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The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

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Spearheading the intellectual battle against the EU. And for new thinking in international affairs.

HeatON-Harris to Deliver on Protocol - The Union is Under Threat


The appointment of Chris-Heaton Harris as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was greeted warmly by unionists, ever hopeful that at long last we would have a Secretary of State who cared as much about protecting the rights of unionists as those of nationalists.

Moreover, there was a great hope that this UK Government would break with the sycophantic obsession, inherent in every Government since 1985, to avoid- at all costs- doing anything which would meet with the disapproval of the Irish Government. Put simply, appeasement of Irish nationalist interests has been a key policy objective for over three decades. At some point, one hopes, that would end.

It seems it won't however end with Chris Heaton-Harris. In his first weeks in post, his focus has been threatening the DUP with an election, to try and leverage them into accepting the continuation of the Protocol (at least in the short term) and fawning over Simon Coveney in a manner which is, to be frank, embarrassing.

After a gentle walk in the park, Mr Heaton-Harris gushingly described his engagement with Simon Coveney as "fantastic". This comes after he so impressed Sinn Fein, they warmly praised their meeting with him.

Let us get some perspective. The Irish Government used the potential for IRA bombs as political leverage to secure the Protocol. The Protocol has the effect (determined by the High Court and Court of Appeal) of "subjugating" the Acts of Union. As a matter of law, the Acts of Union is the Union.

In the here and now the Irish Government demand 'negotiation', but the purpose- they say- is to secure an outcome within the framework of the Protocol. In short, let us negotiate how much ill-gotten sovereignty the Irish/EU may retain over Northern Ireland.

If a robber breaks into your home and plunders your possessions, you do not negotiate for the return of some of your possessions. To do so would be to reward the thief.

In equal terms, a 'negotiation' which starts from the premise that the status quo is legitimate is an absurdity. The Protocol is an existential threat to the sovereignty of the United Kingdom, its removal isn't (or at least shouldn't be) a matter for 'negotiation' or pleading 'Please Sir may we have our country back'.

It is embarrassing and pathetic that the Government seems unable to actually stand up to the Irish Government and EU when it really comes to the crunch.

And despite all the promises of the Government, the evidence of duplicity is all around us. Not one week ago the Government argued in the High Court of Northern Ireland that the UK "was no longer a unitary state" and urged the court to interpret the reference to the UK territory within Regulation 2017/625 (which applies because of the Protocol) as applying only to Great Britain, with Northern Ireland being treated as the entry point into the European Union. That is a matter of which all Conservative and Unionist elected representatives, and voters should be aware.

This was followed by the publication of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill. The purpose of this was to strip out EU Law from the UK statute book. But yet, buried away in Clause 1 (5) Northern Ireland is excluded.

In addition to that, the Government are going to the Supreme Court to defend the Protocol on 30 November and 1 December in Allister et al. They are defending the very same Protocol they publicly and privately claim impinges upon the sovereignty of the United Kingdom.

Just like the Protocol itself which at Article 4 proclaims boldly Northern Ireland's status as part of the UK internal market, and then in Article 5 effectively makes Northern Ireland "more part of the EU market than the UK" (the words of Lord Justice McCloskey in Allister et al before the Court of Appeal), this Government says one thing but does another.

Chris Heaton-Harris, in his eagerness to elevate the wishes of nationalism and the Irish Government over those of unionists, seems to forget one thing about the Belfast Agreement he trumpets: It requires unionist participation, and whilst the Protocol remains, that won't be forthcoming.

The NIO may want to consider that and rather than expending all their capital on placating nationalism, remember that without unionism the Belfast Agreement can not operate.

In equal terms, our new Secretary of State seems to think it is within the gift of the DUP, if he pressures them enough, to effectively surrender on behalf of unionism and restore power-sharing with the Protocol (or some form it still) still intact. He is very much mistaken.

The DUP are there to discharge the duty of the mandate they have been given by their electorate, which is the vast majority of unionism in Northern Ireland. The mandate of 'power sharing or the Protocol' can also be taken to include TUV votes (over 60,000) which endorses that message.

Taken together over 265,000 people voted for the DUP, TUV and PUP- all of whom stood on the express commitment that there would be no unionist participation in power-sharing arrangements until the Protocol was removed (not promised to be removed- but actually removed).

Who does our Secretary of State supposes political unionism fears more, him and his threat to call an election, or the unionist electorate who gave a very clear instruction to our elected representatives?

The only way in which an election would present a problem for the DUP would be if they betrayed the instruction they were given by their electorate - namely, there should be no power-sharing until the Protocol is removed.

In all other circumstances, unionism will rally behind the party and its continued strong stance. Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Jim Allister KC and other elected representatives of the DUP, TUV and PUP are being cheered in the streets.

At the Northern Ireland centenary parade Sir Jeffrey was given applause, cheers and encouragement to stand firm. I have never, in my adult life, seen such support for the DUP.

It is worth remembering that the DUP were plummeting in the polls when they were implementing the Protocol; their support vastly increased once they collapsed the Executive and took a strong stance against it.

This was then rewarded by the support the party received in the May election, and most recent polls have shown that far be it from softening, the position of the unionist electorate is hardening against power sharing.

Put simply, the Secretary of State should (quickly) grasp the reality of the situation. There will be no consideration of power-sharing in Northern Ireland, regardless of whether the apocalypse is threatened, until the Protocol is removed and the Acts of Union restored.

The DUP were elected on that mandate, so expecting them to forgo it is asking them to betray their own base. I would imagine (and hope) they would not be foolish enough to do so.

In 1985 the late Harold McCusker stood up in the House of Commons, after the betrayal of unionism via the Anglo-Irish Agreement and said these immortal words:

"Does the prime minister realise that, when she carries the agreement through the House, she will have ensured that I shall carry to my grave with ignominy the sense of the injustice that I have done to my constituents down the years – when, in their darkest hours, I exhorted them to put their trust in this British House of Commons which one day would honour its fundamental obligation to them to treat them as equal British citizens?"

In 2022, unionist MPs will no doubt remember that lesson that was etched in the soul of unionism by Harold McCusker. There will be no "trusting" the Government, or urging the unionist electorate to do the same. It is only action which will suffice.

That is why there will be no power sharing, at all, until: (i) the Protocol Bill is law; (ii) a commencement order is laid and (iii) satisfactory regulations are laid to replace the Protocol in a manner consistent with the Acts of Union. 

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