EU hits out at Lord Frost's Northern Ireland demands
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Speaking to the Express, Alexandra Hall Hall said the “form of Brexit” the Government chose to pursue “does mean there is going to be a border somewhere between us and the rest of the single market. And if you respect the Good Friday Agreement, it can’t be in Europe.”
The former diplomat in Washington DC said the current approach of the British Government “looks like the EU cares more about the situation in Ireland than we do.”
Ms Hall Hall resigned as a diplomat in 2019, prior to spending 33 years at the Foreign Office, after expressing “concerns” about “specific demands placed on the civil service” to “deliver lines on Brexit which were neither fully honest nor politically impartial.”
In her resignation letter, sent on December 3 that year, she said that though she was “not vested in any one particular outcome on Brexit,” she had become “increasingly dismayed by the way in which our political leaders have tried to deliver Brexit”.
Ms Hall Hall claimed it had been done “with reluctance to address honestly, even with our own citizens, the challenges and trade-offs which Brexit involves”.
In an interview with the Express, Ms Hall Hall denied that renegotiating the Northern Ireland Protocol was the Government going back on their word.
She said: “I think it’s legitimate for any country, to seek to renegotiate an international treaty; it’s how you do it, and what the impact of it will be that counts.
The Northern Ireland Protocol “envisaged as a procedure for reviewing it, and for giving the people of Northern Ireland a chance to review it, and for having a process for discussing how it’s working, and reviewing if it can be approved.
“So I don’t think it’s illegitimate, per se, to seek to have that discussion.
“But I think when you are dealing with something as fragile as the situation in Northern Ireland, you shouldn’t be inflaming tensions, you shouldn’t be accusing the other side of bad faith, you should not be using megaphone diplomacy, and you shouldn’t instantly be resorting to ‘and if we don’t get what we want yah-boo, I’m going to invoke Article 16, you know, tough luck’, and unilaterally changing it.”
Ms Hall Hall said it appeared that the EU had “tried to keep dialogue open, has come forward with proposals has offered quite a lot of compromises, has engaged with all the parties, and is exercising a genuine good faith effort to address some of the concerns.
“This always was a problem with Brexit, it was going to the form of Brexit we’ve chosen or our government has chosen does mean there is going to be a border somewhere between us and the rest of the single market. And if you respect the Good Friday Agreement, it can’t be in Europe.
“But the way the British are approaching it again, it looks like the EU cares more about the situation in Ireland than we do. Because they’re trying to find ways to make it work.”
Threatening to break out of the deal “doesn’t look like we’re operating in good faith.”
She added that “people will say: ‘oh, they’re just trying to punish us’ and all the rest of it. It doesn’t really matter.
“I mean, one could agree or disagree with that; the EU now has that influence over us. But they didn’t have when we were in the EU. So whether we like it or not, we’re now in this situation.
“I think that’s the problem. It’s not that it’s wrong to try and find ways to make the protocol work better addressed some of the concerns, but it shouldn’t be done in megaphone that needs to be done in good faith. We were not trusted. We have lost a lot of goodwill.”
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When the Brexit referendum took place in 2016, Ms Hall Hall was the UK’s ambassador to Georgia – itself a nation looking to join the EU, a bid the UK was supporting diplomatically at the same time.
She told the Express that despite this difficult situation, she was able to forge a path that sustained Britain’s commitment to Brexit and Georgia.
Ms Hall Hall said that in the embassy in Tbilisi the morning after the referendum, “my message to my staff was: ‘look, the sky is not going to fall on our head. The UK was a great country for centuries before the EU even existed and we managed to cope perfectly well outside the EU – and we will cope outside the EU, again.
“‘Things will change, but the sky is not going to fall on our head. It’s our job to square our shoulders and understand that we now need to help the government deliver it.’
“The other message I gave them [was]: ‘also it doesn’t need to change our posture of support for Georgia. We’re supporting these reforms for Georgia; it’s their choice whether they want to join the EU or not.
“‘But the reforms that we’re making are good for their society, irrespective of the EU: reports on improving governance on strengthening legal institutions on strengthening democratic institutions on developing their economy. These are all good things in and of themselves. And we’re going to continue to do that.”
In a piece for the Texas National Security Review this Autumn, Ms Hall Hall reflected on her resignation and “principled” resignations.
She wrote: “In many cases, the government may not actually be breaking the law, but nevertheless is acting in a manner which wilfully deceives the public over the true nature and consequences of its policies.”
Ms Hall Hall also wrote about being head of human rights in the Foreign Office between 2004 and 2006, where she “spent significant time fending off accusations from human rights organizations that the United Kingdom was little better than some of the countries we were criticizing”.
The accusations concerned allegations over the treatment of enemy combatants and collaborating with countries using torture techniques to extract intelligence from detainees.
Asked why Brexit had compelled her to resign but that had not, Ms Hall Hall said that though it was “a huge and stressful period to go through”, there was “actually a very vigorous debate about it – and there was a debate internally as well about it.”
She added: “I was also doing good work I felt in terms of promoting human rights internationally. So I felt like I was still able to do some very good work elsewhere.
“Jack Straw came to see me, and he actually was incredibly decent. He said: ‘we’re all struggling with this.’”
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