John Redwood: The EU is failing to implement parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol and has damaged the Belfast Agreement

16 May

Sir John Redwood is MP for Wokingham, and is a former Secretary of State for Wales.

Brexit was a vote to take back control. Remain tried to turn it into a narrow discussion of trade and trading arrangements, denying much more constitutional significance to the EU. Brexiteers wanted our country back. We knew that greater prosperity and freedom as a result would depend on what use Parliament made of the freedom to make our own choices. The public, in anger at the way the 2017-19 Parliament tried to undermine the verdict of the people and tie us back into much of the EU’s laws and arrangements, voted for the big Brexit majority in 2019.

Given the hassle and the anti-democratic efforts of so many in a Remain-dominated establishment to keep us close to the EU, it was understandable that the Prime Minister would rush through a Withdrawal Act before the last election when he was still hamstrung by the absence of a Brexit majority.

After the Conservative win, he speeded up negotiations on a future relationship. The EU had insisted on a two-stage process, agreeing terms of withdrawal, leaving and only then negotiating a future relationship. A possible trade agreement to supplement WTO most favoured national trading that would otherwise apply helped them more than us, but was used by the Remain establishment to keep us closer to EU rules.

The EU broke its own interpretation of EU law which it said necessitated this phased approach by inserting a Northern Ireland Protocol into the Withdrawal Agreement which did tackle some future relationship issues which were meant to be out of bounds at that stage.

The Protocol it drafted was contradictory and ambiguous. It contained a lot of clauses requiring Northern Ireland compliance with the EU Single Market, but it also included clear statements that Northern Ireland would be part of the UK’s internal market and would benefit from UK free trade deals, and that Northern Ireland’s status as part of the U.K would be confirmed.

Both sides recognised the the Protocol did not represent the final answer, which is why it included Article 13.8 which provided for cancelling or replacing it in due course. It was assumed by many there would be a clearer statement in the future relationship treaty. When it did not produce one, Northern Ireland was left facing an uncertain future. Conflicting jurisdictions in the EU and U.K took very  different views of what the contradictory and ambiguous document meant.

The EU decided on a maximalist interpretation, imposing or seeking to impose a vast array of controls and checks on internal U.K. trade passing between Great Britian and Northern Ireland. The U.K. politely spent two years asking for some give as well as take from the EU with no success. The Unionist parties in the recent Stormont elections suffered from the damage done to Great Britain/Northern Ireland trade, and to the sense of identity of the Unionist community in Northern Ireland by the intrusion of the EU into  their lives.

The U.K according to the EU cannot change VAT in Northern Ireland when we change it for Great Britain against EU laws. Northern Ireland has to accept an avalanche of new law from the EU every year while Great Britain does not have to accept or legislate for anything similar. Northern Ireland gets no vote or voice on the laws the EU imposes

As a result, unionist members of Stormont are refusing to join an executive or government in Northern Ireland until the Protocol is removed or substantially amended. They see an EU understandably on the side of its member state, the Republic of Ireland – out to govern against their wishes and interests, forcing on them an unwanted border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and many costs and impediments to Great Britain/Northern Ireland trade. The U.K. has refused to implement all of them, but the ones already in place are damaging enough.

The Government needs to take action to remedy this big problem. The Belfast Agreement which established peace in Northern Ireland after years of violence is important and is rightly backed by the President of the USA. This agreement has now been undermined by the Protocol . Both the unionist and the nationalist communities need to giv  their consent to any major decision in Northern Ireland. The unionists do not consent to the Protocol which they think undermines the Act of Union and deprives them of full and equal membership of the Union of the U.K.

As the EU seems to delight in forcing Northern Ireland against its will into dependence on EU laws and rules that the Government must act soon and unilaterally  to remedy this. The EU mouths its meaningless and wrong soundbite that the UK and Northern Ireland have to stick to an international treaty and must not break their law. The truth is that the EU is failing to carry through the parts of the Protocol it does not like and has damaged the Good Friday Agreement. It is controlling parts of tax policy in Northern Ireland and stopping British supermarkets delivering food to Northern Ireland’s shops.

