Appointment of James Brokenshire represents a serious upgrade to the NIO…

There have been jokes on the internet about how his name is appropriate for a place like Northern Ireland.

But, with no personal slight intended, James Brokenshire is a senior upgrade from Villiers and a reflection of the fact that North-South relations will take on a heightened importance in upcoming Brexit negotiations.

May’s right-hand man at the Home Office, Brokenshire was responsible for developing the UK Government’s immigration policy. He will, like all NI Secretaries of State, report directly to Cabinet in Westminster.

Unlike Villiers, Mrs May was emphatic that a Brexit vote would affect the border. She clearly wants someone she trusts, is experienced, capable and, importantly, also visible on the ground on the Irish side of the water.

The last seriously activist Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was Peter Hain. It was his job as night-watchman for Tony Blair’s retirement year to get the St Andrews Agreement over the line (at almost, but not quite, any cost).

Since then the Tory party’s accession to power, its policy regarding Northern Ireland and devolution, has been a steady policy of hands off. They have strongly resisted calls for intervention at times of crisis in Stormont.

Brokenshire is likely to keep his distance from Stormont’s domestic business. But we might also expect him to play a key role in taking soundings from all parties and the local electorate in developing amendments to the CTA and NS and EW trade.

His status as a Remain campaigner during the campaign is unlikely to translate into someone who is sympathetic to the ambitions of those in Northern Ireland still looking for some means to retain NI’s status within the EU.

This is likely to be the big issue in Northern Ireland and the Republic for the rest of Mrs May’s term of office.

Meanwhile, Ms Villiers reportedly refused a non-cabinet position in favour of returning to the Tory backbenches. Presumably to be closer to the post-Brexit game that’s likely to follow.

On other Cabinet matters:

Boris Johnson was a Brexiteer. As Foreign Secretary, he will be kept busy jetting around Europe and the rest of the world. It’s an unexpected but prestigious and demanding appointment. Mrs May has time to be ruthless with him should he screw up.

– Sacking Osborne breaks the connection with the past, and signals an end to Osborne’s obsessions with measures that he was unable to control (eg deficits). It also frees up the opportunity to be creative with budgets going forwards.

David Davis is serious minded and principled. Though his own personal agenda for Brexit look (to say the very least) a stretch. But putting the Brexiteers in the very front line means they’ll be the ones to take the flak if it goes wrong.

– This is a big stakes game for Ireland too. Taoiseach is convening a cabinet committee which will prioritise a successful negotiation with the British, and preservation of trade, free movement, and the all-island economy will be top priorities for him.

How long he lasts into the negotiation period remains a tantalising question.

NB: Mick will be on Radio Ulster tomorrow at about 7-15am slot talking about this anther other related matters. 

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • the rich get richer

    One would imagine that relationships between Ireland and the UK will become much stronger in the aftermath of Brexit .

    There could even be a very strong case for friction between the Irish republic and Europe if Europe does not accept that there will have to be very sensitive conditions for interaction between the Republic/Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain .

    I hope that the Irish government fights their position very strongly and does not roll over like the lapdogs that they usually are for the Europeans.

    If Ireland is treated badly the EU may be further weakened . Are countries in the EU for their benefit or for the benefit of an out of touch EU elite.

  • cu chulainn

    The question is will May tell NI it can have a variation while simultaneously telling Scotland that they cannot?

  • OneNI

    Here we go again with the ‘NI as a punishment’ line from nationalism. In fact it is clear that May is very close to the man who was one of her junior Minister at the Home Office. She keen to promote him and he has very relevant skills.
    As Immigration Minister he probably knows more about what is and isn’t possible in terms of hard and soft borders and how to preserve the CTA.
    I think NI (2% of the population) having a seat at the Cabinet is very fortunate and I don’t think anyone in NI thinks DUP and SF can be left to play without a babysitter.
    I’m sick of nationalists who bleat on about ‘parity of esteem’ using nonsense terms like ‘unelected colonial viceroy’ The Conservative Govt has a national mandate to govern the UK (and has a mandate to pursue Brexit). Acceptance of the sovereignty of Westminster is part of the GFA.

