In the welter of crises at home and abroad, ” calm down dear” is not a bad maxim for comment

Commentators have a natural tendency to over-interpret the world on the basis of the latest developments. I say “natural” because they are bound to feel compelled to rise up to the level of  traumatic events like Nice or the Turkish coup attempt. Over Turkey comment has been useful as there’s a lot to explain about the origins of the coup and the political upheaval going on in response.

Over Nice, it’s much more difficult. Standby for the political crucifixion of President Hollande and his prime minister Manuel Vals for saying France “must learn to live” with such atrocities.  As so often, the  minimalist  approach of Simon Jenkins is nearer the mark. But few others  are satisfied with speculating that this was the act of a lone demented wretch who gave himself permission to commit an atrocity against the background of jihad and the alienation of the Muslim banlieues. Fed these days by social media, commentators and politicians are locked in unholy alliance to offer solutions on demand.

By comparison with Nice and Turkey, our upheavals over Brexit seem tame. Nevertheless that hasn’t  stopped a flood of comment jumping to conclusions and fearing the worst. Dan Hodges is already anticipating clashes between Theresa May and the “three Brexiteers” in charge of paving the way to Article 50 ( though the piece  doesn’t live up to the promise of the headline). Is it really too much to hope  for already that that a European Economic Area (EEA) relationship can be negotiated, maintaining  the open land border with the support of the Irish government? A deal moreover which allows state aid for public and private enterprises?

But if the Brexiteers fail to deliver an acceptable deal, it may become  possible to discern the alternative of a second referendum  to “the Brexit is Brexit” strategy  from the left of the Conservative party and the political shambles beyond it – but not quite yet.  For that  would trigger an  even bigger breach in the Tory party than in Labour today and would  likely  impel a realignment in British politics. There will be a lot  of this sort of thing in the future when commentators will anticipate events that may never happen.

Sometimes old chestnuts are best.  Newton Emerson’s  citation  (£) of Theresa May’s inability to identity Ucunf candidates of 2010 as evidence of her indifference to NI seems just a tad parochial. More importantly, he chides her for declaring support for “the precious, precious Union” as “insulting” to nationalists. In my experience sensible  nationalists don’t rush to take such offence.  This is looking at her article of faith up the wrong end of a Ulster unionist periscope.  British Unionism had been a passive force for decades until challenged by Scottish nationalism. Since when it has been rivalled as much by English nationalism with too little thought for the future of the Union itself.   May  is wisely steering away from a zero sum  choice between the British Union and the European Union.

Such support as exists for Ulster unionism at Westminster is subsumed by the consent principle and recognition that Irish unity is a matter for both parts of Ireland, not GB.

There is absolutely nothing about Brexit that  presents a direct threat to the peace process and no gain for any party  in pretending otherwise. It’s as if some of our politicians are so hooked on crisis  that they can’t bear to left out. All sides oppose a hard border and the lifting of the 2020 deadline for UK deficit elimination will add further support to an already generous financial settlement.

But if we’re searching for slow burn crisis, we can turn to Scotland where a choice might be presented – one day –  between  future membership of the  EU and continuing membership of the UK. But not yet. That’s why last week May and Sturgeon were right to circle each other warily.  Any threat to stability in NI is more likely to come via Scotland than through indigenous  forces , unless somebody wants to make a fight of it.

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

  • cu chulainn

    Saying that the peace process is not in danger from Brexit, is to advocate that Irish unity is a matter for Irish people only, but that GB can arbitrarily retard trade and travel within Ireland for their own purposes. Brexit is an alliance between those in Britain who long for Empire and those in NI who wish to keep the last remnant of Empire going, it is wrong minimise this as a thing of little importance.

  • Zig70

    Neither should we judge tory politicians on what they say this week but on past comments May, especially on European humans rights, is not one to worry too much about accommodating the Irish in NI.

  • Abucs

    As opposed to those who are longing for the Brussels empire?

  • NotNowJohnny

    “There is absolutely nothing about Brexit that presents a direct threat to the peace process and no gain for any party in pretending otherwise. It’s as if some of our politicians are so hooked on crisis that they can’t bear to left out.”

