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Analysis

Brexiters embarrassed as hijacking of NI Bill backfires

by Nick Kent | 22.10.2018

Tory MP Steve Baker has pulled amendments he tabled to an emergency Bill on Northern Ireland being debated this Wednesday. The backbench Brexiter ringleader certainly has egg on his face. But the mere attempt at this abortive bid to frustrate Theresa May’s deal with the EU shows a deeper contempt for the people of Northern Ireland.

Baker’s excuse for ditching his amendments was that debating them would have interfered with the Bill’s tight timetable and this would “not be in the public interest”. It is likely that even some of Baker’s allies were uneasy with the way these wrecking amendments – for that’s what they were – muddled the issues of May’s Brexit deal, the peace process, and cross-community power sharing in Northern Ireland.

The purpose of the government’s Bill is to deal with the power vacuum created by the collapse of Northern Ireland’s power sharing executive in March 2017. It is necessary following a decision of the court of appeal, which declared previous arrangements unlawful.

Baker’s amendments were designed to prevent the implementation of an agreement between the UK and EU which treats Northern Ireland differently within the UK. The same tactics were used successfully by the Brexiters with the Taxation (Cross border Trade) Bill previously, when they bullied ministers into accepting amendments that could block a deal with the EU.

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But even if Baker’s amendments were to become law and the Northern Ireland executive was to take office again, they would still not have given the DUP a veto at Stormont over the Irish border “backstop” agreement with the EU. Relations with the EU are a matter for Westminster and not Stormont. What’s more, there is a need for cross-community support in Northern Ireland’s assembly.

The sole purpose of Baker’s amendments was to make it more difficult for the government to reach agreement with the EU.

But by creating an obstacle to the passage of this emergency legislation – without which the Police Service of Northern Ireland will continue to be unable to fill vacant senior officers’ posts – Baker was showing a cavalier disregard for the people of Northern Ireland.

The Brexiters have all too often been dismissive of the importance of Northern Ireland’s concerns. They have either suggested that there isn’t a problem with the border, or argued that any difficulties can be solved through the use of untried technology. Some have even argued that the UK could declare the border open and not have any checks along it.

People who voted Leave may be surprised to discover that far from advocating taking back control of the Irish border, Brexiters propose instead to leave it open to people smugglers, drug traffickers, tax dodgers and others who would exploit such a situation for their own ends.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe