Former soldier and diplomat Adrian Hill continues his series on the diplomatic and defence environment of the UK’s departure from the EU. Here, he points out the most worrying aspects of the leaked ‘transition paper’ being discussed by Cabinet. Disclaimer: At times we publish the views of our members. This article is not an official Veterans for Britain paper and does not necessarily reflect the view of Veterans for Britain.
By Adrian Hill
On Thursday morning the ever thorough Brexit Central briefing very kindly provided readers with a copy of the Cabinet briefing paper on the proposed transition period. This document included an indefinite time limit and clauses about the UK border with the Republic Ireland.
On return from Vietnam in the autumn of 1971 the FCO put me in Western European Department working for my previous boss in Saigon, Kenneth James. With a very clever and warm hearted colleague, who put up with my cigars, we worked for Kelvin White, who was charged with relations with the Holy See, Switzerland and Ireland. By this time Kelvin was the most over-worked First Secretary in the office. My job was liaising with the MOD on Northern Ireland. Kenneth told me that across the road the FCO was known as the ‘enemy’ and the Irish prime minister as Union Jack. John Peck, our ambassador in Dublin, was called Green Mantle. There was indeed a problem. Within a month four of us became a brand new department led by the unflappable Kelvin. My job took me to Northern Ireland and the border. Fortunately I had friends in the Parachute Regiment serving in Northern Ireland who welcomed me whenever I went over there. We had very good cooperation with the Republic and the border at first was still largely open. The hardening came later and proved very unpopular.
Almost certainly the EC Commission lawyers drew up most of the transition paper.
I can’t imagine that Boris Johnson as the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary would have signed off that kind of hold up and which doesn’t sound like advice from the FCO Legal Advisers. The parts on Northern Ireland are an obvious Trojan Horse designed to begin isolating Northern Ireland from Great Britain. A clean Brexit would stop such scheming in its tracks and have many other advantages – as the Economists for Free Trade explained this week.
I never fail to be amazed by how stupid people can be when gazing at the blindingly obvious right under their noses. Can none of the Cabinet imagine the TV pictures when the EC Commission force the Republic to put up hard customs and immigration posts marking the European Union frontier along the Republic side of the border while our side stays wide open for every man, woman, child, dog and cat, horse and cow on the island. Just think of the television news pictures. TV news crews will film both sides of the border – that’s the story – bingo, global news. There will be dozens of camera teams. The European Union know they’ll be a laughing stock though also look rather nasty, bullies who poke their noses into ordinary people’s lives, hence all the desperate ploys. Irish matters are big stories for the media all over North America; I ran the British Information Services there for four years. Believe me, they’ll get a lot of flak whizzing across the Atlantic.
As my old boss in Canada, John Wilson, Lord Moran, said when the Falklands were invaded, ‘ One day, Adrian, some-one will put a match to the Foreign Office.’
I think Olly Robbins should be given another job before the southern end of Whitehall goes up in smoke…..but not at Port Stanley.
Fortunately our Brussels nightingale, Theresa, shot herself in the foot with a general election last year otherwise all these poison potions would have been swallowed obediently, voted through by a House of Commons packed with Tory lovers of rule through Brussels from Berlin. Sorry about the carpets in Number Ten – and Chequers – but long may she keep shooting downwards. In fairness, I expected the soup cauldron would boil over last night….