WHEN the United Kingdom officially left the European Union this year, Ireland entered into the next stage of our relationship with our closest neighbour. Negotiations on a future trade agreement between the UK and the EU are currently ongoing, with an agreement required by October 31 in order for it to be in place by January when the transition period comes to a close.

While negotiations on a trade deal have at times been fraught, we have rarely seen such a blatant disregard for commitments made by the UK as we have seen over recent days.

Before the UK left the EU, months were spent negotiating the Withdrawal Agreement and the Northern Irish protocol. This protects Ireland from a hard border and also provides assurances in the areas of citizens’ rights and Britain’s financial obligations.

The Withdrawal Agreement is not an optional set of guidelines for the British Government to pay heed to, but rather a treaty that has been ratified by the current British Government which is now seeking to undermine it, or possibly abandon it.

This week, the British Government is due to publish legislation that will attempt to override the Withdrawal Agreement and the Northern Irish protocol in the areas of state aid, fisheries and customs and tariffs in Northern Ireland. This is a reckless decision that not only puts the border in Northern Ireland at risk by once again opening the door to border checks or a potential hardening of the border, but indeed, puts peace on the island of Ireland at risk also.

To think the British Government is prepared to shirk its responsibilities to not one but two international agreements to sate domestic political concerns in England is very worrying.

What would potential partners think of the UK when it seems so willing to turn its back on agreements, particularly ones which have peace at the heart of them?

We have also heard of the British Government putting pressure on Ireland to make side-line deals regarding the land bridge and bring these to the EU for consideration.

The fact of the matter is, and always has been, that Ireland does not negotiate bilaterally with the UK. The EU negotiates as one and this fact will not change. Ireland is the EU, Michel Barnier is our negotiator.

Given the economic consequences of the pandemic, it is incredible to see Prime Minister Johnson report that a No-Deal Brexit “would be a good outcome for the UK”.

The so-called Australian-style deal is a No-Deal Brexit by another name and will see the UK trade with the EU on World Trade Organisation rules, indeed the same as Australia, but also by any other non-member, be it Mongolia or Somalia. The country that will be impacted most by a No-Deal Brexit is undoubtedly the UK itself, and the businesses and citizens who have been adversely impacted by the economic uncertainty of the past few months.

The UK must come to terms with what it has agreed to. It agreed and ratified the Withdrawal Agreement, indeed it negotiated the agreement, and now it must stand up to the commitments it made to its own people and those who reside within the UK. To put the security and livelihoods of the people of Northern Ireland at risk for political gain is beyond irresponsible and is incredibly worrying.

Brexit will have a huge impact on all four nations of the UK and yet the discourse and negotiation has largely been driven by England. By the British Government not involving the nations more directly in the Brexit process, it has put confidence in the Government at risk, especially in Scotland and in Northern Ireland. The longer-term consequences of leaving the nations out of this discourse is not yet known, but English nationalism rarely ends well.

As things stand, a deal must be presented by October 31 in order to be in place in January, when the transition period comes to an end. The likelihood of a deal being agreed has dwindled over the months and is now less likely than ever. Whether the outcome is a bad deal, or indeed a No Deal, the people who will suffer the most are the British people who will only have their own Government to blame.

Neale Richmond was elected as a TD for Dublin Rathdown in the 2020 General Election