About a month ago, I wrote that the now-or-never moment for triggering Article 16 was probably approaching. With the Democratic Unionists suspending checks and the Stormont elections looming, Liz Truss would surely need to act if, as expected, the negotiations didn’t secure some sort of breakthrough by the end of February.
Suffice to say, such action now seems extraordinarily unlikely. At the Foreign Office, and its counterpart ministries in Europe, the priority now is putting together a united front against Vladimir Putin.
With a sustained sanctions war also likely to be painful for the West, neither side has any interest in a major breakdown in UK-EU relations and even more disruption of trade.
However, that doesn’t mean the underlying issues have gone away. Whilst it might suit both London and Brussels to allow the Protocol to become a sort of ‘frozen conflict’, to borrow a phrase from the post-Soviet world, events in Northern Ireland have a dynamic of their own that isn’t going to wait on global events.
The danger was always that, absent some kind of breakthrough, the Protocol will end up dominating the upcoming Stormont elections. This will most likely be a boon to the fortunes of hard-liners such as Jim Allister, especially if the DUP bet on the Government delivering and it failed to do so. Should a fractured unionist vote see Sinn Fein returned as the largest party, they might not be able to form a power-sharing executive at all.
Perhaps, in light of recent events, it was unfortunate that responsibility for this sensitive negotiation was given to the Foreign Secretary, who suddenly has a land war in Europe to deal with. The Government must ensure that it doesn’t end up getting blindsided by the situation in Ulster going from bad to worse whilst everyone’s attention is focused on developments in Ukraine.
Scottish Labour dump the rose
One feature of Ruth Davidson’s project to revive the fortunes of the Scottish Conservatives was abandoning their rather uninspiring take on the Cameron-era tree logo for the distinctive saltire they use today. Now Scottish Labour are following in their footsteps.
According to the Daily Record, Anas Sarwar has decided to set aside the traditional Labour rose in favour of a thistle, as well as a new red-and-purple colour scheme which is a move away from traditional Labour branding. (For its part, the new Tory saltire actually revived the colour scheme of the 1990s, with a pale blue highlight to the usual Union Jack colours used in Tory logos).
Whether it will help to revive Scottish Labour’s flagging fortunes remains to be seen. But it does pose the question: when will the UK-wide parties overhaul their own logos?
Although they have evolved over time, both have now been in place a long time: the Tory tree dates back to 2005, and the Labour rose (in one shape or another) to the mid-Nineties. By next year, Labour will have been out of office as long as were the Conservatives after 1997; perhaps its time for a new look?