THE UK bill which will over-ride the Northern Ireland Brexit Protocol was meant to have been published by now. Stakeholders in NI have apparently seen it in draft form but the delay in releasing it to the rest of us seems to have two main causes.

The first is an outbreak of nerves among some in the UK Cabinet. They are apparently concerned that it is not only illegal but that its current terms will close off any final chance of Brexit compromise, leaving Boris Johnson without wriggle room to claim victory.

Liz Truss, however, is desperate to put the present hardline draft on the table at Westminster. She wants to burnish her credentials with the Tory Brexiteer MP selectorate who are likely to be choosing a new leader before the end of the year.

The second is a refusal to compromise by the Democratic Unionist Party. The abominable “no men” of Unionism will go on preventing the newly elected NI Assembly to function unless a bill is in progress which essentially abolishes the protocol. Nothing less will do.

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The Good Friday Agreement was about power sharing and consensus, not manipulation by means of threats and blackmail, which gives the lie to any claim by any party to be intent on “saving the agreement” if these are the techniques they choose to use. Equally dishonest are the words from Conor Burns, the UK junior NI Minister, who said any unilateral change to the protocol would be mere “recalibration”.

That is another lie. The action would be an affront to the international rule of law.

On that matter the EU could not be clearer.

The Taoiseach, Micheal Martin (below), speaking at the European Parliament on Wednesday, issued exactly that warning, which was then echoed by a range of senior figures including the EU’s current negotiator, the infinitely patient Maros Sefcovic.

Boris Johnson either could not understand the implications of what he agreed with then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in 2019 or believed it could be wiped away by barefaced lying bluster

Nobody should doubt that if the UK brings a text to Parliament there will be consequences which will grow in impact the further such a bill progresses.

Some of the blame for this should lie on the shoulders of the increasingly ludicrous and pathetic figure of David Frost, the fierce UK chief negotiator, yet there is no doubt Johnson is the one whose lies are the most obvious and egregious.

Duplicity was a factor before there was a protocol, in the sense that there was always a view among the Brexit hardliners in the Tory Cabinet post-2016 that the Irish border issue should not be allowed to interfere with the fundamentalist departure from the EU they wished for.

Indeed, I recall a meeting of one of the “no-deal” emergency groups of UK ministers at which two very senior UK Tories giggled about the possibility of simply withdrawing any customs checks between the UK and Ireland, thus forcing the EU to insist Ireland put in place such an arrangement and police the very border it was rightly desperate to avoid.

It has not (yet) happened but I remain struck by the fact that Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford and I, along with the NI civil servant present, seemed to be the only people who were horrified at the idea, just as we were horrified when it became obvious UK ministers were telling their backbenchers and the DUP that it could all be changed later and was only a means to “get Brexit done”.

Boris Johnson either could not understand the implications of what he agreed with then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in 2019 or believed it could be wiped away by barefaced lying bluster

Johnson's Liverpool meeting with then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in October 2019 cleared the way for the North to have “the best of both worlds”, as Michael Gove quickly described the new proposals.

But Johnson either could not understand the implications of what he had agreed – the likelihood of NI thriving because it was strongly aligned with the EU – or believed it could be wiped away by the type of barefaced lying bluster he paraded in front of a group of NI businessmen in November 2019, telling them that they would be “no forms, no checks, no barriers of any kind” with regard to UK/NI trade even though he knew that was impossible .

Johnson said it because that is what business wanted to hear at that moment (he is a creature of instant gratification) but it then became what extreme NI Unionists, for their own political purposes, have insisted upon seeing honoured.

The fact is that the protocol is working. For example, just this week the County Down bakery Grahams secured an all-Ireland supply contract for Lidl, worth £2.5 million a year, while on an RTE interview a day later Dr Mike Johnston of the Dairy Council for Northern Ireland was clear that in his members’ view the protocol “should not change in any form”.

Moreover, the protocol has majority political support as was clear from the results of the NI Assembly elections just two months ago.

It is alas inevitable that some form of bill will be introduced by Truss in the coming days. The Tories need to meet the demand from their Brexiteer backwoodsmen for another defiant gesture to the EU.

The paradox is that while what emerges may still not be enough to bring the DUP back to Stormont, it will inevitably wreak huge damage with our neighbours, rightly producing an ever-harder response by them, rather than the capitulation that Frost and Truss, against all the evidence, foolishly regard as inevitable.

The UK’s reputation and commitment to dialogue, negotiation and the rule of law will be further shredded, with the US in the vanguard of international disapproval, while vital unity in support of the Ukraine will be harmed by yet another internal UK Tory squabble about Europe.

Actual lives will also be put at risk in Northern Ireland.

There can be – and will be – no winners in this appalling, messy and entirely Tory-designed situation. We will all be losers yet again, as we have been from the first-post-Brexit day.

Scotland should never accept it, no matter the capitulation of Labour and the Liberals.

This is not being done in our name.