The Irish protocol and state aids

Two highly qualified and experienced lawyers told the Conference (held before the virus restrictions but the comment held over here owing to virus news) that the UK needs to get rid of the Irish protocol one way or another. The current protocol seeks to treat Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK, and in default of a comprehensive borders and trade agreement seeks to lock Northern Ireland into the rules and customs of the EU.

The UK government is right to say it will not place a trade  border   between GB and Northern Ireland. This could be the result of the negotiations achieving a free trade and trade facilitation package that avoids any need for one. Alternatively if there is no trade deal, the UK government could simply refuse to impose one.

Sammy Wilson for the DUP pointed out that  most trade flowing between NI and GB stays within the UK so there is absolutely no  need for checks and tariffs as it moves across the Irish Sea between the two parts of the UK. He also pointed out we have a complex Northern Ireland/ Republic of Ireland border today, with the need to calculate VAT and Excise payments. This is all done with an invisible border, with the tax calculations and payments being made by computer from the truck manifests. There is no need for a person at a border post with a calculating machine taking fivers. It should similarly be possible to handle international trade crossing the North Sea within the UK by electronic means and by payments at international borders.  

The general mood of the conference was the government must keep its word of no new physical customs border between GB and NI, whether by agreement or not. It is difficult to see how the EU could enforce any interpretation they might place on the Withdrawal Agreement to require a GB/NI border in the event of no agreement. This would be an internal matter for a sovereign UK.

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  1. Pominoz
    Posted March 31, 2020 at 5:14 am | Permalink

    Sir John,

    The EU are adopting their usual bullying tactics in this aspect of negotiations. They are trying to create difficulties WITHIN the UK by saying that the restrictions must be precisely detailed, and a commitment made to implement them, prior to proceeding with discussions about an FTA.

    As you say, a sensible FTA would render the restrictions unnecessary, but, just like the phasing of discussions with Theresa May, the EU want to dictate everything. Boris should absolutely resist such manipulation as any ‘give’ would be hailed as capitulation.

    • Sir Joe Soap
      Posted March 31, 2020 at 7:10 am | Permalink

      Unfortunately the die was cast by May. She just caved in.

      Had we left nearly 4 years ago we would now be well into a new system whereby we’d be more sustainable nationally and not having the additional aggravation of having to deal with these people. Any border changes would now be well established.

    • Hope
      Posted March 31, 2020 at 9:08 am | Permalink

      Pominoz, please be realistic. This is May’s servitude plan that Johnson voted for! He claimed Mayhab’s deal was dead but the vast majority of it is his false oven ready meal! Johnson broke his word with the DUP Sammi Wilson and the DUP made that clear.

      The dangers and pitfalls of tenservitude plan were highlighted a long time ago by many eminent people, including the highly qualified lawyer Martin Howe QC who seemed to have backtracked on his original views when he became a candidate MP for the useless Tory party.

      Johnson is very good at three or four word strap lines, but many are false with a dishonest intent to con the public i.e. Die in a ditch, do or die, Mays deal is dead, Brexit is done. Even during the virus daily briefings he claimed Brexit was done! It was a lie. How could it be done when JR is talking about the negotiations!

      It is a bit like the implementation period, transition that transitions nothing. We are in a period of voluntary vassalage signed up by Johnson after he wrote and said publicly, not the current Johnson three word lie Brexit is done.

      I repeatedly asked JR, How much is the UK on the hook for EU liabilities for the virus?

    • Martin in Cardiff
      Posted March 31, 2020 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      Yes, if the UK could just tear up the Good Friday Agreement, and the twenty-seven nations of the European Union just shred the Lisbon Treaty, then there would be rather more room for manoeuvre.

      The Tories have indicated that they are perfectly happy to do the first, – as they did the “pledge” over Scotland’s referendum – but Friends Of Ireland in the US say that they will block a trade deal if they do – to their credit.

      What’s the problem then, eh?

      • Edward2
        Posted March 31, 2020 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

        The South don’t want a border.
        The North don’t want a border the UK Government doesn’t want a border.
        So are you thinking the EU will invade and build a wall?

        • Martin in Cardiff
          Posted April 1, 2020 at 7:30 am | Permalink

          No, but you don’t want unlawful immigrants either.

          The European Union has no responsibility to stop those.

          Now, how are you going to do that?