  • Korhomme

    Nominative determinism was first described in the New Scientist.

    The first articles to bring this to their attention were one on urinary incontinence by Messrs Splatt and Weedon, and another on the Polar Regions by Mr Snowman.

    Mr Brokenshire is simply the latest in the long line of such illustrious determinands.

  • NotNowJohnny

    The FM and dDM’s remit is limited to devolved matters. They have no remit in relation to excepted and reserved matters (see schedules 2&3 of the NI Act 1998) hence the NI SOS looks after these in respect of NI. I’m afraid that’s the way devolution works, whether the SOS is an unelected colonial overlord or not. I guess it’s a step forward from direct rule where all matters are within the scope of the NI SOS.

  • Kevin Breslin

    It’s great to get rid of someone with the Brexit blinkers on, having a minister who could be honest (if he’s got integrity) with the DUP, the TUV and our local leave voters where and how Brexit is harming this region certainly is an upgrade, from the woman who simply thinks every criticism of her delusions is scaremongering.

    Villiers says she wanted to control immigration, but had too much pride to take a junior role in the Home Office that could help to do just that.

    Meanwhile the region with the lowest immigration rates and lowest net migration rates inwards suffers the most due to Brexit, because the UK wishes to upset a trade equilibrium for some elusive better deal even if it has to take the worst available options to do that.

    Worst case Northern Ireland becomes nothing more than a Vichey state, and some Brexiteers are relying on Southern Irish prudence to use their self-interest to get the UK the free lunch it demands.

  • NotNowJohnny

    I don’t always agree with OneNI but the point he/she makes about the GFA is correct. We can’t pick and choose which parts of the GFA should apply. However what the British (and Irish) government is obliged to do is to ensure that Brexit does not dilute the GFA. What is concerning is that the the vast majority of NI MPs are both Brexiteer and unionist and therefore one should be concerned as to where the influence in Westminster necessary to ensure the principles of the GFA as regards north/south relations will come from. Surely it is time for Sinn Fein to abandon its bizarre twentieth century abstentionist policy which delivers nothing for anyone.

  • OneNI

    The General election and the Referendum are National UK decisions – pure and simple. The GFA is built on this understanding.
    So Marty can huff and puff all he likes in the Irish News

  • OneNI

    Let’s be clear when Brokenshire says ‘We are all Brexiters” now he means it.
    He is a member of the Government of the UK and that is Govt policy there will be no change in approach in NI between Brokenshire and May

  • Kevin Breslin

    I’m referring to the Brexit blinkers of which there are many. The transparency of the Brexit problems will be seen nowhere better than along the border constituencies.

    I’d admire Brokenshire’s integrity in saying he’s going to try to do the best with the hand he’s been dealt. That’s no comfort to many traders in Northern Ireland who face legitimate concerns about the higher costs of doing business, not just financially but even it terms of the space to take opportunities in as a result of this decision.

    And yes there will be a change of approach in NI, because quite frankly Thresea Villiers would’ve been absent at the wheel when it came to dealing with the unique issues Northern Ireland has to deal with when it comes to this matter.

    There are many versions of “Northern Ireland” that need to be factored in and Villiers was keenly focused only on the one in her head.

    The fact that Theresa May was more on top of the Northern Ireland brief than Villiers was should be critically embarrassing, she had a seven year holiday here in comparison to many Secretary of States.

    From an Irish nationalist point of view, if Villiers had been allowed to maintain the laissiez-faire approach to Brexit, thinking nothing will change and the movement of goods and people on the island could be virtually unperturbed the economy in Northern Ireland would be so ruined by abandon, there would be nothing left it could contribute to either constitutional state … and no more willingness in its people to accept such fruitless labour.

  • Kevin Breslin

    “What is concerning is that the the vast majority of NI MPs are both Brexiteer and unionist …”

    There are 9 pro-Remain MPs of which 2 are unionist:

    Danny Kinnehan, Lady Sylvia Herman, Alasdair McDonnell
    Margaret Ritchie, Mark Durkan, Paul Maskey, Pat Doherty, Francis Brolly and Mickey Brady.

