When Liz Truss's press secretary was asked for a list of the new Prime Minister's advisors earlier this month, journalists were told that 'you can refer to the Guido Fawkes website.'
So we must take take Guido as authoritative when it reports tonight that 'Victoria Hewson is leaving the IEA to join the Foreign Office as a SpAd, focusing on Northern Ireland.'
In her work at the Institute for Economic Affairs, a longstanding Thatcherite think-tank, Hewson initially gave a qualified welcome to the Northern Ireland protocol in Boris Johnson's Brexit deal. Her first briefing on the agreement argued that 'although the DUP oppose it, it could be considered to be a negotiating win for the UK, as it is very non-standard for the EU.'
Like the Johnson Government itself, Hewson regarded the protocol as preferable to Theresa May's backstop proposal, but went on to baulk at actually implementing it.
In an IEA report on the issue this May, Hewson blamed EU intransigence for the standoff over Northern Ireland:
Its rigidity brings into question whether averting risks to the single market is its priority, or if it is not in fact using the Protocol as leverage to procure regulatory alignment from the UK or in pursuit of other tactical priorities. Certainly, the EU would see the very fact of derogating so significantly from its border controls at one border of the single market as a loss to the integrity of the single market. Such risks could, however, be more proportionately addressed by actions on the EU side – such as by light checks on goods moving from Ireland to the rest of the EU, as suggested by Bennett and Vines (2022).
This shows that six years since the Brexit referendum, influential British analysts are still putting the cart before the horse. Avoiding a trade border with the EU is Ireland's central objective in the negotiations, along with preventing a hard border in Northern Ireland. From an Irish point of view, Hewson is presenting the threat as the solution.
It is this Irish position which drives the EU's commitment to the protocol, the reverse of the conspiracy theory which sees Ireland as a Trojan horse for Brussels' designs on the UK.
It would be grossly unfair to imposie a trade border between Ireland and the EU because of a British decision to leave the union. Fairness doesn't always determine outcomes in international relations. However, brexiteers have continually under-estimated the leverage which membership give smaller countries inside the EU over larger ones outside. Recognising this dynamic, seen for example in the relationship between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus, would mean conceding that EU membership can have advantages.
The logic of the May paper is one in which British non-implementation forces the imposition an inter-EU border on Ireland. The inter-governmental nature of the EU makes it much more likely that kicking the can down the road means waiting the Truss government out.