    The key question is, I think, whether Brexit poses a threat to the GFA which is the basis of the peace process. I think the answer to this question has to be ‘potentially yes’. The question which then follows is whether a Brexit arrangement which contravenes the GFA presents a threat to the peace process. I think the answer to this question depends on the magnitude of the impact of Brexit on the GFA rather than a categorical ‘no’.

    Personally I don’t envisage an impact of such magnitude that it would threaten the peace process but that is not to say that it couldn’t happen. If, for example, the U.K. was to sign up to an arrangement which led to the imposition of border controls which included the closure of a large number of border roads, immigration checks on individuals crossing the border and the imposition of hefty customs duties on goods passing through the border, I think this would contravene the commitment given by the UK government in that part of the GFA set out below. Of course I don’t think this is a likely scenario at all but it is important that those negotiating on behalf of the NI Executive remind the UK government of its obligations under the GFA and the need for it to seek an arrangement which is in accordance with this commitment (e.g a single market arrangement with a completely open border and free movement of goods, people and services).

    “Considering that the Multi-Party Agreement offers an opportunity for a new beginning in relationships within Northern Ireland, within the island of Ireland and between the peoples of these islands; Wishing to develop still further the unique relationship between their peoples and the close co-operation between their countries as friendly neighbours and as partners in the European Union; Reaffirming their total commitment to the principles of democracy and non-violence which have been fundamental to the multi-party talks; Reaffirming their commitment to the principles of partnership, equality and mutual respect and to the protection of civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights in their respective jurisdictions;”

  • cu chulainn

    The usual immature nonsense about Brussels. The EU did not invade anyone, murdering other peoples and ethnically cleansing areas where they wished to colonise; totally unlike Britain.

  • Gopher

    Whilst one should remain calm it should be pragmatic rather than ostrich like. Articulated lorries have now been weaponized in that when they combine with a prospective martyr they have capacity to inflict massive fatalities with little or no strategic planning or intelligence footprint. No bags of fertilizer, coffee grinders or odd chemicals. Ever walked to a premiership game, concert or Rugby match in a city in the British Isles? The trouble with weapons is they evolve. In Syria and in Iraq they put steel plates in the cab to stop small arms fire. How long before a jihadi adapts a cab for protection against Police or Gendarmerie small arms?

    As for Turkey I’m not sure the West will like the post coup beast. I think you will find this is a pre-emptive Turkish texit with the death penalty brought back and a slightly more paranoid president than he was 48 hours ago using a failed coup in exactly the same way every other surviving leader in History does by crushing opposition real or imagined. This is an Asiatic Turkey now. Is that likely to cause less or more migration?

    You can have the Brexit referendum again net week if you want, the case has strengthened. As for Scotland it is the least of the UK’s problems in a very dangerous world. If the Romans built a wall I’m sure the English can manage one.

  • NotNowJohnny

    I expect you are aware that the Brussels Empire is a strip club on the Rue du Cirque.

  • NotNowJohnny

    It would be useful if you set out your basis for claiming that “the case has strengthened’ as it certainly isn’t obvious.

  • Gopher

    I think it is fairly obvious that control of borders was the principle issue. Certainly someone committed to martyrdom could rent an articulated lorry here and cause havoc, but the case for increasing the odds by keeping the pool of potential martyrs to the whole of Europe has not been satisfactorily been made by events in Nice post Brexit. Neither has the case been made that a fundamentalist Turkey would induce those of a secular bent to remain when the EU lies on their land border. 6,000 and increasing arrests is quite a lot and is an inducement to perhaps consider moving to another country before your door gets knock.

  • Abucs

    No i didn’t.

    I expect you are aware which sordid organisation i was talking about.

  • Abucs

    So the logic of your posts is that Brexit people are somehow aligned with the invading, murdering and ethnic cleansing of people.

    Now there’s immaturity.

  • the rich get richer

    Cameron (he of, Calm down dear )

    Has plenty of time to Calm down now.

