I was asked a few times yesterday where I saw discussions on the Northern Ireland protocol heading, and the simple answer is that we're right now in an unsatisfactory but not completely unstable equilibrium between all parties, which could endure. politico.eu/article/brusse…
The EU thinks the UK is not implementing the protocol properly, taking account of EU flexibility, but ultimately should align. The UK thinks the EU is not implementing the protocol properly, taking account of UK implementation, and ultimately should allow a border free-for-all.
As long as the UK does not invoke Article 16 or the EU more serious legal action, then they can uncomfortably for both sides carry on as is - both unhappy it isn't being done to their specification, but both in particular not upsetting the US by going further.
The UK is more vulnerable if it goes further, as it clearly has no international support for doing so, and stands to lose more. Which is why it so far hasn't. But that also leaves a difficult task in managing unionist sensitivities, which maybe a role for inflammatory proposals.
Now all of this could be wrong, because nobody likes this Northern Ireland protocol equilibrium very much. Not everyone involved, on both sides, fully understands all the issues. But given many likely alternatives are even worse, we may just be stuck as is.
Meanwhile yesterday's UK government 'proposals' can join some sort of museum of badly thought out and unworkable Northern Ireland proposals, of which there are many, some by them, some by all the pro-Brexit groups. I fear there will be many more to come.
A final word on Northern Ireland to those I think of as the stars of the show, the local business community, who try with not a great deal of political help to keep the show on the road, and by and large succeed terrifically. If only everyone else involved could take their lead./

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More from @DavidHenigUK

21 Jul
The UK government's Northern Ireland statement in short - rewrite history as to how we got here, whinge about the impact with a handful of select figures, suggest preposterous and shallow honesty scheme to replace almost the entire protocol, threaten Article 16 later.
It is another fundamentally unserious document from the UK government with regard to Northern Ireland, taking the debate backwards and lowering trust. Obviously the proposals would be unacceptable to anyone, which leads to what happens in September. Conflict or climbdown?
Teaser alert - the largest section in the UK government's Northern Ireland command paper is on how we got to the current position. In case that provides a clue as to whether the emphasis is more on self-justification or practical solutions.
Read 22 tweets
21 Jul
Insofar as I've been able to read until the paywall kicks in, more on the rapidly changing global trade debate, in which conditionality is increasingly threatening non-discrimination (although they may not be mutually exclusive) - driven by the EU and US.
It is the contrast between the active global trade debate on conditionality, and the UK's nice tariff and market distortion obsessions that is so disappointing. We could have played a part in the debate, as a new entrant, but chose instead to look back 50 years.
A sensible UK contribution to the new debate on conditional trade would have been to accept the necessity, but insist on the retention of broad principles such as non-discrimination and open trade. In other words, to use open trade to incentivise positive results.
Read 6 tweets
21 Jul
No better evidence of the extent to which UK trade thinking is outdated and out of kilter with global thinking than this Board of Trade report on Green Trade. As the EU and US discuss carbon border taxes, we propose, well nothing really... gov.uk/government/pub…
In so far as there is an argument in this Board of Trade report, it seems to be that reducing tariffs can encourage green trade because of specialisation. Which is not necessarily true (or false), new, or in any way groundbreaking.
In the trade policy community the particular joke on the UK government is that everything has to be connected to "anti-competitive market distortions", a simplistic universal notion pushed by a couple of advisers, dismissed as obvious and unimportant everywhere else.
Read 5 tweets
21 Jul
Marks and Spencer did not have a good Brexit transition, failing to get products to stores in France, and it looks like the reason might be that the Chairman does not understand international trade or the EU. bbc.co.uk/news/business-…
You wonder how much of the farce of repeated unacceptable UK government proposals on Northern Ireland are related to thinking the EU does borders wrong, even though only within the EU do you get no border checks, and every other country has them.
Simon tries to put a brave face on the farce, imagining what if someone had a bright idea that might resolve the NI protocol - well then we'd need to convince the EU... which is of course not happening.
Read 8 tweets
20 Jul
Weird interview. Not feeling better about the past, present, or future of this government. But as to who did what when, no idea...
Struggling to work out how leaving the EU to take back control and make things better was consistent with then putting someone you know to be hopeless as Prime Minister.
The gulf between the Cummings big picture and his detail is vast enough to explain rather a lot, from Brexit to covid to Johnson.
Read 4 tweets
20 Jul
To be honest 'new thinking' or indeed just 'thinking' would be welcome from the UK government with regard to the Northern Ireland protocol, as compared to the usual shallow analysis, reheated leftovers and empty threats. Expectations low.
As a believer in precedent in international relations I have a strong feeling I'm not going to enjoy the UK's latest proposal on Northern Ireland tomorrow.
As predicted on Northern Ireland, same old UK government denial of trade issues and threats to breach treaty laughably called a “wholesale change of approach”. Two years, same nonsense repeatedly. ft.com/content/c82a5d…
Read 11 tweets

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