Northern’s Ireland best chance of leverage rests inevitably at Westminster

Look  guys, you’re knocking at an open door. Yes it’s not yet resolved as we haven’t got a new UK government. That will take on the outside 74 days.  But the Republic had to wait 69 days for their new government so they know how to wait. What’s the alternative? It isn’t good politics  to keep demonising the Tory government before they’ve devised a Brexit strategy and when there plainly isn’t any alternative. One Nation Tories will want to to hold the UK together. so they’re hardly likely  to ignore you are they? Not even an excitable Colm Eastwood.

David Cameron may about to become yesterday’s man but  the holding position in his resignation  statement is as good as any:

We must now prepare for a negotiation with the European Union.

This will need to involve the full engagement of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland governments to ensure that the interests of all parts of our United Kingdom are protected and advanced.

Ok so Theresa May left us out Very irritating I agree. But hey, as a leader she’s work in progress. We’re there is spirit.

We need leadership that can unite our Party and our country. With the Labour Party tearing itself to pieces, and divisive nationalists in Scotland and Wales, it is nothing less than the patriotic duty of our Party to unite and govern in the best interests of the whole country

The novice Andrea Leadsom did rather better.

The team that I will assemble to lead Britain out of the EU will consult opposition politicians, business people, farmers, trades unions and trade negotiators. 

I will closely consult with colleagues from the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish devolved parliaments, as well as here in Westminster, to make the most of the huge opportunity that lies ahead.

I will do everything in my power to keep the United Kingdom United.

The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland governments have leverage if the UK government  thought to ignore them.  EU law is incorporated into the  the NI Act and Scotland Acts and will have to be amended. For that, permission would be sought from the devolved institutions. But if permission was refused as a blocking tactic as Nicola Sturgeon has hinted, Westminster could over rule the Scottish Parliament but only at the cost of a huge constitutional barney which would strengthen the case for a second referendum on Scottish independence. Westminster could at a pinch allow Scotland to remain subject to EU law and retain another vestige of membership but to what end? Better  to bind the three “nations” in closely to the Brexit negotiations. The parliamentary route is bound to be more fruitful.

 Legal wrangling persists over whether Parliament’s permission is legally necessary before the new government triggers Article  50 of the Lisbon Treaty to  begin up to two years- negotiation, to exit. But whether it’s legally necessary or not the political  case is overwhelming. My colleague Colm O’Cinneide makes a case that is likely to divide Westminster , not mainly  on party lines  but according to Leave v Remain, but with Leave’s position strengthened by virtue of the referendum result.

…(the)  obsessive focus on the question of whether Parliament must approve a decision to trigger Article 50 risks obscuring the fact that good reasons exist – both prudential and principled – as to why government might want to seek the approval of Parliament before taking this step irrespective of whether it is required by law.

It is highly probable that Parliament, if asked to approve a triggering of Article 50, will feel itself bound to do so as a consequence of the decisive popular vote for Brexit. However, Parliament may wish to delay triggering Article 50, considering that the circumstances are not right. It might even take the decision that a material change of circumstances or some other development means it is no longer bound by the referendum result. This would be intensely controversial, and perhaps unjustifiable in the absence of a second referendum vote. But it is a choice that should be available to a sovereign Parliament, given the importance of the decision at issue.

Deny it Ambassador may as the mouthpiece of the status quo,  but it lurks in the background. Meanwhile, Newton is pitch perfect.

“Calm down darlings!”




Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London