It’s been quite the week for immoral, irresponsible and potentially illegal Tory policies – and it’s only Tuesday morning. Yesterday evening, the government published its Northern Ireland protocol bill, which seeks to amend the protocol that governs Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trading arrangements. Throughout the day, criticism of the proposed legislation flooded in. Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy accused ministers of “tearing up” the protocol and damaging Britain’s reputation internationally. An open letter to Boris Johnson signed by a majority of Northern Ireland assembly members stated that they rejected the UK government’s plans “in the strongest possible terms”. European Commission vice president Maros Šefčovič warned that such unilateral action is “damaging to mutual trust”.
The EU has already said it plans to launch legal action against the UK for its failure to adhere to the protocol, deepening concerns about a potential trade war. Legal experts have also challenged the government’s claim that the “complex and unique” circumstances in Northern Ireland make reneging on the Brexit deal a “necessity” and, by extension, “justified as a matter of international law”. On the broadcast round this morning, Lucy Powell accused ministers of “pressing the nuclear button”, stressing that the Northern Ireland protocol was a “fundamental” part of the withdrawal agreement that the Prime Minister negotiated. “It’s his deal. He signed on the dotted line,” the Shadow Culture Secretary told Sky News viewers.
The government has also faced a series of legal challenges in recent weeks over its plan to offshore asylum seekers in Rwanda. The first flight under the scheme is due to depart this evening. Successful legal action by various organisations has so far reduced the number of asylum seekers expected to be on board from 37 to seven. On Sky News this morning, Powell described the Rwanda deal as “unethical” and “un-British”. She argued that the policy was designed to be “deliberately controversial” to draw attention away from other problems the government is currently facing.
Lammy made a similar argument about the Northern Ireland protocol bill, describing it as a “desperate attempt” on the part of Boris Johnson to “distract” from his “leadership crisis”. The current blitz of highly controversial government policies may serve this purpose. But at some point, it has to be acknowledged that the government is actually just making policy – ‘getting on with the job,’ as Johnson likes to say – as shocking as many of its proposals may be. After all, this is a government that has presented bill after bill undermining democratic freedoms at home and dragged our international reputation through the mud. As the saying goes, when someone shows you who they are, believe them.Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.