The instability of a trade war with EU may be tempting for Boris Johnson

‘I want the whole of Europe to have one currency; it will make trading much easier.” No this wasn’t said by any of the ‘founding fathers’ of the EU but by Napoleon Bonaparte in a letter on May 6, 1807. Even two centuries ago the benefits of working together in pursuit of gains that no country could achieve on their own were apparent.

hat is why it was so deflating to hear Tánaiste Leo Varadkar say the Cabinet’s Brexit sub-committee met to “essentially dust down and restart contingency preparations” in case a trade war develops with the UK.

Brussels and Dublin now believe the UK will soon trigger Article 16 of the protocol. The move would suspend its operation with untold consequences for EU-UK relations.

Clearly, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson regards Europe’s difficulty as the UK’s opportunity.

Brussels is already at loggerheads with Poland, threatening to withhold funds because the country is not prepared to accept that fundamental parts of EU law must trump the Polish constitution.

Even though now outside the tent, Mr Johnson’s government has still sought to remove the European Court of Justice as independent arbiter on disputes, despite the fact no objections were raised until now. Then there is also the escalating situation on the Polish border, with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko now warning the EU that a “nuclear-armed” Russia would come to his aid if migrant clashes turned into open conflict.

A trade war on top of all these other crises makes for an explosive mix.

However unwise, just such instability might tempt an opportunistically minded competitor to exploit for their own interests. But such would be an extremely dangerous gambit.

Nonetheless, it appears to be something Mr Johnson is prepared to countenance.

“I don’t think anybody wants to see the European Union suspending the Trade and Co-operation Agreement with Britain, but if Britain were to act in such a way that it was resigning from the protocol, resigning from the Withdrawal Agreement,
I think the EU would have no option other than to introduce what we call rebalancing measures to respond,” Mr Varadkar said.

“I really hope Britain doesn’t go down this road,” he added.

The protocol has wide support from people in business and most political parties in the North.

Moreover, the UK has consistently failed to produce an alternative.

As Eleanor Roosevelt said: “It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must work at it.”

A trade war can only have a “very severe effect” on Ireland, former Taoiseach John Bruton warned this week.

He also wondered whether the final intent of the UK was to “permanently destroy” the protocol and create “a huge gap” in the border of the single market. After all, a divided Europe was always a source of profit for England historically.

But jeopardising the entire process for such short-term gain would be extreme folly.