  2. Peter
    Posted March 31, 2020 at 5:37 am | Permalink

    I think circumstances dictate that the UK just needs to leave the EU on time, on WTO terms now.

    The virus only adds to the existing difficulties of progress on talks.

    The unity and value of the existing 27 member organisation weakens drastically on a daily basis.

    • Ian Wragg
      Posted March 31, 2020 at 7:39 am | Permalink

      The EU is a busted flush. With trade volumes reduced now is an excellent time to walk away. We should then rebuild our economy on self sufficiency.

      • Margaret Howard
        Posted March 31, 2020 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

        Ian Wragg

        “The EU is a busted flush”

        I doubt it. The UK certainly is though. Another Scottish independence referendum will see to that. No doubt Northern Ireland will follow.

        The DUP ‘danegeld’ was a total waste of hard earned taxpayers’ money, as such bribes usually are.

        From ‘the world’s greatest empire’ to a rump England all in practically one century – who would have thought it possible?

        • Edward2
          Posted March 31, 2020 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

          Still no majority for Scottish independence and no polls show Northern Ireland want to go independent.
          No mention of Wales I again notice.

          If they really wish to go independent “rump England” will have 85% of the population and tax revenues and wealth.
          Do you ever think things through Margaret?

    • turboterrier
      Posted March 31, 2020 at 8:30 am | Permalink


      The unity and value of the existing 27 member organisation weakens drastically on a daily basis.

      Totally correct. As much as it will upset some of the readers of this blog I really do think that within the 27 countries left in the EU the last thing on their minds for next few months will be the problem of any rules regarding Northern Ireland. The welfare and health of their own people will be the only priority as it should be. The rate that the virus is taking a hold it could well enter into the scenairio of “last man standing” The people of all the infected nations will be the only voice to be heard.

      • Martin in Cardiff
        Posted March 31, 2020 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

        Any technicality of leaving the European Union is also the last thing on the minds of the sixty-seven million British, except for a few fixated commenters on right wing blogs such as this, and other fanatics.

        The fact that people like John continue to make an issue of such matters just now must make them appear rather strange to most, I think.

        A medical team from China plus supplies has just arrived in the UK to assist in fighting the epidemic, incidentally.

        • Fred H
          Posted March 31, 2020 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

          invited by somebody in Cardiff?

        • Edward2
          Posted March 31, 2020 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

          How do you know that.
          Dud you ask everyone?

    • Hope
      Posted March 31, 2020 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      Mayhab sneaked off at night to collide with the EU in Ireland to agree her underhand N. Ireland agreement in December 2017.

      No right minded person would agree to this based on the historic public mandate to leave the EU. Her servitude plan was to leave in name only. Her behaviour at Chequers, undermining her Brexit team by having man alternative Robbins team and plan- despite promising a leave minister would lead negotiations- she again sneakily changed the written document just before Raab was appointed that she would lead negotiations. Kitkat tapes still not investigated to hide true costs and ties to EU.

      Civil servant Sedwill getting Williamson sacked over Haewei still not openly resolved. Important as we have another senior civil servant trying to get rid of Patel. After all this puts a wedge between UK and US future relations.

    • Martin in Cardiff
      Posted March 31, 2020 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      Yes, a broken back does add to the difficulties of a sprained ankle just a little, doesn’t it?

      • Fred H
        Posted March 31, 2020 at 12:10 pm | Permalink


    • Lynn Atkinson
      Posted March 31, 2020 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      Agreed. And the integrity of the GB and Northern Ireland must be defended unto death! Without the DUP May’s treacherous WA would have been passed and the whole of GB lost. We owe NI everything.

      What I want to know is how we will hold the REPUBLIC/NI border secure against illegal immigrants trying to enter the U.K.

      • Len Peel
        Posted March 31, 2020 at 10:37 am | Permalink

        Lynn, the treachery is that of the Conservative MPs who voted through Boris’s deal which separates NI from GB, something Theresa refused to do!

      • Martin in Cardiff
        Posted March 31, 2020 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

        Good last point Lynn, and quite funny, because the Right have crowed that if the European Union requires tariffs to be collected, then it can erect and maintain the border.

        They might collect tariffs, but they would have no need to stop anyone crossing the border for any other reason.

        So the answer is “not the European Union”.

        • Edward2
          Posted March 31, 2020 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

          Well that’s not correct.
          The WTO set tariffs.
          Not the EU.

