The clue should be in the name. The purpose of the European scrutiny committee ought to be to scrutinise. Only it turns out there are times when the select committee, largely composed of hardline Brexiters, will go to some lengths to do anything but. Especially when their star witness is the Brexit minister, Lord Frost. The man on whom so many of them have staked all their hopes. This is a committee which exists as an echo chamber. It only hears what it wants to hear.
You would have thought that the first thing the ESC might want to ask Frost is how come he is so furious about the Northern Ireland protocol given that he was the person who negotiated it two years ago and told everyone how brilliant it was. But apparently not. The ESC is quite happy for some bygones to remain bygones. Then again many of its members would then be forced to remember they had voted for the withdrawal agreement knowing that it effectively split Northern Ireland from the UK as a separate customs territory and would be subject to EU law. Anything to get Brexit done. Even if it did mean selling out Northern Ireland.
First to question Frost was Bill Cash. The same Bill Cash who has had a visceral dislike of the EU for the 36 years in which he has been chair of the committee. The same Bill Cash who had happily voted for the Northern Ireland protocol back in the day. The NI protocol was a typically duplicitous piece of legislation designed to keep the UK tied to EU rule indefinitely, he said. The UK could never consider itself truly free until it had rid itself of the yoke of EU law.
In quick succession, Tories David Jones, Richard Drax and Anne Marie Morris had all made much the same point. The European court of justice was full of foreigners and must have no say in determining the UK’s future relationship with the EU. Even though, like Cash, they had all happily voted for the Northern Ireland protocol to grant the EU those very powers less than two years ago. It was either a stunning display of collective amnesia or a drug-induced competition to see who had taken the most acid to disappear through the looking-glass first.
All the while, Frost was his urbane, smiling self. He was among friends. Which was just as well as he too appeared to have taken industrial quantities of hallucinogenics since he began by criticising the idiotic Lord Frost who had negotiated the original withdrawal agreement. If only he, Lord Frost, had been allowed a seat at the negotiating table then none of this nonsense would have happened. Still, patriot that he was, this Lord Frost was happy to do his duty and undo the mess that Lord Frost had created by agreeing to the NI protocol.
Watch: NI Protocol: EU proposals 'don't go far enough'
Under normal circumstances, heads might have begun to spin at this point. But as everyone was out of their heads, they just nodded beatifically and let Lord Frost carry on trashing Lord Frost. Once Lord Frost had finally been left to finish his rant about Lord Frost unchallenged, Lord Frost then began to get to the solutions. Or various versions of them.
The first was that the UK was already entitled to invoke Article 16 and withdraw from the NI protocol anyway, but Lord Frost was hoping not to have to do this. Cash, Jones and Drax started drooling. There is nothing they would like more than an immediate triggering of Article 16. Stick it to Johnny Foreigner and to hell with the consequences. At one point Cash seemed to confuse Northern Ireland with Poland. And the Roman empire.
But even though Lord Frost thought that Lord Frost might quite like to invoke Article 16, Lord Frost thought the better option might be to use Article 16 as a weapon of last resort and continue to renegotiate the crap deal which that halfwit Lord Frost had negotiated. There will definitely be no place for any jurisdiction of the ECJ, he declared.
“Hooray,” yelled Cash, raising the union jack behind him. So did that mean we could get rid of every EU rule even if it turned out to be quite a sensible piece of legislation that actively helped future trading arrangement? Absolutely. Cash was ecstatic.
So he and the rest of the committee rather missed the next bit where one of the Lord Frosts – it was getting increasingly difficult to tell them apart – said that it was possible a fudged solution, whereby the ECJ only ratified disputes on behalf of the EU, could be found. This should have been kryptonite to the committee. As should have been the revelation that the EU was illegally blocking UK scientists from its Horizon programme.
“I can guess why,” a third Lord Frost said, begging someone on the committee to ask him for his guess so that he could say it was the EU taking revenge for the UK threatening to pull out of the NI protocol to which one of the other two dopey Lord Frosts had agreed. But they all missed their cue. After all, what’s the function of the ESC if not to not scrutinise?
Watch: Haulier calls for changes to the NI Protocol