The U.K. anyway has the power to legislate independently reserved carefully in the crucial Clause 38 of our Withdrawal Act which is the only form of the Treaty which has power in U.K. law. That Article reserves the right for the U.K. to assert its sovereignty over any of these matters if it needs to. The Government could also operate legally under the terms of the Protocol itself as Article 16 allows us to take unilateral action where the other party has damaged the economy and society of Northern Ireland and or where trade with the U.K. has been impeded. Clearly, both tests have been met.

Many British businesses have stopped selling into Northern Ireland or have streamlined what they sell faced with ridiculous EU imposed checks. More importantly, the delicate balance between the two communities has been fractured with unionists wanting their country back. It is important that the Government upholds the Belfast Agreement. That means explaining all this to US Democrats who do not understand the unionist position or the legal background

It means acting unilaterally and fairly to take control of Great Britain/Northern Ireland trade whilst guaranteeing the full force of the state to prevent non-complaint goods travelling into the Republic. It means standing up to the EU as it mouths falsehoods and threatens illegal responses. Brexit is not done all the time it does not extend to Northern Ireland. Our Union is not safe all the time when the people who believe most in it are treated so badly.

Peter Lilley: If controls at the UK/Ireland land border are unacceptable, so too at the Great Britain/Northern Ireland sea border

9 Feb

Lord Lilley is a former Secretary of State for Trade & Industy and for Social Security.

Defenders of the Protocol assume that the only sensitive border is the border between Ireland and the Republic.

It is important that people – particularly in the United States – understand that creating a border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain is at least as great a provocation to Unionists as border checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic would be to Nationalists.

We need to keep citing the paradox spelt out by Lord Hannan:

“The Protocol is unsustainable because it is based on the absurd and unequal proposition that: checks on goods between Northern Ireland and the Republic would threaten the Good Friday Agreement and possibly even threaten the peace, whereas checks on [the far greater volume of] goods between Northern Ireland and Great Britain would have no such consequences.”

One way to illustrate this is to ask Americans how they would feel if the US government were required to impose Canadian customs controls on all goods going from US West Coast ports to Alaska (let alone applying Canadian laws within Alaska) – just to avoid the need for customs controls on the border between Alaska and Canada?

The EU wants to increase Great Britain/Northern Ireland border checks, not to reduce them

The Protocol in the Recitals and Article 6.2 commits both sides to agree that the Joint Committee “shall adopt appropriate recommendations with a view to avoiding controls at the ports and airports of Northern Ireland to the extent possible”.

The EU is flagrantly in breach of this commitment. Far from removing controls at the GB/NI border, it is demanding more. The EU claimed, in response to the UK Command Paper, that it is offering to “reduce” checks at Northern Ireland ports. Its apologists have reported them as offering to reduce checks by up to 80 per cent – though with no figures to justify this number.

In any case, this is a sleight of hand. The EU is still demanding far more checks than are currently being applied. It has just reduced the number of additional checks it is demanding once the so-called ‘grace periods’ end.

Moreover, since claiming to reduce the number of extra checks it wants, the EU has increased its demands for checks following a Commission Audit. It was the demand for spot checks on passenger cars coming from GB which proved to be the last straw as far as DUP Ministers were concerned.

Rainer Zitelmann: Wealth taxes would not be popular, or Conservative. Sunak must remember this tomorrow.

7 Jul

Dr. Rainer Zitelmann is a historian and sociologist. The data cited in this article is analysed in detail in his recently published book The Rich in Public Opinion

Over the past couple of weeks, UK Treasury officials have been contacting private bankers to sound them out on how the country’s richest citizens might help pay for the huge cost of Coronavirus relief packages. Ahead of Rishi Sunak’s big speech tomorrow, this should be worrying for many.

Austerity might be off the menu for the state, but it’s definitely the dish that is being prepared by civil servants to be served to everyone else.