          • Martin in Cardiff
            Posted April 1, 2020 at 7:35 am | Permalink

            Read what I wrote, Edward, and reply to that, not to something entirely unconnected.

  3. agricola
    Posted March 31, 2020 at 5:45 am | Permalink

    A sovereign UK does not require any customs borders between it’s component parts. Any information required in relation to VAT or other matters can be exchanged electronically, and it is no business of the EU.

    Any exchange of goods between the UK and the EU can easily be administered electronically just as it is now. The only difference might be in the entirety of the information exchanged, end of story. Smuggling and scamming can be a matter for the law on both sides of the border in cooperation as it is now.

    Making it an issue is merely a ploy by the EU to retain some control over the UK and our future commercial activities. This is totally unacceptable.

    • Anonymous
      Posted March 31, 2020 at 9:39 am | Permalink

      So long as the EU doesn’t starve is back in.

      We’ve concreted over so much arable land remember.

      We did try to tell them not to.

      • agricola
        Posted March 31, 2020 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

        Apart from Poulet de Bresse and Port Salud what in terms of food do they supply us with that we cannot buy from elsewhere or produce ourselves. A great incentive to productivity which I note in many areas we are responding to. Given the freedom to buy from the rest of the World,unencumbered by EU protectionism, we could reduce prices at the till. The only sad thing is that EU producers will suffer and many are not in great shape already.

    • Martin in Cardiff
      Posted March 31, 2020 at 9:56 am | Permalink

      You’ll accept it – and much, much more.

      • outsider
        Posted March 31, 2020 at 11:59 am | Permalink

        Surely “we” rather than “you” Martin.

  4. Corry Evans
    Posted March 31, 2020 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    O dear, you havent read the small print. The Protocol requires checks on goods moving from GB to NI and it is enforceable by English courts as supreme over UK law. You obviously have failed to read Article 4 of the Withdrawal Agreement. Bit late now, its what Boris agreed and it is now law

  5. Len Peel
    Posted March 31, 2020 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    The Protocol doesnt “seek” to treat NI differently, it treats NI differently! And it is directly enforcable by the Commission and the ECJ, look at Art 12 of the Protocol. Did you really not understand the Protocol when you voted for it in the Commons?

    • glen cullen
      Posted March 31, 2020 at 10:52 am | Permalink


  6. BJC
    Posted March 31, 2020 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    The EU Middleman’s appalling handling of the current emergency will make it extraordinarily difficult to justify its relevance once COVID-19 is a distant memory, so I can’t resist asking a mischievous question. How many “Plan B” bi-lateral agreements are being mooted between individual European countries and the UK? Given the EU’s abject failure, European governments would be extraordinarily foolish not to seek alternative arrangements.

  7. dixie
    Posted March 31, 2020 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    NI must be treated the same as the rest of the UK.

    Just leave with no trade deal but remember the attempted meddling by the EU and certain countries into our sovereign territories and internal matters the next time they want or need something.

  8. Bryan Harris
    Posted March 31, 2020 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    What is the official word – Are EU / Brexit / Trade talks on lockdown?

    They shouldn’t be, considering the extent of EU bureaucracy, they should have no reason not to carry on, except to take more of our money and make things difficult for us.

    From our side, there doesn’t have to be a delay – TIME everyone started to use video conferencing while working from home.

  9. Alan Jutson
    Posted March 31, 2020 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    Do not see why goods going to Northern Ireland (for their consumption) should be treated any differently to any other goods going to any other parts of the UK.
    If they are going into Northern Ireland to get to Ireland, and thus across the border, then they should contain the same paperwork as if they were being exported from the UK to France, or indeed any other EU Country.

    • Len Peel
      Posted March 31, 2020 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      Alan, your second sentence explains the question you ask in your first! Exports to NI are not like exports to Wales because NI but not Wales has an unguarded land border with the EU. Boris has sacrificed NI, there now have to be checks between GB and NI, its what he agreed (but Theresa refused)

      • Richard1
        Posted March 31, 2020 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

        this argument is nonsense. it will be an offence to sell any goods from NI to the Republic or any other part of the EU which are illegal there. We do not need a guarded border for that. it is legal to purchase cannabis in the Netherlands but not in Germany. There isn’t a barbed wire fence with watch towers in order to ensure no-one brings their cannabis into Germany from the Netherlands, but it would be an offence to do so.

