by Peter Franklin
Monday, 8
February 2021
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11:28

Tory wars over Brexit are far from over

Hostilities between Gavin Barwell and Dan Hannan are a sign of more to come
by Peter Franklin
Old loyalties are causing problems once again. Credit: Getty

Blue-on-blue hostilities have broken out again. For the latest action, see Gavin Barwell’s furious response — “where to start with this drivel” — to a Dan Hannan column in the Telegraph — “the Northern Ireland protocol should never have been agreed.”

Barwell and Hannan are both now in the Lords, which should make for some lively encounters, but previous to his ennoblement Barwell was Downing Street Chief of Staff to Theresa May. Thus he won’t have taken kindly to Hannan’s attack on the Brexit deal that May tried and failed to get through the House of Commons.

An exasperated Barwell points out that the May deal was designed to lessen the difficulties that Hannan complains about in his column:

“The Protocol *is* causing real problems. Some of us spent years warning hardcore Brexiteers that they would not get an FTA without a separate arrangement for NI and the more distant the GB/EU relationship the more painful it would be to GB/NI trade. They didn’t listen…”
- Gavin Barwell, Twitter

Despite the European Commission’s disastrous attempt to play politics with the Irish border (which he condemns), Barwell has no time for those who say the UK should mess around with the Northern Ireland Protocol. Its problems can only be resolved within the framework we’ve only just signed up to.

Having slapped down one of the most pugnacious Brexiteers, Barwell’s comments are being enthusiastically retweeted by Remainers. And that’s a bit rich, because it wasn’t just the DUP and ERG who voted down the May deal, was it?

The reason why we don’t have the previous Prime Minister’s softer Brexit is because the Remain parties made common cause with the hardcore Leavers to kill it. Obviously, the members of this unholy alliance had conflicting objectives: the Leavers were hoping for a harder Brexit while the Remainers thought they could kill off Brexit altogether.

It was the hardline Leavers who got (most of) what they wanted, but the Remainers are equally responsible for the outcome. Indeed, their culpability is the greater because their goal — overturning the result of a referendum — was undemocratic, while what the ERG’s aim was a just an interpretation of what had been voted for.

It’s worth remembering that there was an even softer version of Brexit available — Britain leaving the EU, but remaining within EFTA and EEA. Theresa May continues to get the blame for rejecting that option, but she only did so because it would have meant accepting free movement of labour. In other words, Britain would not have been able to take back control of its immigration policy. May rightly judged that this was a red line she could not cross.

But let’s not forget who insisted on free movement: the EU itself. Never mind that the UK only wanted to control its borders not shut them — and would have continued to employ a large chunk of the EU’s jobless masses. But instead of reaching a sensible compromise to achieve the closest possible relationship with post-Brexit Britain, the EU insisted on ideological purity. The vaccine fiasco isn’t the only example of where federalist monomania gets you.

As very recent history, Theresa May’s premiership has been judged harshly. In the longer term though, I believe that posterity’s verdict will be more generous. Though she undoubtedly made mistakes, the bigger picture is that she always tried to do the most reasonable thing that circumstances allowed, but was undone by unreasonable actors on every side.

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Mark Knight
Mark Knight
1 year ago

Theresa May achieved something that may thought impossible, she made Gordon Brown look good.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
1 year ago
Reply to  Mark Knight

In the party of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

Joe Blow
Joe Blow
1 year ago

Can anyone think of a good reason why >any< German cars or French wines are making it into the UK right now?

Surely they should all be held up and be subjected to careful, painstaking, protracted, slow inspection., item by item, to make sure they are consistent with UK law?

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Joe Blow

Because UK GOV did not plan for custom checks.
Is that simple.

Chris Stapleton
Chris Stapleton
1 year ago

The previous Prime Minister’s so called “softer Brexit” was not Brexit. May’s premiership is judged harshly, and rightly so, because she tried to turn Leave into Remain…. which was not a reasonable thing.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago

Your rhetoric aside nothing stopped Hannan and Co from developing a coherent Brexit Plan.
Hannan (public record) would demand triggering A50 ASAP in the fall of 2016 only to whine in 2019 that the UK GOV didn’t take its time to develop a plan.

Jonathan Story
Jonathan Story
1 year ago

Theresa May is the only PM to have governed overtly as a tool of a foreign power. For that reason alone, her record is unforgiveable.https://storybookreview.wordpress.c…

Nigel Clarke
Nigel Clarke
1 year ago
Reply to  Jonathan Story

..and why, in the old days, she and her cohorts would have had to answer charges of treason, and perhaps would have been hanged.