Labour are getting in on the act too with Annalise Dodds, the Shadow Chancellor, stepping onto the Sunday shows to explain with zero detail that the burden of higher taxation ought to fall on those with the “broadest shoulders” and that taxes needed to reflect the “increase in income and wealth inequality over recent years.” She’d called for wealth taxes in the preceding week during a speech at the IFS, again with scant information on what this would actually look like.

Now, leaving aside the fact that a lot of income and wealth inequality is mostly a proxy for geographic inequality and restrictions on growth of jobs and homes outside of major centres of population, we should question what brings together the Shadow Chancellor and Civil Service. Especially when it looks a lot like trying to confiscate wealth and punish those that have worked hard to get on in life.

This isn’t Conservative. The Civil Service should be reminded of that fact, and the party should remember the benefit of providing some clear blue water between the reds in Labour and the Tories in power. Rishi Sunak on Wednesday should signal he’s going in quite the different direction to keep Conservatives and the country on side.

In fact the party of a low-tax dynamic free market that in December ruled out an increase in the rates of income tax, National Insurance or VAT – should also remember voters aren’t keen on the state coming for wealth either.

In a poll conducted in 2018 by Ipsos Mori across the UK, France and Germany, voters were asked their attitudes to the rich and to tax asks of them. They were presented with two statements:

The first was: The taxes on the rich should be high but not excessively high because they have generally worked hard to earn their wealth, and the state should not take too much away from them.

Over the UK as a whole, 29 per cent agreed. Of Labour voters, 20 per cent agreed. Of Conservative voters, 46 per cent agreed.

The second: The rich should not only pay high taxes, but they should pay very high taxes. In this way, the state can ensure that the gap between the rich and the poor does not become too great.

Of the UK population as a whole, 38 per cent agree. Of Labour voters, 53 per cent agreed. Of Conservative voters, 21 per cent agreed.

What the survey was designed to reveal is the proportion of the population in a given country that envies the rich (“social enviers”) and compared this with the proportion who do not (“non-enviers”).

While there is a section of the population in Great Britain that envies the rich, the number of enviers in Great Britain is much smaller than in the other countries. Much lower in fact.

The survey data was used to calculate a Social Envy Coefficient – the higher the coefficient, the higher the proportion of social envy.

The coefficient for France is 1.21, which means there are considerably more social enviers in France than non-enviers. Germany’s coefficient is 0.97, which means there is an even balance between social enviers and non-enviers. In the United States, the coefficient is significantly lower at 0.42. But the lowest coefficient is for the UK, at 0.37.

In other words, a clear majority of the British population are not envious of the rich.

There are significant differences between what Conservative voters and Labour voters think about the rich. Conservative voters say that society as a whole benefits from the existence of rich people (e.g. as entrepreneurs who create new products) but just a fifth of Labour voters think the same.

Despite a platform of envy and higher taxes on offer from the most far-left Labour leader in history, the British people decided to plump for the man opposed to them. Instead of thinking of the rich as a cash cow, when asked to describe the rich Conservative voters plucked for the following terms: industrious, imaginative, visionary, bold, intelligent, and ruthless.

Five out of six being positive traits ain’t bad. Labour voters under Corbyn plucked for the alternative, rich people to them were: materialistic, industrious too, ruthless, bold, self-centred, and greedy.

Starmer has done a good job of modernising his party, but he needs to win over Tory voters that thought of the rich as imaginative industrialists, not just pander to a coalition that thinks of them as ruthless greedy materialists that has failed twice to put the party into power.

Like throughout the pandemic, the UK is not the first to encounter the issues at play. When a few years ago the then socialist president François Hollande introduced a supertax on France’s highest earners, many wealthy people left France.

The tax was subsequently abolished. And France’s neighbour Germany found that the bureaucracy associated with levying a wealth tax is simply not worth it. As a result, Germany has waived its wealth tax since 1997.

Treasury officials and Tory strategists should realise: Britain is a low-envy country; a pro-growth country, and one that knows that imposing more envy taxes on wealthier people simply will not work.

Leave this idea to the Labour left and start pushing for growth by removing, rather than adding to, the burden of the state on businesses and families.