Liz Truss’s U-turn on Brexit is bad news for Northern Ireland
An ex-Remainer with a point to prove, Truss will continue Johnson’s hardball tactics with the EU – at NI’s expense
Liz Truss has embraced Brexit absolutism with the zeal of the convert. Having voted Remain in 2016, the favourite in the race for Conservative leader, pledged to scrap all remaining EU laws by the end of next year if she became prime minister.
Truss’s convenient conversion to the Eurosceptic cause has played well with right-wing Tories. The secretive Tory backbench European Research Group (ERG) was firmly behind ‘Liz for leader’.
But Truss’s newfound enthusiasm for Brexit spells bad news – particularly for those of us in Northern Ireland.
Truss had previously shown little interest in Northern Irish affairs: the former foreign secretary allegedly dismissed the impact of a no-deal Brexit on Irish businesses as merely affecting “a few farmers with turnips in the back of their trucks”.
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Now she is presenting Northern Ireland as evidence of her suitability for the role of prime minister. Her leadership pitch has gone big on ‘delivery’, repeatedly using the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill – which she designed – to exemplify her ability to ‘get things done’.
But the bill, which has now cleared the House of Commons, is evidence of something very different. The Protocol Bill – which many experts believe is in breach of international law – rips up the UK government’s own Brexit deal. Far from resolving the challenges in Northern Ireland, it creates further instability and risks a trade war with the EU.
Truss’s determination to ratify the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill has, however, placed her in good favour with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which, since February, has collapsed Northern Ireland’s Executive over its opposition to the post-Brexit trade arrangements.
But despite the UK government’s protestations that the bill is designed to protect the Good Friday Agreement and resolve the impasse at Stormont, it has been roundly rejected by the majority of Northern Ireland’s political parties, in addition to business leaders, and human rights bodies, as having the opposite effect.
The protocol bill is less about Northern Ireland, and more about the Conservative Party pursuing its hardball tactics with the EU. The head of the Ulster Farmers Union has said he’s “struggling” to see how the bill could improve life for farmers in Northern Ireland. The Dairy Council said it would jeopardise NI dairy farmers’ £600m annual trade with the Republic of Ireland and the EU, which has been safeguarded by the protocol. Several other business councils and bodies have expressed grave concern about the government’s unilateral action.
In fact, should the bill pass, it will offer little benefit to anybody in Northern Ireland, while the knowledge that it appeases one political party at the expense of others serves only to further exacerbate political instability.
But it isn’t just Northern Ireland that stands to be negatively impacted by the Conservatives’ onslaught against democratic norms and human rights. Truss has already vowed to pursue several controversial policies, the detrimental impact of which would sweep across the wider UK.
It isn’t just NI that stands to be impacted by the onslaught against democratic norms and human rights
She has stated that she wants to follow the advice of Patrick Minford, a member of the now-disbanded ‘Economists for Brexit’ group, who once claimed that for Brexit to succeed economically, we would have to scrap farming and manufacturing.
In sticking to the Brexit agenda, Truss has also committed to achieving what was once merely a pipedream of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s – getting rid of any remnant of EU law. In June, the Brexit opportunities minister received pushback from the cabinet over the feasibility of replacing approximately 2,400 pieces of legislation by 2026, amid the current cuts to the civil service. Truss is seemingly more ambitious, promising to remove all EU regulations and laws by the end of 2023.
This means that Truss becoming prime minister could see hundreds of laws pertaining to employment and environmental protection disappear overnight. Frances O’Grady, the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress has said, “Let’s call this out for what it is – ideological posturing at the expense of ordinary working people.”
Truss has also signalled support for potentially leaving the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in order to push through the UK’s detestable policy of indefinitely sending asylum seekers seeking refuge in the UK to Rwanda.
The ECHR underpins the Good Friday Agreement. By withdrawing from the convention, the UK would not only be following closely in the footsteps of Russia – which left the ECHR before launching its attack on Ukraine – it would be reneging on commitments enshrined in the peace agreement.
But as a former Remainer, Truss has a point to prove. She is likely to take Johnson’s legacy of disregarding international standards and norms, to new depths – continuing his legacy of unilateralism and constitutional vandalism at our expense.
This article was updated on 5 September 2022 to reflect Liz Truss's victory in the Conservative Party leadership election.
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