty of tough talk, it'll be important to read between the lines.

The EU and British government will do their best to make it easy for a climbdown but it's impossible to foresee a scenario in which the DUP can claim victory.

To refuse to restore the institutions when a compromise is brokered would be cutting itself adrift, taking it further into the political wilderness from which it will be even more difficult to return.

If he has any sense, Sir Jeffrey will be phoning Steve Baker this week asking for tips on eating humble pie.

 

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