In absence of detail from Westminster, who is ready to ask the right questions of Brexit?

Tom Kelly has some harsh words for the First Minister’s dismissal of Remainers as Remoaners. But to some extent they are the party which probably comes out the most unscathed in his assay of where NI parties are.:

One would have thought that both women would have quickly recognised that their primary function was to heal the divisions post the referendum.

What we got was completely the opposite with May acting as if the UK voted by a landslide to leave and Foster completely ignoring the comprehensive Remain vote by her own constituents in Northern Ireland.

This has some moral validity, but in purely legal terms as Adam Tomkins notes:

It is a question of UK constitutional law that has a single UK-wide answer. It is not a matter in respect of which English law, Scots law and Northern Irish law have different answers.

That’s a harsh reality to get past, but I think Kelly’s criticism of the other main players in NI (all of whom adopted the Remain position in June) reflects the fact that much as the winners may be publicly bluffing whilst they work out what to actually do next

… the offering of each of the anti Brexit parties is fragmented and less than sufficient unto the day. More importantly, no one is pressing the UK government for clarity in the general or any particular detail:

The leadership of Sinn Féin seem at sea post Brexit. A border poll is about as likely as the Pope saying Mass at Windsor Park.

They are passing the buck on a post-Brexit strategy to the Irish government because they are tied to Mrs Foster’s apron strings in the executive and she, it seems, is determined to humiliate them with her hard Brexit comments.

It is a difficult position for Sinn Féin but refusing to follow the tradition of Grattan, O’Connell, Parnell and Hume by using their Westminster mandate to further Irish interests at this critical time is a political cop out.

That said the SDLP’s absolutist position on EU membership isn’t helpful either. Like Sinn Féin on abstention it’s probably a sincere viewpoint but it won’t wash. Few English MPs will go against the result of the referendum.

The Ulster Unionist position is even less thought out. This line about respecting the referendum result is a smokescreen.

No one knows exactly what the people have said because the prospectus on which the Leave campaign relied so heavily was conveniently shelved within days of the referendum result.

Kelly then offers a few brief pointers…

So we now need to see some detail. What are the terms of this exit? Are they the nirvana promised or do they come with a hefty price tag? The fact is we don’t know because the prime minister is acting with all the transparency of Harry Houdini.

My old mucker, David Steven, made some useful observations in this regard…

Plenty of examples of political, trade, climate negotiations where UK has been upfront about objectives and red lines. May is resisting being drawn out because she is still negotiating with her base.

If we knew what we wanted, I’d bet you’d now be seeing something similar to Brown’s 5 tests for the Euro: ie proposals aimed to build confidence ahead of the formal negotiations, productive bilateral talks with sympathetic govs etc.

It’s not particularly useful for the opposition to prematurely set out red lines in advance of knowing what the government actually plans to do. But then again, at UK level there’s no longer much of an opposition to speak of.

 

  • Declan Doyle

    Pro remain parties in the North have little choice but to push for Dublin to represent their interests. The Irish government will have far more sway at european level than the Northern Parties have even with London. Along with the fact that May is refusing to give any clarity as to how negotiations will be conducted and what the main thrust of the UK’s expectations are; northern parties are not out at sea, they are essentially cut adrift.
    The Shinners taking their seats in Westminister is about as useful as a paper condom. Any cost benifit analysis would show clearly that there is nothing to gain in going to london with such small numbers and no impact, but everything to lose in their heartlands should they be seen to abandon their policy of abstention.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Have you actually found anything wrong with any of the questions being asked by the 14 MPs who sit in Westminster?

    With all due respect to Tom Kelly I really do not see why the SDLP have to be pragmatic in this situation, particularly when the rhetoric for Hard Brexit is unilaterally as unpragmatic.

    If he hasn’t looked at the number of contributions the 3 SDLP MPs have made to the debate then perhaps he could look at Danny Kinnahan or Lady Sylvia Hermon’s stance.

    The DUP are weak, AWOL and detached from the border matter more than any other party. They are literally trying to play Happy Families to cover up their problems with this issue.

    This is partially because they had promised the impossible in the referendums, and they were duped into promising the impossible in the referendum by a cabal of conservative libertarians who would shed no tears over state aid losses or border controls.

    The only notable Conservative response to Brexit was a suggestion from a Tory backbencher that the Northern Ireland flag be changed to a St Patrick’s Cross … that’s the level of detail the average MP knows about what unionists call an equal part of its nation.

    The Unionists that are fighting their corner are the UUP. Steve Aitken brilliantly exposed the fact that they had no one awake at the wheel when Foster replied pathetically to the issue of managing the international border in a post-Brexit world with “technology”.

    I believe Aitken is a former Navy Engineer, so if it comes to logistics and technology … there isn’t a person in the DUP Assembly team who could knock him off his game.