    If Tom Elliot could switch sides and be a devil’s advocate for Remain (as is his party position) … we’d get the right ratio of Leave to Remain MPs that reflect the population 8:10

    Otherwise Our MPs are 11+1/9% not reflective of the voting trend.

    Strictly speaking, if the Remain side is being let down in Westminster … Sinn Féin are bigger culprits than the UUP are (through Tom Elliot) for not showing up.

  • NotNowJohnny

    If you read my post again you will/should note that the reference to the vast majority was in relation to influence in Westminster. Indeed the point was specifically made in relation to SFs abstentionist policy and the fact that they are not present in the HOC to speak up for protecting the north south arrangements under the GFA in the Brexit debates. That leaves just 3 MPs.

  • chrisjones2

    Most of the traders in NI are falling over themselves to stock up as the low pound will produce a gold rush

  • chrisjones2

    She was elected and then appointed by HM Government which is the legal government of the UK

  • chrisjones2

    Again you keep trying to redefine the UK constitution. Read this slowly.

    We are part of the UK

    Stormont has limited devolved powers

    If the UK Exits the EU so do we

    This is democracy in the same way that if people in Bognor voted remain they have to exit too

  • cu chulainn

    Tom Elliot is doing more damage, as a responsible position by UU could do a lot to help things.

  • Katyusha

    I think NI (2% of the population) having a seat at the Cabinet is very fortunate and I don’t think anyone in NI thinks DUP and SF can be left to play without a babysitter.

    Villiers has been so invisible, incompetent and out-of-touch as secretary of state that I would honestly rather trust Marlene.

  • OneNI

    Interesting idea so when the Cabinet decide the level of the Block Grant to be spent on public services in NI and the level of capital spending to build public buildings etc in NI you would prefer that Marlene would just send a note?
    The mistake seems to be to think that in some way that Stormont has some equivalence to Westminster or that SF or DUP have some form of influence. Remember they got about 0.5% of the vote each – that’s not enough for you to do anything at Westminster other than to speak politely to the powers that be – something SF regularly forget when they pontificate about ‘negotiating’ with Westminster

  • eamoncorbett

    SF would lose membership and influence if they took their seats , dissidents already laugh at them for sustaining British rule in Ireland , I may not agree with the politics of some contributors here but NI is a constituent member of the UK and will be leaving the EU in a couple of years ,that’s a given . The biggest threat to the GFA is the rancour that exists between SF and the DUP over the issue . This is not going to subside any time soon and will probably get worse as talks time nears . I can’t see too much being on offer at negotiation time except for measures to prop up the GFA . The EU will treat NI as a region of the UK ,no more , no less. When you hitch your wagon to a horse you need to be able to control that horse , that horse I’m afraid is England.

  • Katyusha

    I’m challenging the idea that everyone in NI thinks Stormont needs a babysitter. That only applies if the babysitter proves herself capable of actually managing Northern Ireland, or even understanding it. Villiers did not.

    Regarding the actual mechanics of secretary of state, it should be mandatory that the post is filled by an MP elected by the devolved region. Obviously NI is a special case, so it would likely need to be someone nominated with cross-community support at Stormont.

    Regarding the block grant, money is doled out according to the Barnett formula. I think you are mistaken if you think the SoS does too much lobbying for funding on NI’s behalf. Their job is primarily to communicate Westminster’s policy to NI, not communicate NI’s wishes to the government. That is the job of our MP’s who have a paltry share of the vote.

    You are a little naive if you think SF use their 0.5% mandate when they “negotiate” with Westminster. SF have a reputation for having both influence within and their finger on the pulse of a community that has in the past spawned violent insurgency and separatism. The insensitivity of both Westminster and Stormont to legitimate social concerns sowed the seeds of the Troubles. The UK government talk to SF because SF are the agents they employ to maintain the peace and stability of NI. Their electoral mandate doesn’t matter, because they don’t take their seats anyway. When the SDLP were the largest party, Westminster still preferred to negotiate with SF.

