Sense and Sensibility

He is a perpetual fountain of good sense;
learned in all sciences; and therefore speaks properly on all subjects.

Maybe I’m seeing this in too simplified a way, but what we appear to have coming out from government is an outbreak of the sensibles.

I’ll give you a moment to digest that, pick yourself up from the floor, right your chair and carry on reading…

The mess that was begun when the UK voted – by a small margin let’s not forget – to leave the EU six and a half years ago, has moved a step closer to a workable solution.

The Windsor Framework means that trade between parts of the United Kingdom, say, Leicestershire and Londonderry, will be made easier because there won’t be reams and reams of paperwork to complete. On the other hand, trade between parts of the United Kingdom and a nation that is still part of the European Union, say, Leicestershire and Limerick, will still be subject to certain customs declarations and paperwork.

The problem with the post-Brexit attempts thus far is that they undermined the Good Friday Agreement. That Agreement was hard fought, and hard won, and too important to be thrown out with the rush to Get Brexit Done. The last episode of the exquisite Derry Girls really brings that home. One of the problems with the whole mess was that the most vocal advocates for Brexit – Johnson, Gove, I’m looking at you – didn’t understand the implications of Brexit for the Good Friday Agreement. Or worse, they did but didn’t care. You choose.

This was one of the issues that did for Teresa May, and, had we not had Covid, the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill that Boris Johnson was so determined to push through would probably have put the lid on his premiership.

Remember in the heady pre-Covid, pre-Brexit days when you could wander back from the BMF/NMBS Conference and simply head through the blue channel at customs? We’re not getting that back quite, but the idea of a dedicated channel for goods going to Northern Ireland and one for those going elsewhere just makes as much sense as any of this can.

Under the Protocol we had lengthy paperwork, under the Windsor Framework Green Channel there is a simple digital declaration. Sausages (other food stuffs are available) can now be imported from Cumberland to Cookstown, without needing to be physically checked, unless there’s a suspicion of fraud, smuggling or disease. See – more sensible stuff. Aunt Agatha in Basildon can now send her nephew in Ballymena his Christmas present without having to fill in a customs declaration. Shrubs, trees and seed potatoes that were banned under the Protocol can now move easily with the expansion of the Plant Passport scheme. There are plenty of building materials too that can now be transported to and fro without the massive administrative headache that would be caused by a border in the Irish Sea – no matter how virtual it would be.

The press conference yesterday with the Prime Minister and Ursula Von der Leyen was noticeable for its positivity. There was no Boris-bombast, promising the electorate that he would show the EU who’s boss, push through Brexit, and to hell with the consequences. Instead we had “dear Rishi”, coming across as a slightly nervous, bouncy, enthusiastic head boy of a minor public school welcoming the head teacher of the girls’ school that has merged with the sixth form.

It does of course need signing off by MPs and the devolved government in Belfast. But after all this time, why wouldn’t you?

If it doesn’t get through, then it’ll be because the nay-sayers want it, and us, to fail. Which will say rather more about them than about the rest of us.


About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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