Big effort is needed to avoid polarising Brexit along Orange and Green lines

Yesterday Theresa May made it clear that while the devolved administrations will be consulted the decisions on Brexit will be taken by the UK government.  The triggering of Article 50  will not require parliamentary consent and it will happen probably in January or February next year. A Norway-type deal  looks ruled out  because it  entails  free movement of people. Some immigration controls are a requirement for what Downing St is calling  a “ bespoke “ solution for the UK. And there will be no second referendum. In  this stance there seems no room for  Scotland and Northern Ireland to retain anything like the association  they have with the EU today.

This is the background to today’s  visit by the arch Brexiteer David Davis the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU. In an article for the  Belfast Telegraph he made soothing noises  in advance.

We are clear we do not want a hard border – no return to the past – and no unnecessary barriers to trade. What we will do is deliver a practical solution that will work in everyone’s interests, and I look forward to opening the conversation about how that should operate with my colleagues today.

We are already working with the Irish Government and I firmly believe this process will take our relationship forwards not backwards…

As he separately  meets Arlene Foster for the DUP  and Mairtin  O Muilleoir for Sinn Fein,  (standing in for Martin McGuinness who is on leave ),  will the Executive ministers emphasise what divides them or unites them?

No doubt they will need help to make their minds up.  “Opening the conversation”  suggests  no squaring of the circle over the border just yet. But a  combination of Davis,  James Brokenshire and Boris Johnson should work very hard indeed with the Irish government  and the local parties  to avoid  overpoliticising  Brexit policy in terms of Orange and Green.

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