J StJohn
J StJohn
1 year ago
Reply to  Jonathan Story

It was Blair who reneged on his promise to referendum the creation of the United States of Europe. Brown signed us up to that Lisbon Treaty in secret; having forced it though parliament. May wanted to honour the Original UK referendum to be in the single (common) market, while exiting the UE. The Union Europeene were never going to accept that. but she did her best.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 year ago

It is delusional to say anything like “we should never have signed up to the NI Protocol”. Brexit could only happen if there was a solution for NI. There needs to be some closure on that front.

It’s equally daft at this point to pander to the DUP and agitate for renegotiation. The DUP is the only party angling for this, so it’s a non-starter – any solution needs broad cross-party backing in NI as well as from Dublin (and that’s before you even get to Brussels).

The smart thing to do now is for Gove to continue the dialogue with all parties in NI on the one hand and with the Commission on the other and see whether a solution can be worked out to extend the transitional period – or to work out a compromise where controls between NI and GB are loosened up a bit (even after the transition period). The single market is not threatened in any way by British soil on some potatoes or on the wheels of a tractor!

At least if it does this, Britain will have demonstrably done all it can to strike a balance between giving the Protocol a chance while trying to slough off the rough edges to try and keep the Unionists happy.

Whether the EU is willing to meet it halfway remains to be seen. I reckon Maros Sevcovic understands the situation in NI and is a
pragmatic sort who is open to compromises…but others in Brussels
clearly aren’t and are ready to prioritise soil purity over the peace.

The EU has already shown itself ready and willing to mess around and play politics with the Irish border when it suits…so it should not come as a surprise to anyone that it would blindly insist upon the purity of the single market – even when the security situation in NI starts to come unstuck.

Jean Fothers
Jean Fothers
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

You start by saying “it is delusional…” to say what Daniel Hannan wrote in Telegraph.
Then your last 2 paragraphs, you state exactly Hannan’s reasons for writing it.
You sound like an arch remainer having just been shocked by the eu’s mess-up of the covid vaccine saga.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 year ago
Reply to  Jean Fothers

I said it was delusional to say that we should never have signed up to it, which is what Hannan writes in his first sentence. He also says in the sub-heading “we need not put up with it.” Both arguments are bunkum – we had to have the Protocol to get Brexit done. This is not the stuff of arch-remainerdom. This is the stuff of being pragmatic and realising that you are up against a much more powerful entity that dictates to you, wants to make life difficult for you and will retaliate without hesitation if you act in a way it doesn’t like. You have to act smart, not throw your weight around. And in this case, that means sticking with the Procotol you know is flawed until it’s blindingly obvious it cannot work and is causing unrest and sticking with it would be detrimental to the EU.

Hannan is missing that pragmatism. He reminds me of Yanis Varoufakis in “Adults in the Room” – constantly setting out alternative solutions, all thought out and rubber stamped by top experts, and thinking that all he has to do is make the right arguments and a deal will be done. Yet this, like the Greek debacle, isn’t about common sense or about mutually beneficial solutions. This is about the EU being scared of the UK succeeding outside the EU and giving it as hard a time as possible.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

As Charlie Munger says “common sense is uncommon”.
Mutually beneficial solutions sometimes don’t exist. And it certainly didn’t exist in Greece with Yanis.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Explain.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Yanis’s position (have you actually read the book?) was based on fantasy. Yanis (Syriza?) could never deliver on the structural reforms promised to EU.
In the book Yanis is never responsible for anything. He blames the Greek Central bank for the bank run, one of his assistants/advisors is treacherous, the PM is a coward…never Yanis.
Yanis plan to deal with tax evasion….hire foreigners to go undercover in Greek restaurants….need I say more?

J StJohn
J StJohn
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Correct

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

When it comes to NI, EU has always followed the Irish position. I don’t think the French/Germans care much about Belfast. But Ireland does so EU does.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

No one cares about what happens in Ireland out in the rest of the EU. I don’t think anyone really understands the issue and they don’t really want to either. The general reaction to unrest would be to assume that it was Britain’s fault (which the EU-centric media would repeat relentlessly) and beyond that – not to care at all. It’s not on their doorstep after all.

The EU taking the Irish position was a no brainer really…however, what the EU failed to fully appreciate (or chose to ignore, depending on which way you look at it) was that playing a game of “might is right” in NI is the way of absolutely no good whatsoever. The Irish position was pursued in the manner of a steamroller, the interests of the Unionists were no treated as equally deserving. May didn’t do an awful lot to push back on their behalf, she was far too fixated on her own plans. Johnson has been significantly better at knowing when to push for the Unionist cause and when to tell the DUP enough is enough. Although the position he took over from May meant he had to make the best of a bad situation. The result is a flawed, unstable agreement that will collapse at some point – but the UK has to try and make it work first.