  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    Three points if I may:

    Is there an interpretation of the phrase “a threat to the peace process”?

    The GFA references to ‘open borders’, if I can summarise the relationship aspects of the Agreement in those two words, talks of “the peoples of these islands”. It is not solely talking about relationship within the island of Ireland (if it had been the unionists would not have agreed it). So is the ‘peace process’ threatened should checks be implemented between NI and GB?

    Surely it will be the EU who may insist on, at the very least, customs controls between a member state (Ireland) and an outsider (the UK)? Would actions demanded by Brussels and implemented by Ireland be a “threat to the peace process” also?

  • Kevin Breslin

    State aid was permissible under EU law, was this the great Brexit hope for Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland could get more money to non-viable private businesses, and lower taxation cushioned by money from Westminster.

    We know why the UK won’t do that, and it’s because the British Union doesn’t want a race to the bottom among constituent states.

    And it is said that “any threat to stability in NI is more likely to come via Scotland” … that’s not necessarily true Scotland voted in a way that could ensure there wasn’t a hard border on the island, that there wasn’t any disruption to trade from tariffs and customs, that there were definitely no checkpoints, no disruption to a single island energy market.

    It is clear that the constituent part of the United Kingdom putting instability on the Status quo is coming from England and to some extent Wales, not Scotland and seemingly by accident with total disregard for Northern Ireland.

    The UK doesn’t need to negotiate its way into the EEA after Brexit, it’s already there. It could leave the EU, remain in the EEA. The demand to leave the EEA comes from England, and it’s specifically to stop (rather than control) movement of people to the most xenophobic levels.

    As far as I’m concerned England is trying to portray itself as open and global on the one hand, but parochial and protectionist on the other.

    If there’s no sense of urgency to protect universities, farms, fishers, the NHS, the trade retailers rely on, community groups, manufacturing, industry, digital markets, or the financial sector. What was a Brexit vote to protect?

    It is English intransigence that is putting up barriers to Northern Irish people doing trade cross border, and potentially doing trade with Britain.

    The greatest hope for the union is that there is incompetence among that intransigence in the worst of the Brextremists.

    You cannot expect Northern Ireland to trust English politicians not to turn the United Kingdom into some omnishambles, when clearly there isn’t any priorities other than no soft border, which isn’t a universal goal.

    Paul Nutall’s “I don’t care if there is a hard border” comments, shows this isn’t a universal sticking point among the Leave side.

    There was literally zero damage to Northern Ireland from the European Communities Act, and there is guaranteed damage on its removal.

    Indeed there seems to be some in the Leave camp who say they don’t want a hard border, but they want to make life difficult as difficult as possible for Northern Ireland people to trade with both the Republic of Ireland and the European Single Market … and to be honest possibly the rest of the world too.

    The fact is the generosity from the United Kingdom has peaked, England has clawed back the open border for goods, people and possibly even services. It has potentially clawed back the freedom of people from Northern Ireland to even enter the United Kingdom. It has clawed back secured money for agriculture and fisheries it can redistribute among its own interests.

    If the Leavers do as a senior pro-Brexit economist wants and let manufacturing and agriculture wither on the vine, basically issuing a last rites to potentially most of the 30% non-service base of our economy, surely some unionists will have to see that Northern Ireland’s isolation within the UK isn’t splendid … it really is quite bitter.

  • cu chulainn

    Well Arlene Foster is, how many Orange events did she go to last week?

  • LiamÓhÉ

    Yes, the scenario envisaged is the UK being forced to have at least a customs border on its frontier, which would reinforce partition, or the perception of the same, in Ireland the island. It was for this reason that many Irish politicians appealed to the UK government to have this in mind as part of their remain campaign, such as it were.

  • LiamÓhÉ

    There is a passiveness in NI politics at the moment, which remains bound up in the politics of identity, and will remain so until the dynamics of politics in NI are overtaken by events. One could argue that this has already happened, and yet many local political leaders still have their heads in the sand. In truth, it may take Scottish independence to finally open up politics in NI to other alternatives, which as I mentioned before, might also include a confederation of Ireland and Scotland to assuage hardline opinion.

