The Herald

Can we believe Truss’s protocol plans?


IN 1970, the then Tory home secretary Reginald Maudling, returning from his first visit to Northern Ireland, infamously exclaimed: “For God’s sake, bring me a large Scotch. What a bloody awful country.”

Politicall­y, Northern Ireland has always been problemati­c for Westminste­r politician­s. It remains so.

This week’s threat by Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to unilateral­ly rewrite the Northern Ireland Protocol is the latest chapter in the ongoing Brexit fallout. It also might be revealing about how Westminste­r sees Northern Ireland itself.

First, let’s acknowledg­e there is a problem. A significan­t tranche of unionist opinion opposes the protocol. How do you address this? Set aside the fact that this is the deal that this Government negotiated and signed, do Liz Truss’s announceme­nts help? Or will they start a trade war with the EU?

Actually, maybe the better question is – how seriously should we take Truss’s plans? As yet she has not even published the legal opinion that she says will allow her to tear up an internatio­nal agreement.

It should be remembered that the Government has threatened to invoke Article 16 before but never quite got around to it. Maybe, though, this time Truss means it. Or maybe she is trying to placate the DUP. Or is just playing

Is Liz Truss concerned about the future of Northern Ireland or the future of the Tory Party?

hardball to attract the attention of the Euroscepti­c ERG for any future leadership bid? Or maybe the Government is trying to pick a fight with the EU because it plays to Brexiteer sentiment.

Another piece of legislatio­n promised this week is possibly more revealing about the Government’s attitude to Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has announced a Bill that will offer effective amnesty for crimes committed during The Troubles. This proposed legislatio­n was universall­y opposed by political parties and victims’ groups in Northern Ireland when it was proposed last year.

It has been tweaked since then, but the reaction this week has been just as damning. Both unionists and nationalis­ts have spoken out against the proposals. Sinn Fein argue that it is an attempt to protect British soldiers. Unionist politician­s say it means no prospect of justice for the families of the victims of paramilita­ries.

As a result, the temptation is to see this legislatio­n more as an attempt by the Tories to solve a problem that affects them – the threat of prosecutio­n of British soldiers – rather than a genuine attempt to move reconcilia­tion forward.

That cynical reading could also apply to the announceme­nts of Liz Truss. Is Truss concerned about the future of Northern Ireland or the future of the Tory Party?

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland faces the same problems as the rest of the UK – the rising cost of living, a struggling NHS – without a government to help them, even though they have just had an election to form one.

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