    So we’re getting questions at Stormont and in NIO buildings and Dáil Éireann and the European Parliament about Northern Ireland’s situation.

    The DUP are simply too afraid of the Devil in the Detail.

    The only thing perhaps worse than the DUP is the “Legs it Tears” of the PBPA who cannot even make a statement on this debate either inside the chamber or out of it.

  • Katyusha

    They are passing the buck on a post-Brexit strategy to the Irish government because they are tied to Mrs Foster’s apron strings in the executive and she, it seems, is determined to humiliate them with her hard Brexit comments.

    Par for the course for Sinn Fein in opposition, really. They don’t have to take the hard decisions that the Irish government will have to and can safely heap criticism on the government’s strategy after the inevitable less-than-perfect outcome; regardless of what the outcome is. The only problem with a cross-border problem like this is that SF hold power in the north, but Marlene’s refusal to play ball allows them to plausibly claim that their hands are tied.

    It is a difficult position for Sinn Féin but refusing to follow the tradition of Grattan, O’Connell, Parnell and Hume by using their Westminster mandate to further Irish interests at this critical time is a political cop out.

    This is silly. Brexit isn’t so significant from a constitutional point of view to make SF drop its abstentionist policy, and no-one expects otherwise.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Parnell wanted the Repeal of the Act of Union … I would call that nearly as absolute a stance as any taken by Sinn Féin or the SDLP.

  • lizmcneill

    What purpose was changing the flag meant to accomplish? And isn’t the flag of NI already the St Patrick’s cross?

  • mac tire

    “It is a difficult position for Sinn Féin but refusing to follow the tradition of Grattan, O’Connell, Parnell and Hume by using their Westminster mandate to further Irish interests at this critical time is a political cop out.”

    I don’t agree with Tom here but I get the point he is making, only for him to contradict himself a sentence later:

    “Few English MPs will go against the result of the referendum.”

    That being the case, what would the point be of changing their absentionist policy? They wouldn’t be able to change the result – merely to outline and lobby for their position, something they are already doing with the British government, the Irish government, the SNP, PC, those in Europe and any other party who disagree with Brexit (particularly of the ‘hard’ kind).

    SF making statements in the HOC chamber will change nothing and will only appeal for the optics. The SNP have a far greater number of seats and essentially speak for the Scottish people in the HOC yet they can’t change a bloody thing.

    The optics may well please Tom and some others – and yet another excuse to attack SF’s absentionism (we have it each year over some issue or other).

    MPs, if allowed, will vote Brexit through (so to speak), the British government are determined to do it and over 17 million people voted for it but somehow SF’s 4 MPs will magically change that? I’m not buying it.

  • hgreen

    There’s that 17m number again. That 17m voted for 3 or 4 different things. The 16m who voted for remain voted for one thing.

  • mac tire

    Agreed, though the reality is more voted to leave, irrespective of their motives. I don’t like it as much as you but the hand has been dealt. Unfortunately it’s the reality.

  • terence patrick hewett

    The teams are coming on to the field with scrum caps and jock straps and foil lined tin hats: they will need them.

    Fog in the channel: Europe cut off.

    I love insults: not simply from an academic point of view but because you can learn so much about real life and history from them;

    Sassenach, Sais, Sows, Limey, Pommy, Rosbif, Rooinek, Khaki, Soutie, Soutpiel, Angrez, Angrej, Anggrit, Firang, Sayip, Lobster, Lobsterback, Redcoat, Inselaffe, Guffie, Janner, Johnny Bull, Ringo, Angie, Bloke (French Canadian insult), Feb (f*****g English bastard), Fog N*gger, Island Monkey, Pudden; the list goes on and on.

    In the now sadly out of print book, The Dictionary of Racial Insults, the English have pride of place with a full 28 pages. The Germans pass the post a very poor second with only 15 pages.

    Beat that, Sawnies!

  • JAMES MCGIBBON

    The SNP do have the majority of seats but do not speak for all the Scottish people. Over a million of Scots voted for brexit. 53% still support the Union. Over two million Scots voted to stay in the Union. The SNP have no interest in democracy only independence.

  • NotNowJohnny

    I disagree. I think if SF took its seats it would send a very powerful message about how serious this issue of Brexit is. There will never be a better time or a more important issue for which to play this card and they will only get to play their ‘taking our seats card’ once. As I’ve pointed out previously, this is the most significant partitionist policy in almost a century, led by the ‘fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists’ of the Tory right (not my words) and supported 100% by the DUP in the HoC. Will SF stand idly by and let whatever will be be? Can it afford to? Which is more out of touch and outdated – MMG or SFs abstenionist policy and its leader GA who supports it? We should not forget that partition was merrily helped on its way by the 73 SF MPs who refused to take their seats in 1918 and left only Carson’s unionists in the HoC to speak for Ireland when the 4th Home Rule Bill was passing through. Will this current crop of SF MPs make the same mistake now and leave the likes of the border building hard Brexiteer Nigel Dodds to speak for this part of Ireland?