My opinion is that the Irish were somewhat instrumentalised by the EU which used the issue of Northern Ireland to pursue its other objectives with the UK (if not frustrating Brexit entirely, then keeping the UK in its regulatory orbit and if not that, then performing a kind of annexation by regulation). The last few weeks have shown very well that peace isn’t really the first priority for the EU.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

It is not unreasonable to point out that Leavers never bothered to develop a plan for Brexit (General) or NI specifically.

The last few weeks have shown very well that peace isn’t really the first priority for the EU.

EU’s debacle NI/Vaccine lasted less than 12 hrs. UK GOV tried to run through its Internal Market Bill for months – so let’s not ignore the facts.

“Might is right” is a cliché because it is true, UK has done the same thing with Ireland.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

My issue with the EU is that it calls itself a peace project and yet doesn’t seem to give a damn about the peace. As far as I know, the UK has never referred to itself as a peace project. So as regrettable as the Internal Markets Bill drama was – it didn’t seem anywhere near as hypocritical as the EU almost erecting a hard vaccine border on the island of Ireland. The fact that they rowed back quickly doesn’t cut any ice with me, I’m afraid.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Leavers cared so much about the Peace process that they :
1) never developed a plan
2) signed on the deal
3) tried to change the deal in less than 1 year.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Jeremy, really, I find it hard to argue with you when so much of that argument is pure whataboutism.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

It is not “pure whataboutism”.
There are 2 sides in the EU/UK negotiation. And the side that pushed for Brexit didn’t develop a plan or care about NI.
You don’t think EU is taking the peace issue seriously – they would disagree based on their public statements. You don’t like EU’s position so it can not possibly be right.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

I understand the EU’s position – that’s something different to liking it.

“You don’t think EU is taking the peace issue seriously – they would disagree based on their public statements.”

Of course the EU is never going to say in its public statements that it doesn’t care about the peace!!! What would you expect???? It’s about reading between the lines and trying to understand the ulterior motives.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Sometimes reading between the lines is not the thing to do.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

With politics, it’s the ONLY thing to do.

Steve Gwynne
Steve Gwynne
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Actually Brexit was and still is an international process.

Your gaslighting is fixated on a narrative in which you can never be wrong.

This is monomania!

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

K E I think you’re right in the sense that the peace project for Johnson was secondary to ‘maintaining the integrity of the UK’. If you interpret ‘maintaining the integrity of the UK’ to mean juggling DUP and ERG interests with the real world to maintain his position in the Conservative Party. The EU did something bloody stupid, spotted it and corrected it. For Johnson it was a deliberate policy – for a long time.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 year ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

That’s not what I was saying. I was saying the peace project was 2nd, maybe 3rd priority for the EU. British politicians completely underestimated the issue as they underestimated pretty much everything. But there again, the EU hasn’t approached the border issue with pragmatism, but very dogmatically, in order to push its other objectives.

“Maintaining the integrity of the UK” is objectively an important part of the peace, as we’re finding out now that the Unionists are feeling progressively more cut off from the UK. Moreover, the integrity of the UK is an important principle of the NIP: see Article 1(2)). However, this seems to be getting ever more eroded, more just something which is written on paper. It is being pushed into the background due to the continued application of certain EU regulations in NI. The NIP is designed to slowly but surely pull NI out of the Union with GB – external to the mechanisms for reunification provided for in the Good Friday Agreement. This is understandably irritating some Unionists and creating instability. And it was, I think, the deliberate policy of the EU all the while – very cleverly concealed and implemented by Barnier & team.

Step back to consider the bigger picture: the rules of the single market are being used to erode the territorial rights of a sovereign state. Or, leaning even further out of the window: for the first time, the single market has been used in the manner of a territory itself: that of a superstate.

J StJohn
J StJohn
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Putin ‘calls himself a peace project’. The EU is a global superpower project. Right now the UK is in the crosshairs. Batten down the hatches!

Ellie Gladiataurus
Ellie Gladiataurus
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Johnson pushed the IMB because he knew the EU would try to screw the UK using NI. I think the bill still has merit. NI deserves better than to be buffeted by the EU’s petulant whims.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago

Johnson pushed the IMB because he knew the EU would try to screw the UK using NI.

He negotiated the deal, signed the deal, he sold it to the country, won an election and decided less than 1 year later to change it.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Threatening with the IMB was exactly what was needed to get the Brexit job done.

Hats off to Frost and Johnson.

Now that’s done we get on with cleaning up the mess that May and the EU created.

