AFTER all the pomp and ceremony of the last week, the time out caused by a monarch’s death, the rough play of everyday politics is returning. Liz Truss’s government has to begin to tackle all the issues that the country faces, many self-inflicted by the Tories themselves, of course.

Her cabinet appointments hardly promote confidence. She’s gone with an inner cabal of Truss loyalists, which suggests she is following the example of her predecessor. Loyalty over competence.

How will that play out? Well, let’s see. But early signs are hardly encouraging. A government wedded to fantasy economics in the face of rising energy costs. Meanwhile, the Brexiteer dream of a trade deal with the United States seems further away than ever.

That all of this will play out over the issue of the Northern Ireland Protocol is one of the quirks of the whole Brexit project. The most marginalised part of the Union is front and centre when it comes to the UK’s trading future.

The fact that Truss has appointed Christopher Heaton-Harris and Steve Baker, both former chairs of the hardline Eurosceptic backbench group European Research Group [ERG] to the Northern Ireland Office certainly suggests the new Prime Minister is ready to play hardball on the matter. Compromise is hardly built into the ERG approach.

The appointments could be seen as a measure to try to appease the Democratic Unionists who are refusing to return to Stormont over the issue of the Protocol. The move has been cautiously welcomed by the DUP, though even Unionists are realising that the Conservative government can say one thing and do another.

And yet the mood music is mixed. The Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney has suggested that “the general signals we’ve got from London in the past few days have been quite positive” after a meeting with the new Prime Minister. And Heaton-Harris, the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has asked to be judged on his actions, not what he may have said in the past.

But let’s be clear. The government is still pushing forward with its plans to tear up part of the agreement with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol. It’s a move that will not only lead to conflict with the EU, but antagonise relations with the US, as evidenced by President Biden’s briefings this week.

In short, nothing has changed. The government is still trying to square the circle that it has helped create. Former PM Boris Johnson hailed the Brexit Agreement as “oven-ready” and then spent much of the rest of his time in office (when he wasn’t partying or running up huge wallpaper bills) trying to get rid of the Protocol.

We are where he left us, with a Brexit divide that hardens political divisions in Northern Ireland (never a good thing), one part of the UK with no functioning government in the face of a cost of living crisis and a Prime Minister who will be damned if she gets rid of the Protocol (and risks Sinn Fein walking away from power-sharing) and damned by many Unionists if she doesn’t. It’s a mess.

And appointing a couple of hardline Brexiteers to oversee the Northern Ireland Office does not seem likely to help tidy things up.