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