        • Len Peel
          Posted March 31, 2020 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

          Neths and Ger are in the EU. Outside the EU, you get a border. This is EXACTLY what you voted for. Didnt you know? Did you think nothing would change after Brexit?

          • Richard1
            Posted March 31, 2020 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

            You have not answered the question. There is no need for a border in order to enforce different regs. You havent got an answer have you?

            there will be no border between Northern Ireland and the republic and of course there will be no border between GB and NI.

    • outsider
      Posted March 31, 2020 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      Dear Alan,
      You are right. The problem stems from the interpretation of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in Dublin and Brussels. An abstract border, such as already exists for VAT and duty differences, is deemed equivalent to a physical border and a barrier to trade. In reality, even the abstract border has been rather porous, as it was under the 1921 treaty before the UK and Ireland joined the EEC.
      Similarly, free movement round the British Isles never depended on EU rules.

  10. acorn
    Posted March 31, 2020 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    Good luck with this one JR. The EU wants a border in the Irish Sea. The US Congress wants a border in the Irish Sea, thanks to the influential Friends of Ireland caucus in the U.S. Congress. Irish-U.S. trade in goods and services now exceeds $100 billion annually with some 750 major US corporations with operations in Ireland. The US has a much greater affinity with the Emerald Isle than it does with Britain. How much are you prepared to pay for FTAs with the two largest trading blocs on the planet?

    • outsider
      Posted March 31, 2020 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      Dear Acorn, Sir John can answer for himself.
      I would pay very little for these comprehensive FTAs. It is clear that the EU is still putting a political agenda ahead of some economic priorities in negotiating our future relationship.
      A full FTA with the United States would almost certainly involve legalistic investment rights that would be interpreted unequally (not unlike extradition} and would hamper UK domestic democratic action (fracking being a possible example).
      Much better to start from a WTO baseline and remove step by step any tariffs and trade barriers (such as recognition of standards), as in the old Gatt trade rounds.

      • acorn
        Posted March 31, 2020 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

        Be clear, there is no “negotiating our future relationship” going on. The current talks are for the implementation of the Boris version of the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) that came into force on the 1st of Feb.

        “The parties agreed [Monday 31st March] on the importance for the UK to set out its plans over the coming months with regard to the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.”

        They are not negotiating where the border is going to be, that has already been decided and agreed by both sides in the WA.

        The form of a “future relationship” with the EU, is not on the WA implementation talks agenda.

        • outsider
          Posted March 31, 2020 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

          Sounds as though we shall start 2021 on the WTO baseline then Acorn. Much more positive to start from a low base and build than to keep bickering bitterly and negatively over divorce, don’t you think.

      • Martin in Cardiff
        Posted March 31, 2020 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

        No, it is putting a moral position ahead of both political and economic constructs, as was always its purpose.

        And very good that is too.

  11. ukretired123
    Posted March 31, 2020 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    The CV-19 virus has brought Brussels into sharp focus on how impotent they are when it matters most at a time of crisis to those of us living in the real world. They haven’t a clue how folks live and die.

    Playing politics of division is how EU try to control us.
    Now we are leaving the EUs clutching desperately for any lever.
    Britain has been over-generous for decades propping up this Ponzi scheme housed in the glass palace facade!

  12. Edwardm
    Posted March 31, 2020 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    Quite right.
    If the EU say they won’t agree an FTA without an internal NI GB border, then no deal it is. The EU can do what it likes on the Irish side of the NI border – but its concerns would surely be less if it had a deal. Anyway, most of its concerns are manufactured. We should call the EUs bluff.

    • Martin in Cardiff
      Posted March 31, 2020 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

      Well the European Union might well arrange to collect tariffs there under those circumstances, but would have NO obligation to stop illegal immigrants from crossing into the UK.

      So good luck with that!

  13. Ian @Barkham
    Posted March 31, 2020 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    As already said we need no agreement with the EU other than the Global trading arrangements as set out in the WTO. That is the de-facto EU regulation for any State leaving the block. While there could be those that seek a closer commercial arrangements with the EU, however, those ideals are in the main detrimental to the far greater majority that create the wealth and wellbeing of the UK.

