Slaves to the Northern Ireland Protocol

NI protocol

This week we examine claims about the supposedly beneficial effects of the Northern Irish Protocol, and the claim by Clement Beaune that migrants are attracted to Britain by the prospect of working in our supposed system of ‘modern slavery’.

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A recent piece in the Financial Times’ Britain After Brexit newsletter reported on faster economic recovery in Northern Ireland – along with (surprisingly) relatively favourable coverage of the UK’s new subsidy regime.  It suggests that this result makes it harder for Boris Johnson and David Frost to argue that the Northern Ireland Protocol is making life difficult for the region’s businesses – one of the key arguments for triggering Article 16.

However, recent studies suggest that such gains are illusory.  According to one study, over 80% of any Brexit-related hit to Northern Ireland’s economy will come from non-tariff barriers (such as customs declarations and EU regulations) to goods trade between the province and the rest of the UK.  Total damage could reduce GDP by between 1.5% and 3.5%.

As we’ve covered many times before, NI suppliers face real difficulties in sourcing goods from the UK, and the EU’s proposed easements will do very little to remedy the situation.

As Julian Jessup argues on Twitter, moreover, though Northern Ireland’s economy did hold up better in 2020, that result is largely down to the outsize role of public sector spending in its regional economic balance.  (Indeed, the FT even acknowledged this in its longer piece covering the same issue.)  The region’s exports also suffered more compared to England’s.

Moreover, in 2021, when the Protocol was actually in place, NI performed relatively less well compared to other UK regions.  Though this may simply be the result of other regions catching up on lost output, it does suggest that Single Market membership has had little discernible positive impact on economic performance.

Misinformation on Modern Slavery

In relation to Northern Ireland, Emmanuel Macron continues to amp up his rhetoric.  The French president has recently referred to the Northern Ireland Protocol as ‘existential’ for Europe and ‘a matter of war and peace’ for Ireland and allegedly called Boris Johnson a ‘clown’ in private.  The lack of interest in pro-EU media in highlighting such extraordinarily provocative behaviour speaks volumes about the double standards applied to domestic and EU politicians.  The latter, it seems, can do no wrong.

The same is true of coverage of Macron’s Europe Minister, Clement Beaune, who recently suggested that migrants were trying to get to the UK in order to work in Britain’s supposedly flourishing black market in a system of ‘modern slavery’.  These comments were also echoed by Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin.

These bizarre, knowingly incendiary claims was quickly debunked in the French press.  As Le Monde points out, black market working was higher in France than in the UK in 2017, when the last comparative EU Commission study was published.  UK employers are also required to conduct immigration status checks on their employees – which some obviously fail to do, but seemingly in fewer numbers than countries like France which require ID cards.

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