    And finally. We shouldn’t be begging for a block grant. We should be able to turn a profit for ourselves. It doesn’t look like any of the SoS’s that we have had had that on their agenda.

  • No 56% of the electorate in Northern Ireland answered the ballot question “Should the UK remain in the EU or leave the EU” for remain – the ballot question and result clearly referenced the UK

  • Tory policy post devolution surely – the whole point of devolution is to let NI politicians get on with it.

  • murdockp

    in the same way Ireland voted for independence all those yeas ago but ulster said no. unionists are very picky when it comes to democracy

  • murdockp

    get on with building their full employment civil service bloated government that is ineffective and stamps on the private sector. no thank you.

  • murdockp

    the reason we have lower immigration is only due to the fact we are not a desired place to come. immigrants are not stupid. it would be the same as me going to Somalia to find work.

  • MalcolmRedfellow

    Oh, come on, you lot!

    He may look like a rodent with permanent anal irritation, but he has to have a few brain cells.

    Which makes him a potential improvement on his predecessor.

    I remember Keith Kyle TV-tutoring potential Labour candidates and warning of the exploding eyeballs at the unexpected “Have you stopped beating your wife?” question (with very close-up illustrations). So, I imagine the moment when any PM invites a potential Cabinet member to accept the NI brief.

  • OneNI

    The post would be filled by an MP from NI if we elected a Conservative! (Or Labour if they were in power) We CHOSE not to participate in the UK political system. Your idea is insane – imagine someone like Naomi Long turning up at a Conservative Govt Cabinet meeting. She would spout some populist nonsense and they would say ‘Thanks for that be we have to deal with reality and implement the manifesto for which we have a UK mandate’
    Your idea that we automatically or mechanically just get an allocation via Barnett is wrong. Decisions are made by the Chancellor in consultion with Ministers via the Comprehensive Spending Review (Incidentally NI has been largely insulated from the public spending cuts in GB and there has been no austerity in NI – and this has been the decision of Conservative Ministers and not due to any lobbying by local MPs who – by virtue of being outside the UK party system have next to no influence)
    Finally I agree we shouldn’t have to beg for a block grant but in reality we get £9 BILLION from the Treasury in addition to what we raise ourselves
    SF admittedly did have influence when IRA had weapons and capacity. They no longer do they have no leverage beyond crashing the institutions

  • cu chulainn

    The GFA makes specific mention of the EU. Relations between both parts of this island are a matter for the people of this island and the British should confine their manipulations to their own island.

  • cu chulainn

    How can you have measures to “prop up” the GFA when the British government are reneging on it?

  • NotNowJohnny

    SF didn’t lose influence when they abandoned their abstentionist policy in the south and took their seats in the Dail. In fact they increased it. SF didn’t lose influence when they abandoned their abstentionist policy in Northern Ireland and took their seats at Stormont. In fact they increased it. There is no reason to believe that their influence would decrease if they took their seats in the HoC. It would be news for week or two and the world would then move swiftly on.

  • Nevin

    I would have thought that James B would be a relatively minor player in the EU-UK negotiations. DUP MPs have already had meetings with Oliver Letwin, the interim SoSexit, so I would imagine that they and Arlene would be dealing mainly with Theresa May and David Davis on Exit matters, rather than James. Ditto for Irish government ministers.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Kilsally, I seem to remember when I discuss utterly unnecessary belligerence of 1912 by the UUC and their child the UVF, I keep being told by contemporary Unionists that the northern counties demand for exclusion from a perfectly reasonable Home Rule package at that time was a matter of “self determination”. Does this issue no longer apply?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Chris, i wonder would you think this “one unit” issue should have applied to Ireland also during the Home Rule crisis 1912-1914?It would after all have equally been “democracy” would it not?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Indeed, and exit from the EU will start tearing apart some of the fabric of the Belfast Agreement when issues need to be tested.

