Just a few weeks ago, we were convinced by an onslaught of opinion from Britain that the Northern Ireland Protocol was at the very center of the UK’s future, and a refusal to cancel it could lead to dire circumstances.

Fast forward to this week, where the contest for the leadership of the Conservative Party – the winner of which will become Prime Minister, replacing Boris Johnson – revealed the true nature of the importance of the Protocol. 

Barring one passing reference by UK Foreign Minister Liz Truss, there was not one word of discussion after four debates among the candidates about the paramount importance of the Protocol. 

Indeed there was no discussion whatsoever. It seemed like the entire issue had vanished into the ether and was no longer of any consequence.

Yet just a few weeks previous, Truss and Johnson himself had painted a scenario where lack of action on the Protocol would have been disastrous for Britain.

Then came the surprising announcement that the Protocol, in place for now, has actually resulted in a massive rise in trade between the north and south. Ireland's Central Statistics Office revealed on Monday that from January to May 2022, imports from Northern Ireland increased by €357 million (+23%) to €1.94 billion and exports to Northern Ireland increased by €586 million (+42%) to €1.97 billion when compared with the same time period of 2021. 

Exports of €18 billion in May 2022https://t.co/CA85cjv0Od #CSOIreland #Ireland #Trade #IrishTrade #Exports #Imports #Businessstatistics #IrishBusiness #BusinessNews #Brexit pic.twitter.com/Uknb5n6nNS

— Central Statistics Office Ireland (@CSOIreland) July 18, 2022

The overwhelming reason for the rise in trade was due to the Protocol which allows Northern Ireland to remain part of the EU single market and to continue to trade with far less bureaucratic red tape than other parts of the UK.

The healthy trade numbers, of course, are a development that has once again been met with utter silence by the contenders for the Conservative Party leadership.

It is as plain as the noses on their faces that the only place that Brexit is working is on the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, where it has become a spectacular success.

The Ulster unionists, odd creatures that they are, have called for an immediate suspension of the Protocol, saying it impinges on British sovereignty on the island of Ireland. They clearly care little about the economic success enjoyed by many of the North’s businesses.

The Protocol, which dominated almost every headline as the British demanded a renegotiation, has now been shown to be an invaluable way of increasing the amount of trade between Ireland and the North which greatly benefits all.

There is an old aphorism that the only thing worse than being an enemy of the British is being their friend. The desperate Ulster unionists must be utterly aware that if they continue to insist on the Protocol being scrapped, it will seriously damage the Northern Ireland economy because it will result in a huge bureaucratic creation which is currently the fate of Brexit outside of Northern Ireland.

Right now the passage of goods between both countries has a minimum of disruption, unlike Britain’s trade with many other countries where a multitude of standards must be adhered to thanks to Brexit.  

The plain facts revealed by the Central Statistics Office are that the Protocol has had a huge impact on employment and work opportunities for all residents of Northern Ireland, unionist and nationalist. Numbers don’t lie. The Protocol is working, and any attempt to say otherwise is complete tomfoolery.

*This editorial first appeared in the July 20 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral.