Theresa May’s ‘biggest Brexit mistake’ laid bare as ex-PM let own MPs ‘scupper her deal’

Theresa May rubbishes Brexit protocol change

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Talks on the Northern Ireland Protocol continue to falter, despite it being almost six years since Britons voted to leave the EU. The latest rounds have seen London negotiators again threaten to trigger Article 16 and those from Brussels reportedly signalling the launching of a trade war if they do.

A debate on the Protocol revealed what has been dubbed Mrs May’s “biggest mistake” regarding the position of Northern Ireland.

Speaking in the Commons after the Queen’s Speech on May 10, the former prime minister said it “would not be the right move for the [current] Government” to unilaterally vary the terms of the treaty.

She suggested this may help with some immediate issues but would damage the country in a “wider sense”, including “what such a move would say about the UK and its willingness to abide by treaties that it has signed”.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson of the Democratic Unionist Party interjected that it was more important that Whitehall moves to uphold the ‘Good Friday’ agreement.

Mrs May returned: “I put a deal before the House that met the requirements of the Good Friday agreement and enabled us not to have a border down the Irish sea or between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

“Sadly, the DUP and others across the House chose to reject that, but it was an opportunity to have what the right honourable Gentleman wanted.”

Boris Johnson was famously among those “across the House” who rejected Mrs May’s measures, though she did not directly lay this out in last week’s debate.

This, according to Professor Meg Russell and Lisa James, was indicative of her “biggest” failing at the time of her premiership.

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They wrote in UK in a Changing Europe (UKCE): “In retrospect, one of May’s biggest mistakes was that her commitment to keeping her party together prevented her from publicly criticising those within it who repeatedly scuppered her deal.”

They added: “But while DUP members clearly have some culpability, Johnson and his allies bear even more.

“While the fault for negotiating an alternative deal so unacceptable to the DUP, and destabilising for Northern Ireland, lies with Johnson alone.”

Mrs May’s proposed deal was rejected, in a number of forms, on numerous occasions.

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The UKCE authors highlighted that the Government “agreed in the interests of [Conservative] party unity to embark on further negotiations”, but these were also ultimately unsuccessful.

Lawyer Peter Stefanovic described this more as a failing of current the prime minister than of Mrs May.

He wrote in a post on Twitter that the UKCE article offered a “perfect analysis of how Boris Johnson recklessly engineered the mess we are now in”.

When Mr Johnson embarked on his own round of negotiations, he insisted “there will be no border down the Irish Sea – over my dead body”.

Now, under the Protocol negotiated by his Brexit Minister and signed by himself, goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland (that is, from one part of the UK to another) must undergo checks.

And after years of talks, Brussels appears unwilling to move any further.

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