Does the Windsor Framework Signal the Death-Knell of British Conservatism?

The Tory party will be decimated at the next general election, says our Brexit Diarist, and good riddance.

AP/Alastair Grant)
Prime Minister Sunak at 10 Downing Street on March 23, 2023. AP/Alastair Grant)

. . . is now bound in with shame,
With inky blots and rotten parchment bonds.
That England that was wont to conquer others
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.

— William Shakespeare, Richard II.

With the British government’s successful vote for the “Stormont brake,” the Foreign Secretary and the European Commission’s Vice President will meet at London today to adopt formally the Windsor Framework. 

Notwithstanding the “inky blots and rotten parchment,”  Shakespeare’s lament suggests itself — if not necessarily for England, then doubtless for the Conservative Party. To be precise, the Conservative and Unionist Party. 

There is strong opinion that the governing Tories have set in motion the thin end of the wedge: that will either sever Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom or inexorably pull Great Britain back under EU dominance.

For despite this vote of confidence for the Framework in the House of Commons — 515 to 29 — two stalwart Brexit-supporting groups of MPs, amongst other independent individuals and organizations, were opposed and published their findings in the lead-up to Parliamentary action.

First, the Centre for the Union (closely aligned with the Democratic Unionist Party), found that “the Windsor Framework cannot be supported by unionists as a solution to the protocol.” The Northern Ireland Protocol, be it remembered, was a makeshift measure to ensure a “borderless” Ireland and peace between the “republican” south and “unionist” north.

Meanwhile, the judgment of the European Reform Group, aligned with the Conservative Party, is particularly damning — coming, as it were, from amongst the Government’s own backbenchers.

The ERG report was dismissive of the Government claims of a boon to trade — claims that, it should be noted, make a mockery of breaking away from the EU. It is on the all-important question of sovereignty that should give the Conservative Government pause.

The Windsor Framework, the report states, “does not advance the post-Brexit sovereignty of the United Kingdom.” Furthermore, the deal “will not restore to citizens in Northern Ireland their equality with citizens in Great Britain in the control of the laws which apply to them.”

The boasted benefits lauded by the Government in respect of the Framework are open to dispute. The Framework does not ensure that a majority of current EU laws affecting Northern Ireland are rendered moot.

Nor does the vaunted “green lane” does ensure “trouble-free” trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Ergo the fear that the United Kingdom will temper free trade/low tax temptations in order to accommodate the EU.

On the question of the foreign jurisdiction, Northern Ireland “remains subject to the power and control” to EU law and the European Court of Justice.

Of the much vaunted “Stormont Brake” that will enable the Northern Ireland assembly to disallow future EU laws that impact the province, the ERG report gives short shrift: “The ‘brake’ is of very narrow application in theory and is likely to be useless in practice.”

To these primary objections to the Windsor Framework, the Conservative Government has been largely silent, relying on partisan support and a Europhilic opposition to speed the agreement through Parliament.

Meanwhile, the European Union’s own officials have been less coy. They have reassured their 27-country membership that despite appearances, the status quo remains operative. Indeed, experts who have read both the EU and UK texts, say that the latter reads differently from the optimistically “spinned” UK Command Paper.

What sayeth Brexiteer extraordinaire Nigel Farage? “The Commons vote today was the last throw of the dice for Euroscepticism in the Tory Party,” he tweeted Wednesday. “They were always a surrender party.” Mr. Farage ends on an uncharacteristically gloomy note. “Brexit has now been squandered, our future is one of decline.”

True, only 22 Tories voted against their Government. Among which were three former leaders and two premiers, Boris Johnson, Liz Truss, and Iain Duncan Smith. There were, though, 48 abstentions . . . brave souls.

Six DUP MPs also rejected the Framework. However narrow it may be, there is a beach-head here for a Brexit fightback. Seventy sitting Members of Parliament who cannot endorse Prime Minister Sunak’s surrender of sovereignty.

Is this a chance for a conservative revival in the making? As it now stands, the Tory party will be decimated at the next general election. Good riddance. A Labour Government will be worse than the current administration, but at least Britons will know where they stand.

Meanwhile, the Reform Party led by Richard Tice and cheered on by Mr. Farage may do nothing more than act a spoiler. Reform will need to work with the Tory “remnant” — mindful of Albert Jay Nock’s formulation — and the Spartan Tories will need to disavow a callow Conservative Party and work with true friends of UK independence.

Can mutual suspicions be overcome? They must be, and Edmund Burke can read the banns. “In a connexion, the most inconsiderable man, by adding to the weight of the whole, has his value, and his use,” Burke observed. “Out of it, the greatest talents are wholly unserviceable to the public.”

And the alternative, if an alliance cannot be consummated? “When bad men combine, the good must associate” for, in Burke’s unforgiving assessment, “else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”

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