  • Declan Doyle

    Speaking for this part of ireland in the shallow hallowed halls of westminister is a waste of good air. People know what SF stand for so the party have nothing to prove or to gain by taking their seats. However, if taking their seats and voting against Article 50 could scupper Brexit and send the British political system into a downward spiral; now that would be worth while.

  • Ciaran74

    Tongue in cheek Liz? Union Jack, technically.

  • billypilgrim1

    “…if SF took its seats it would send a very powerful message about how serious this issue of Brexit is.”

    Send a powerful message to who? Who or what is the gesture you’re suggesting intended for, and what’s the effect you’d be hoping for?

  • NotNowJohnny

    The three answers are …. Parliament …. I don’t see it as a gesture ….. a softer Brexit than than that which is currently being sought with all the implications that will have for the border.

  • NotNowJohnny

    It seemed to work for Edward Carson don’t you think?

  • Declan Doyle

    What? Speaking a hundred years ago to ‘save’ Ulster, or failing to keep the whole Island in the UK which was his preferred position?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Hi Liz

    To the best of my knowledge (no expert, just an enthusiast) as NI has no official flag it is supposed to ‘default’ to the Union Flag.

    The St Patrick’s Cross is not the flag of NI: http://amgobsmacked.blogspot.hr/2013/08/the-ulster-flag-banner.html
    As it stands though, many sporting institutions simply use the former Ulster flag which like it or not is seen as a loyalist flag, by introducing a Norn Iron specific flag we’d have something to call our own but with minimal baggage.
    Personally I endorse a flag of the NI football team’s colours on a saltire, or, in simpler terms a ‘Norn Iron green and white St Pat’s/Andrew’s Cross’.

  • Reader

    Declan Doyle: The Irish government will have far more sway at european level than the Northern Parties have even with London.
    When the PM is busy negotiating with the EU, it will be good to have your Taoiseach as a 5th columnist in the EU ranks. However, I think you might be overestimating his influence.

  • babyface finlayson

    h
    I am not sure how you can say that.
    Remainers were just as likely to have different reasons for wanting to remain as leavers were to have different reasons for leaving.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I thought that technically the Union Jack is the British flag when it’s flown from a ship?

  • Kevin Breslin

    I think you are massively overestimating the influence the 18 NI MPs have in international affairs.. The NIO isn’t even in the Brexit War room and Trimble, a Lord from these parts said Northern Ireland would not suffer from Brexit on the basis that “it was only a small part of the UK” … that’s the type of excuse a child has for torturing a cat.

    The Dublin Agreement is a pan European migration and asylum arrangement.

    The Belfast Agreement is internal matter which forces the UK government to attend meetings they have recently sent civil servants to, instead of cabinet politicians.

    I would love to see you argue otherwise as to how Northern Ireland has more influence over the UK, than ROI has over the EU if you promise to be honest here.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Because Paddys need a Paddy’s flag … all solved.

  • Ciaran74

    I was about to write ‘let’s not put ideas in their heads’ but looks like May dusted off the Indian Trading Co. Manual for her visit to Delhi.

    Someone should tell her the Indian’s have memories too.

  • Croiteir

    Yep – give the a couple of more Paddies to ignore

  • Croiteir

    More of the same claptrap which now has descended into intra nationalist point scoring, no one has any details, they will be worked out as the situation develops. The best that can be done is to say here are the industries and areas we want to save. As Tyson says – everyone has a plan in their head until they get punched in the face

  • billypilgrim1

    Thanks for the detailed answer Johnny.

    “Parliament” – you think parliament would give a stuff about Francie Molloy, Mickey Brady, Conor Maskey and Pat Doherty rocking up?

    “I don’t see it as a gesture” – so you think it would have a clear PRACTICAL purpose? What would this practical purpose be? (Other than the earlier woolly notion of ‘sending a message’.)

    “a softer Brexit than than that which is currently being sought…”

    And how would Francie Molloy, Mickey Brady, Conor Maskey and Pat Doherty rocking up lead to this outcome?

    I think it much more likely that the four SF MPs would be walking into a very public humiliation were they to take their seats now, and for absolutely no discernible benefit.

    The only possible reason they should consider doing so would be if their four votes could actually swing the outcome of the parliamentary vote on Article 50, thereby throwing a constitutional Molotov cocktail into the heart of the British state. Very unlikely, but under no other circumstances should they even think about it – and I’d be shocked and dismayed were they to do so.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Indeed!

  • eireanne3

    here’s some info about Edward Carson NNJ – just to help you get him in perspective https://eurofree3.wordpress.com/2014/02/09/edward-carson-1854-1935/