OPINION - Evening Standard Comment: Compromise needed over Northern Ireland protocol problem

·3 min read
 (David Simmonds)
(David Simmonds)

As Boris Johnson heads to Northern Ireland for emergency talks with political leaders, all eyes fall once again on the agreement he signed and hailed as a great victory but which he now decries. The Northern Ireland Protocol exists because both the UK and EU agreed there could be no return to a hard border — including physical checks and infrastructure — on the island of Ireland. This left two options: a UK-wide arrangement, rejected by Brexiteers, or checks in the Irish Sea, formalised by the protocol.

Some parts of the arrangement, such as on medicines, have been reformed. But others are undoubtedly causing issues — the biggest of which are political. The DUP, the largest unionist party in the Northern Ireland Assembly, is refusing to take part in an executive unless its complaints about the protocol are addressed. That foments political instability, jeopardises the power-sharing fundamental to the Good Friday Agreement and means the people of Northern Ireland do not have a functioning devolved government.

However, it does not give the UK the right to unilaterally tear up the protocol. And it certainly would not protect ordinary people from the economic consequences of such a move, which could be severe. Precipitating a trade war with the EU — in the middle of a cost of living crisis — would be a disaster. What we need is compromise and good faith engagement from both sides, something sorely lacking since the 2016 referendum result.

Threat from far-Right

The horrific mass shooting in Buffalo, New York on Saturday that left 10 dead and three wounded was appalling but tragically all too familiar. Last year, 696 mass shootings took place in the US, according to the Gun Violence Archive. That is nearly two a day. This shooting contained an added horror in that it appears to be racially motivated. Buffalo mayor Byron Brown has said that the suspect, 18-year-old Payton Gendron, arrived with the intention to take “as many black lives as possible”. Police revealed he had driven more than 200 miles to carry out the attack in an area with a high black population.

The UK does not suffer from identical problems to the US, and our gun laws are far stricter, but this attack demonstrates once again the dangers of Right-wing extremism. Ken McCallum, director general of MI5, warned last year that racism is fuelling a rising far-Right threat in this country — with 10 of 29 plots that had been foiled in the preceding four years linked to it. McCallum also warned that teenagers were increasingly part of far-Right movements.

This demonstrates the urgency of tackling this evil ideology wherever we find it.

Good luck in exams

Exam season is back, but problems remain. As we report today, more than one-third of schools are struggling with a shortage of invigilators, while students themselves have had to put up with two years of disrupted learning and self-isolation. As they sit their first exams since the start of the pandemic, we want to wish them luck and hope their hard work under challenging circumstances is richly rewarded.

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