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Neale Richmond: Unionist push against NI Protocol is the wrong move at the wrong time

Neale Richmond says the legal action by unionists is ill-judged and will further entrench political views.

Neale Richmond

OVER THE WEEKEND we learned that several prominent DUP politicians will join a legal action against the Northern Ireland protocol of the EU-UK Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

This move is to compliment the political campaign already underway, a campaign that bluntly seeks to remove the protocol from the Agreement.

It must be said, again, that no tangible or workable solutions have been presented to replace this. We have seen recent attempts to rehash the already dismissed Alternative Arrangements, but these are not solutions.

An ill-judged challenge

A lot of work was done over several years on the impacts of Brexit on the island of Ireland, it’s not even two months since the protocol came into effect, there is no magic alternative.

Nobody likes the protocol but it is a compromise solution reflecting the political will of the British Government that can work, its impact is clearly being overstated for political gain by some as industry leaders have been much clearer on the actual impact and possible solutions.

One of the big concerns for the Irish Government through the original Brexit Referendum campaign was that little attention was given in England to the impact Brexit could have on the situation in Ireland. These concerns were either ignored or dismissed by the Leave campaign.

This legal challenge is not a surprising turn of events although it is ill-judged and will only further entrench the febrile political environment, as well as creating further uncertainty for people and businesses in Northern Ireland.

Alongside DUP politicians, the other parties to this case include former Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib, Labour peer Kate Hoey, and Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister. These three individuals are a collection of some of the hardest Brexiteers that have been prominent over recent years.

Mr Habib has repeatedly made wild assertions about the situation in Ireland while Antrim-born Barroness Hoey has said the Good Friday Agreement is not a sustainable solution. An extreme Loyalist, Mr Allister has consistently been a vehement opponent of the Good Friday Agreement.

Not the time for posturing

There will be few with sympathy for the argument that the protocol, which prevents a hard border in Ireland and guarantees dual market access for local businesses, breaches the Good Friday Agreement, particularly when nearly all those bringing this challenge opposed the Agreement originally.

The calls of delivering democracy will ring hollow in a Northern Ireland that, like Scotland, voted against Brexit in the first place.

The DUP’s stance on the protocol is disappointing if not surprising, the party were enthusiastic supporters of Brexit and indeed had the opportunity to shape the negotiations and solutions when they held the balance of power in Westminster from 2017 to 2019.

In the interests of doing something productive, perhaps it is time for the party to dial down the rhetoric and work towards a practical resolution to any difficulties within the structure of the Withdrawal Agreement which followed Brexit. Both the EU and the British Government are committed to finding solutions where they are possible.

This type of politics is no good for anyone in my opinion. We all have an obligation to dial it down, to come together to discuss these questions. As public representatives, we must put politics aside and deal with the issues within an economic, social, and practical context.

Unionists in Northern Ireland have many legitimate concerns that should not be dismissed, however, none of these concerns will be sated by a pointless legal action destined to fail.

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Neale Richmond is a Fine Gael TD for Dublin Rathdown and is former Seanad spokesperson on EU affairs for the party.

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