Richard North, 12/05/2021  

Prime minister Johnson is now so grand that he can get the Queen to deliver his lies for him although, unlike the politician whose words she was mouthing, she didn't have to raid the dressing up box in order to speak in public.

But significant omission in the Queen's Speech was any mention of Brexit. "My Government's priority", the Queen intoned, in a voice which seemed to convey a distinct lack of enthusiasm, "is to deliver a national recovery from the pandemic that makes the United Kingdom stronger, healthier and more prosperous than before".

By focusing solely on the pandemic, and the economic recovery from its botched management – so say nothing of rebuilding the NHS – Johnson might think he has "swerved" (to use Cummings favourite) the worst political effects of his equally botched Brexit settlement, but the likelihood is that the fun – if that's what you want to call it – has only just begun.

Few serious commentators will deny that the effects of the pandemic have concealed or delayed the worst effects of Brexit. And, if this is the case, it is as the government and nation move into recovery mode, the confounding layer will be gradually stripped away and the actual impact of Brexit many start to become more apparent.

Also, since the legacy media will be deprived of what has become its staple diet for nearly eighteen months, it will be less able to ignore the Brexit train wreck as it struggles to find new material to fill the gaps. In the months to come, the annals of Brexit may again become a thing.

Needless to say, there will be plenty of competition to keep the media entertained, and Johnson has thrown a few bones in its direction to keep it occupied and diverted, especially with his promise to introduce legislation "to ensure the integrity of elections" – widely interpreted as meaning a compulsory requirement for voter ID.

On the Brexit front, a small clue pointing to the shape of things to come arrives with the news that the UK government has warned that "the special Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland as they stand are unworkable".

This, of course, we all knew already, but only now is Johnson beginning to square up to the very personal mess he made of the Northern Ireland Protocol, and is thrashing around in an attempt to compensate for his own incompetence.

Thus, through his tame hatchet-man, the ennobled David Frost - after a visit to meet business leaders in Belfast – has urged the EU to take a "pragmatic approach" in ongoing talks. With a hint of menace which may yet backfire on him, he blusters that the UK would "continue to consider all our options"” in relation to the protocol, which in the past has included unilateral action to suspend it in part.

"It’s clear from my visit that the protocol is presenting significant challenges for many in Northern Ireland", Frost adds: "Businesses have gone to extraordinary efforts to make the current requirements work, but it is hard to see that the way the protocol is currently operating can be sustainable for long".

Frost's statement, we are told, suggests he believes there is more scope for movement on the Brussels side in relation to dropping some of the checks on supermarket food and plants "that unionists see as an attack on the union between Northern Ireland and Great Britain".

However, what is seen from London and Belfast as possible room for manoeuvre, is apparently seen very differently in Brussels. There, sources insist the talks "are not negotiations" as the protocol "is a direct consequence of the hard Brexit Boris Johnson had opted for".

Diplomatic sources also say that the UK has ruled out the most helpful option of aligning food standards with those of the EU, a stance which has been with us in May's Lancaster House speech in January 2017.

And even then, the possible benefits of alignment have been vastly over-stated, with the fool Shanker "Snake Oil" Singham claiming that it could see a reduction of about 90 percent of documentary checks and 98 percent of physical checks conducted at the border.

This is according to his recent select committee evidence, where he is cited as one of the government's key advisers in the Brexit negotiations on the Irish border question. If that really is the case, and he is a "key adviser", then we are so totally screwed that there is no hope left for us.

So far, agreement has been limited to a pathetic handful of items including waivers for guide dogs and for pedigree livestock crossing the Irish Sea, but the next area of talks is centring on the potential for checks exclusively on food and other goods going into Northern Ireland from Great Britain which are considered "at risk" of crossing the border into the Republic.

The Guardian reports that "experts" have also suggested a food standards agreement "similar to that operating between New Zealand and Australia", which indicates that the people we're dealing with certainly aren't experts – any more than is Singham.

This is somewhat borne out by "insiders" in Brussels, who say this idea has not even been requested by the UK. In any case, they say, "it would not be 'a silver bullet' as it covers individual products rather than the broad range of food that crosses the Irish sea".

Actually, if it is the arrangement similar to that operating between Australia and New Zealand, this – as I pointed out in an earlier piece, would require agreeing a joint system for determining food standards and then adopting common food standards, in a system not that dissimilar to that operated by the EU.

Since the idea of common standards (which would mean adopting, in perpetuity, the EU acquis) has already been rejected by the Johnson administration, then it is hardly surprising that a similar arrangement is not being pursued.

That brings a dose of reality from the Irish Independent, lacking in the Guardian piece.

Under the headline, "Food exporters face yet more Brexit disruption with new rules", with the sub-heading: "UK is not willing to keep its food rules aligned with EU", it spells out the consequences of the lack of pragmatism on the part of the UK government.

Referring to the Irish government, this paper states that its agencies have warned business to prepare for new UK customs checks in October, and is "playing down the prospects of a veterinary deal".

With that, the Department of Agriculture expects a quadrupling of requests for export health certificates to allow food and drink manufacturers to export to Great Britain and to use the land bridge to get goods to the EU, as the rules are phased in from October 1, following a decision by the UK to delay the original deadline from this summer.

We are assured that the EU has repeatedly floated the idea of a veterinary agreement like the deals it has in place with New Zealand, Canada and Chile. These do slim down the number of physical checks required on animal products, although there are major differences in extent, as between the deals with the different countries.

But, as Hazel Sheridan, head of import controls for the Department of Agriculture, confirms: "The conclusion of a vet agreement with the UK depends on the UK government agreeing to keep its food safety and animal health rules permanently aligned to EU rules, something that to date the UK government has indicated it is not prepared to do".

Thus, we are effectively back where we started, with no progress possible. Eventually, this must come to a head, at which point the Johnson administration may encounter a brick wall which it cannot surmount. No amount of bluster is going to get the prime minister out of this mess.

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