    The idea is dismissed by many as fantasy, which I can understand. In a sense, it is a fantasy. At a political level, it would be farcical to countenance it at this stage. However, bit by bit the citizen voices on the ground seem to be opening up to the possibility of some new arrangement (federal UI, centralised UI, confederal S,NI,ROI), even if we will not hear about it on this website for some time.

    All this is dependent on Scotland taking the leap, for which we have to wait on the results attained by the Brexiteers in Westminster, and the slow build-up in Scotland for a winnable proposition. Note that Scotland is actively thinking about holding such a referendum before the Article 50 talks have completed, in order to avoid the long accession process. At the moment, we can read that they are settling the currency issue which held back many swing voters in the last indyref prior to the UK threatening to pull Scotland and NI out of the EU.

  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    Who is doing this ‘forcing’ you are talking about? Would any revenue missed on a continuing intra-Ireland open border really amount to much?

    It’s not as if reputable business interests are going to try to circumnavigate paying any costs involved in managing their legitimate cross-border business dealings.

    It would also appear, given the German Chancellor’s summary dismissal of the idea of a ‘special relationship’ between Ireland and the U.K. in EU terms, that it may be the EU itself that drives any ‘hardening’ of the border.

    Will the Irish Government comply with that type of EU directive?

  • NotNowJohnny

    Actually, I’m not. What is this ‘Brussels empire’ which you are talking about?

  • NotNowJohnny

    In response to your points;

    1. I’m not aware of any agreed interpretation. This was the term used by the original poster. I prefer to use the term ‘threat to the GFA’ instead hence my introduction of it to the debate.

    2. I agree that the GFA deals with the relationship between the peoples of these islands. However the GFA is an agreement between the British and Irish governments and I suspect the imposition of internal controls within the UK might not be deemed to contravene the GFA. However I recognise that others may have a different view. Do you think the imposition of such internal controls by the UK government would contravene the GFA?

    3. The EU may well insist on customs controls however that would depend on the post Brexit arrangements agreed between the EU and the U.K.. However the EU would not insist on these in the event of a single market arrangement being agreed with free movement of goods, services and people. It is up to the UK to negotiate on the basis of its preferred arrangement hence my call for the NI Executive to press the UK government to negotiate for such an arrangement. I think it’s worth pointing out that the EU supported the UK staying in the EU and in the single market and is likely to support a single market arrangement with the U.K. post Brexit. In the event that the UK refuses to negotiate on the basis of a single market arrangement then my view is that it would be the UK rather than the EU which threatens the GFA. You’ll be aware that the Irish government has made its position clear as regards the border on a post Brecit world and of course the EU is not a party to the GFA.

  • NotNowJohnny

    I would agree that the control of borders was highlighted by the Brexiteers as one of the principle issues along with EU regulations, sovereignty, the U.K. gross contribution to the EU and the need to ‘make Britain great again’ and to ‘take our country back’. Of course the immigration issue was widely misunderstood by Brexiteers with many seemingly unable to distinguish between immigration from the EU and from outside. I’m sure you are aware that Turkey is outside the EU and that the UK will continue to undertake its obligations as regards asylum seekers whether they be from Turkey, Syria or Iraq. That said, I’m still not sure what your point is. We don’t even know what arrangements will be in place as regards the UK borders post Brexit and of course the IRA was able to drive bomb loaded lorries into central London more than twenty years ago without having to cross any borders.

  • Gopher

    The IRA had a considerable footprint, if you read Alex Kane’s column today in the newsletter its pretty comprehensive in the differentials. If you believe Nice and a purge that is heading to Stalinist proportions in Turkey has done anything but strengthen the Brexit vote amongst the population of the UK I dont think you grasped what happened the first time round.

    Merkel’s statement today that if Turkey re-introduces the death penalty Turkey wont be allowed in the EU suggests their joining is a possibility. That thought alone within the UK’s electorate means Brexit is certain whenever you care to hold the poll again.