  • chrisjones2

    It might well have done and might have been better for all of Ireland in diluting the power of the Church in state affairs for the next 60 years – but in the end the factions in republicanism fell out over power and money and all hope vanished. Indeed in that situation the decision on Ulster was absolutely right

  • chrisjones2

    Our politicians have no experience of Government…they only spend money (usually badly) and never have to raise it. They also cannot cope with the scale sophistication and impact of the major decisions in areas like Defence

  • chrisjones2

    She is elected and part of the elected Government

  • John Collins

    So what!! Tony Blair and George Bush were elected too and look at the flying duck they made of Iraq.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    But Chris, the rise of Republicanism after 1914 was very much the outcome of the refusal of the northern Unionists to even contemplate a very moderate, utterly constitutional Home Rule devolution with safeguards for the northern minority in 1912. You may have heard of that phrase of Eoin McNeill’s, “The North Began…”?

    By the way, far from being a “church” party, the old constitutional Irish Parliamentary Party was thought of as incorrigibly Secular by the Roman Church of the day. But with the UUC’s “Project Fear” in 1912 we were set on the trajectory which led to our present woeful state of affairs…..

    So the Northern Unionists decision can only be thought of as a major contributory factor, rather than a response, to events, and as such cannot be regarded as “right” in relation to those events it actually instigated!

  • NotNowJohnny

    I didn’t say she wasn’t and therefore am somewhat bemused that you feel the need to point that out.

  • Croiteir

    The reason why the English overrule us is due to a referendum were the vast majority of nationalists voted precisely for England to rule over us, very proud to say I voted against that particular referendum.

  • Croiteir

    Caomes right back at nationalism when unionism quite correctly states that nationalists voted by a vast majority for the GFA.

  • Croiteir

    There is every reason to believe their influence would decrease. Republicas would not vote for them in ever increasing numbers.

  • Croiteir

    Yes – it is called the Ulterisation policy.

  • NotNowJohnny

    Your 2nd sentence doesn’t support the claim made in your 1st.

  • OneNI

    (Letwin – who he?)
    Lets get real Nevin. The UK Govt (including Brokenshire) will call the shots – on behalf of all the people of the UK. There will be lots of meetings for the ‘optics’ with DUP, OFMDFM, Dublin Ministers and Uncle Tom Cobbly but they have no veto. Listen careful to what May (and even Sturgeon) said there is no Scots veto either – all for the optics

  • Croiteir

    it does

  • eireanne3

    here’s a little analysis of one of Mr Brokenshire’s statements and PM Theresa May’s comments after her meeting with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. There are far more questions than answers at this stage of the proceedings but what is clear is that Scottish and NI Unionists have a choice to make over which Union best forwards their interests on various levels

  • Thomas Barber

    When did the vast majority of nationalists vote for England to rule over us Croiteir ?

  • submariner

    You are assuming that Unionists are democrats, they arnt and never have been. If they were NI would never have existed

  • Croiteir

    The Good Friday Agreement

  • Thomas Barber

    Thats not exactly true is it Croiteir the vast majority of nationalists voted for power sharing and agreed that there would be no change to the constitutional status of this part of Ireland unless a majority desired so. It said absolutely nothing in the GFA about whether we want to be ruled by England.

  • NotNowJohnny

    No it doesn’t. It doesn’t even make sense.

  • Croiteir

    It does

  • Croiteir

    It is true. It was clearly stated what the constitutional position of the north was. The people agreed to it and the Unionist veto. The stance of the British from at least the 1949 Act was at a stroke, vindicated and legitimised.
    As for rule by the English. That has also been irrevocably demonstrated by the EU referendum. The English have spoken, the cause is finished.

  • NotNowJohnny

    Your inability to explain it further says it all.

  • Croiteir

    I have no intention of explaining the obvious

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Sub, my two default positions on Slugger are hyperbole and, as above, ironic comparison, intended to invoke some kind of political epiphany in those who may still have some claim on conscience. No assumptions made! Members of my own extended “Home-Ruler” family were active in Unionism both then and since. I know my own relatives weren’t (and still aren’t) democrats. I like too think I am…..