Eugene Norman
Eugene Norman
1 year ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

The real problem is in the British attitude to their only land border with the EU. It worked like this:

1) It was totally ignored in the original campaign. The Irish border got no mention whatsoever. The English in particular voted with no regard to the rest of the country.
2) When the conservatives were kept in government by a deal the DUP some acknowledgement had to be made about the protocol, or backstop as it was called then. The DUP didn’t want a border in the Irish Sea, nor on the Island of Ireland. This wasn’t solvable and they eventually withdrew their support. Theresa May resigned. Johnson takes over, and calls a snap election and wins.
3) Johnson wins a majority and gets Brexit done. He does this by ignoring the DUP and puts a border in the Irish Sea. The backstop is now the protocol. Nobody seems to care. Johnson is a hero for getting Brexit done.

Once the customs delays start to happen ( and a admitted mess-up by the EU on vaccines) then the British are enraged again.

Andrew Best
Andrew Best
1 year ago

Theresa may will be judged as one of our worst prime minister’s ever, correctly, as she was willing to keep us in the EU in everything but name.
A failed leader who inspired nothing from no-one.
A very modern politician, useless

Dawne Swift
Dawne Swift
1 year ago

As always it needs to be pointed out that we did not need a free trade agreement. The best option would have been to leave without a trade agreement, to either trade on WTO terms or to slap punitive tariffs on EU goods. The most basic point which Brexiteers made was that the EU has a trading surplus with the UK – they always stood to lose more financially than the UK. And while the Euro politicians, safe aboard their gravy train, would be happy to play politics via a scorched earth policy, the workers of the EU would have rebelled. We can see this happening over the failed EU vaccination policy. EU politicians play politics while ordinary citizens get more and more angry with them.

Paul Hayes
Paul Hayes
1 year ago

It was the hardline Leavers who got (most of) what they wanted, but the Remainers are equally responsible for the outcome. Indeed, their culpability is the greater because their goal ” overturning the result of a referendum ” was undemocratic, while what the ERG’s aim was a just an interpretation of what had been voted for.

Sigh…

Gerry Fruin
Gerry Fruin
1 year ago

Many too and fro comments here, fair enough. But… perhaps a more practical view might be enlightening? Northern Island has always meant ‘trouble’ that I think is a given. Currently a solvable problem of no interest to the majority of EU members is being stirred up by the unelected commission. This handful of bureaucrats are at perhaps three members states direction prodding the Irish to cause border difficulties. And the Northern Island politicians react as they always do. Badly.
What I find dismaying is that as a businessman who worked with companies on both sides of the border at the height of the violence, the simple fact that they are sensible and shrewd people who must be pulling their hair out at this wholly contrived farce.
There are no nicer friendly people than the Irish from both sides of the border in the whole of the EU, what a shame N.I. has politicians at all. They simply do not deserve the power mad fanatics they have to put up with.

Steve Gwynne
Steve Gwynne
1 year ago

Well said 👍.

Remainers and the EU actively fought against common sense, reason and rationalism with emotionalism, judgementalism and bigotry.

If only we could genetically measure levels of evolution. These idiots would be in the range of Imperialist Rome.

James Moss
James Moss
1 year ago

Experience shows it is best just to ignore anything Hannan says. It saves a great deal of time.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago

I would like to paraphrase Dominic Cummings (mostly based on his blog) about Leavers in positions of power:
-they never bothered to develop a plan and referendum was the wrong way to solve the problem.
– during there referendum instead of working they were chasing girls and going hunting/vacation. They went on TV and made absurd statements over and over again.
– after the referendum they never bothered to read government/EU papers on Brexit or develop a coherent policy (think of Bernard Jenkins writing on ConHome that he would not waste a weekend reading May’s Brexit deal). They simply tweeted and made absurd statements (again) on TV. Remember Mark Francois.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

What’s your point in relation to the article Jeremy ?

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Hannan was a Leaver in position of power and influence. He and Co should have developed a Brexit plan.
It is not hard to understand.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

The plan was to leave the EU – equally straightforward.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

The village idiot (or drunk) says things like “equally straightforward”. Responsible/serious people plan for leaving EU.
But your comment makes sense in the light of Brexit crowd (including here) position/performance since 2016.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

What does the village Jeremiah say ?

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

He can only point out the idiocies.

Elizabeth Agarwal
Elizabeth Agarwal
1 year ago

Theresa May was much better than the right wing press will allow.

Stephen Tye
Stephen Tye
1 year ago

No she was not, the worst PM since Heath.

Chris Stapleton
Chris Stapleton
1 year ago

To coin a phrase (and I think I am am being kind) “you must be joking”.