    It could easily be argued the hyper over powered double talk on the so-called Irish situation is just the EU Commission ‘not’ trusting the people on the island of Ireland – period. I would suggest that is the EU Commissions problem, not that of the UK or the people on the island of Ireland. In a free society we don’t need a border, they (the Irish) don’t need a border. So creating one to appease those that are frightened of their own people should not be for the UK to indulge.

    If anything the current Global situation has taught us is that in setting up a protectionist anti competition trading block that is there solely to appease its rulers, it just works against the people, it works against global cooperation and stymies advancement.

  14. nshgp
    Posted March 31, 2020 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    He also pointed out we have a complex Northern Ireland/ Republic of Ireland border today, with the need to calculate VAT and Excise payments.
    Why have you created a complex mess?

  15. Fishknife
    Posted March 31, 2020 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Go, Sammy.

  16. duffle
    Posted March 31, 2020 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    The UK is also a failed construct – it was built on bullying, bribery and coercion – the people certainly had no choice. Am I right or am I right?

  17. John Partington
    Posted March 31, 2020 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    We are heading for a no deal situation which I think is what Boris wanted all along. This will result in a few difficulties to start with but I think, after a few months, the EU will see that it is not beneficial for the block to continue trading on WTO terms. They will seek a trade deal.

  18. Tom Rogers
    Posted March 31, 2020 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    The Conservative government has botched Brexit and you’re now deliberately wrecking the economy on the basis of a mass hysterical panic about a novel form of flu for which the vast majority of people suffer mild or no symptoms. I think discussion of the Irish Protocol is somewhat beside the point. We have other priorities – including the apparent incompetence of the political class and civil service of this country, their propensity for error, and the role of the media towards fomenting hysteria.

    I’m suspicious. You are, mostly, intelligent and highly-educated people. Most of you have been educated at this country’s elite academic institutions. You can’t be this dim. When this is over, I hope investigative journalists and researchers are watching carefully who benefits and profits from the economic re-construction.

  19. rose
    Posted March 31, 2020 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Whatever the Protocol says, the EU and its ECJ are going to interpret it differently from us, so let’s not give them any more power over us. We don’t need it to trade.

    We must keep NI and GB intact. That is the priority, not appeasing Dublin and the Democrats.

  20. Richard1
    Posted March 31, 2020 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Of course there is no need for a border within the UK. What is needed are processes to ensure ‘the integrity’ of the EU single market. so if we start to import american beef and chicken (as I hope we will as i’ve eaten both in America on numerous occasions with no adverse effects & they will probably be cheaper) then we musn’t allow people to sell them on to the EU.

    In any event a key term in the WA is an agreement to seek a full FTA. If the EU frustrates that in bad faith to try to keep the UK as an economic colony then it should be possible to set the whole thing aside.

    • Martin in Cardiff
      Posted March 31, 2020 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

      So you have absolutely no desire to support British farming then? Are there actually any people in the UK whom you europhobics like to see earning a living?

      • Edward2
        Posted March 31, 2020 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

        We import cheap food from the EU which undercuts UK farmers yet you are happy with that.
        It’s an odd position to take.

        • Martin in Cardiff
          Posted April 1, 2020 at 7:40 am | Permalink

          No, the UK tends to both export and import unique, quality produce, eg. Angus beef, quality cereals, and langoustines, and in return fine wines, cheeses, and other prestige produce.

      • Richard1
        Posted March 31, 2020 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

        I am not a europhobic the term is absurd. I see no reason for trade protection of any industry. U.K. farming will be fine.

    • rose
      Posted March 31, 2020 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

      It is not our responsibility to prevent people from selling external goods into the EU’s internal market. It is the EU’s responsibility. Mrs May idiotically took it on as her responsibility but there is no reason to continue with this fallacy.

  21. Murphy
    Posted March 31, 2020 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    Sammy is fighting a rearguard action- he knows full well the Irish border will have disappeared altogether in five years time- it will be in the Irish Sea where it belongs

  22. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted April 1, 2020 at 12:56 am | Permalink

    The Republic of Ireland wants to absorb the north and the EU is backing them because it wants all EU external borders to hard borders. More than ever we will need the magic words: “Ulster says No.”

  23. Christine
    Posted April 1, 2020 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    Where is the EU in this crisis? Where is their leadership? How easily this Union has crumbled in the face of disaster. Will Italy ever forgive their abandonment in their hour of need? When this is over there will be a reckoning and it won’t be pretty. We should be running away as fast as we can.

  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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