Johnson government pushes UK to brink of trade war with Europe over Northern Ireland Protocol

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told parliament yesterday that the UK government would soon introduce legislation unilaterally amending Northern Ireland’s protocol governing post-Brexit trade with the European Union (EU).

In response, the EU warned: “Should the UK decide to go ahead with a bill removing the building blocks of the Protocol, as announced today by the UK Government, the EU will have to react. with all the measures at its disposal”.

Truss’ decision was anticipated by Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a Monday visit to Northern Ireland and in an accompanying statement published in the Belfast Telegraph. Johnson, who brokered the protocol, centered his justification for dropping it on the claim that he was acting to defend the 1998 deal with Northern Ireland!

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets Democratic Unionist Party MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson during a visit to Northern Ireland. Hillsborough Castle, 16/05/2022. (Credit: Photo by Andrew Parsons/No 10 Downing Street/Flickr)

The “Good Friday Agreement” ended 30 years of armed conflict between the Irish Republican Army and its political arm Sinn Féin, and British state forces and their Unionist and Loyalist political allies. But he did it by enshrining sectarian divisions, by conditioning all aspects of political life to the joint agreement of the self-appointed representatives of the Republican/Catholic and Unionist/Protestant communities. What Johnson was actually pointing out was that he fully supported the Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) demand to reject the Northern Ireland protocol.

Assembly elections on 5 May saw Sinn Féin leading the poll with 29% of first preference votes, consolidating their hold in the Catholic/Nationalist areas. The DUP vote slumped in favor of the harder traditional unionist voice. But there has also been a significant increase in support for the liberal and non-community aligned Alliance Party. Faced with Sinn Féin’s right to appoint the post of Prime Minister and a majority of pro-EU parties in the Assembly, the DUP collapsed it by refusing to appoint a Deputy Prime Minister.

The protocol is designed to avoid the return of a “hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit. But although it shifts external EU customs controls over trade from the North/South border to ports in Northern Ireland and the UK, it has caused significant problems and costs. Checks of goods from the UK at Northern Ireland ports now account for 20% of all EU border checks.

Johnson is using the DUP’s position as a weapon against the EU, insisting that the threat to the Good Friday Agreement has arisen because “part of the political community in Northern Ireland feels that his aspirations and his identity are threatened by the operation of the protocol. He promised that ‘this government is not neutral towards the Union’, adding that he was ‘reassured to hear that Sir Keir Starmer made it clear in a recent interview here that the Labor Party under his leadership would campaign for the Union, if there was ever a border ballot.The Good Friday Agreement calls for a referendum on Irish unification to be held in the event of a major demographic and political change in the six counties North.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, right, is greeted by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg before a meeting at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Monday, Jan. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys , Pool)

In parliament, Truss said the government’s intention was to introduce legislation within weeks to allow goods from Britain to enter Northern Ireland but not head to Ireland and the EU to go through a “green channel” free of customs controls. It would also allow the government to set tax policy for the whole of the UK and give businesses the option of adopting EU or UK standards. Such measures would anchor Northern Ireland more firmly in the Brexit plan to make the UK a low-tax, deregulated strategic competitor to the EU.

This is a particular challenge for the Republic of Ireland, which functions as an investment hub for global companies attracted by its 12.5% ​​corporation tax and lack of economic regulation on large transfers. capital abroad. But for some members of the Conservative Party, that is not enough. Write about Conservative housearch Brexiteer Andrea Leadsom has urged the government to respond to the ‘existential threat’ of the protocol risking ‘the break-up of the UK’ by establishing a ‘free port over the whole of Northern Ireland’.

Vehicles at Larne Port, Northern Ireland, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

Sinn Féin’s response is to present itself as an ally of the European imperialist powers in the conflict with Great Britain, and as a guarantor of the economic domination of American imperialism over the Republic and of the access of its companies to the European market. Immediately after the elections, the party newspaper A Phoblacht said the Good Friday deal was now “directly threatened” by the DUP and the Conservative government and called on the “EU and the US administration” to “stand firm” and on the “Irish government to be firm in their the height”.

Ahead of Johnson’s visit, Stormont party leader Michelle O’Neill met Irish Taoiseach Micheál Martin in Dublin to say the protocol “is here to stay”.

The working class north and south of the border, Catholic and Protestant, face an increasingly desperate situation as the cost of living becomes unbearable. Rising fuel, food and housing prices are the most immediate concern for workers and their families. Northern Ireland has the lowest median weekly household income in the UK (£439 per week) after housing costs, which have historically been low but are now rising dramatically. In February, the National Institute for Economic and Social Research warned that Northern Ireland could face an increase in extreme poverty of more than 67%, compared to a UK average of 30%.

For Johnson to claim that his party’s actions are driven by cost-of-living concerns is a bad joke. But supporting the EU’s trade war agenda is just another path to hell. This would only re-align workers behind opposing groups of their own exploiters.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald during a visit to Northern Ireland. Hillsborough Castle, 16/05/2022. (Credit: Photo by Andrew Parsons/No 10 Downing Street/Flickr)

The nearly quarter-century power-sharing in Sinn Féin has done nothing to fundamentally address the social oppression faced by Catholic workers, with the heartland of West Belfast suffering the greatest needs in housing and the highest levels of intergenerational unemployment. Instead, he worked with trade unionists to impose austerity on Protestant and Catholic workers in the interests of big business.

Last year, when Sinn Féin won the Republic of Ireland general election, the party’s finance spokesman, Pearse Doherty, said of the 12.5% ​​corporate tax rate in the south: “We are a party that believes there needs to be a competitive advantage over taxation in this state and that needs to continue. He said of big business: “They know Sinn Féin won’t come after them.”

Support for any imperialist power or its political proxies is made even more dangerous by the fact that all parties to this conflict are participating in a growing NATO power proxy war against Russia in Ukraine.

Even amid his rant against the EU over Brexit, Leadsom began by claiming that “Vladimir Putin’s violent and unlawful attack on Ukraine brought out the best in Europe. From defensive military support to humanitarian aid and the generosity of European citizens, Putin has done more to strengthen NATO unity and Europe’s friendship than at any time since World War II.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits Thales UK in Belfast which manufactures the NLAW and Starstreak missiles. 05/16/2022. (Credit: Photo by Andrew Parsons/No 10 Downing Street/Flickr)

During his visit to Belfast, Johnson toured a Thales factory in the UK which manufactures the Starstreak high-speed anti-aircraft missiles and NLAW anti-tank weapons the UK has sent to Ukraine in the thousands, where ITV reported that he “joked ‘watch out for everyone’ as he peered through the sighting unit of a lightweight multiple launcher missile system.

Sinn Féin fully supports this war. He has purged his website of old articles opposing anti-Russian rhetoric, declaring them “obsolete”, while party leader Mary Lou McDonald says of Ukraine: “Ireland understands the impact of occupation and imperialist aggression…”

The sharp escalation of inter-imperialist antagonisms between the United Kingdom and the European powers which gave rise to Brexit found its most grotesque expression in Ireland, where the border between the Republic and the North serves no other function than to protect the remaining outpost of British history. subjugation of Ireland.

But ending British rule in the north means overcoming the carefully nurtured divisions between Catholic and Protestant workers and embracing a unifying socialist alternative to each imperialist power and their local representatives. The task at hand is not to “defend the protocol” regulating cross-border trade, but to end all national divisions across Europe and internationally. It means mobilizing the working class in a political struggle for a socialist Ireland, a socialist Britain and the united socialist states of Europe.

Mary I. Bruner