In absence of detail from Westminster, who is ready to ask the right questions of Brexit?

Tom Kelly has some harsh words for the First Minister’s dismissal of Remainers as Remoaners. But to some extent they are the party which probably comes out the most unscathed in his assay of where NI parties are.:

One would have thought that both women would have quickly recognised that their primary function was to heal the divisions post the referendum.

What we got was completely the opposite with May acting as if the UK voted by a landslide to leave and Foster completely ignoring the comprehensive Remain vote by her own constituents in Northern Ireland.

This has some moral validity, but in purely legal terms as Adam Tomkins notes:

It is a question of UK constitutional law that has a single UK-wide answer. It is not a matter in respect of which English law, Scots law and Northern Irish law have different answers.

That’s a harsh reality to get past, but I think Kelly’s criticism of the other main players in NI (all of whom adopted the Remain position in June) reflects the fact that much as the winners may be publicly bluffing whilst they work out what to actually do next

… the offering of each of the anti Brexit parties is fragmented and less than sufficient unto the day. More importantly, no one is pressing the UK government for clarity in the general or any particular detail:

The leadership of Sinn Féin seem at sea post Brexit. A border poll is about as likely as the Pope saying Mass at Windsor Park.

They are passing the buck on a post-Brexit strategy to the Irish government because they are tied to Mrs Foster’s apron strings in the executive and she, it seems, is determined to humiliate them with her hard Brexit comments.

It is a difficult position for Sinn Féin but refusing to follow the tradition of Grattan, O’Connell, Parnell and Hume by using their Westminster mandate to further Irish interests at this critical time is a political cop out.

That said the SDLP’s absolutist position on EU membership isn’t helpful either. Like Sinn Féin on abstention it’s probably a sincere viewpoint but it won’t wash. Few English MPs will go against the result of the referendum.

The Ulster Unionist position is even less thought out. This line about respecting the referendum result is a smokescreen.

No one knows exactly what the people have said because the prospectus on which the Leave campaign relied so heavily was conveniently shelved within days of the referendum result.

Kelly then offers a few brief pointers…

So we now need to see some detail. What are the terms of this exit? Are they the nirvana promised or do they come with a hefty price tag? The fact is we don’t know because the prime minister is acting with all the transparency of Harry Houdini.

My old mucker, David Steven, made some useful observations in this regard…

Plenty of examples of political, trade, climate negotiations where UK has been upfront about objectives and red lines. May is resisting being drawn out because she is still negotiating with her base.

If we knew what we wanted, I’d bet you’d now be seeing something similar to Brown’s 5 tests for the Euro: ie proposals aimed to build confidence ahead of the formal negotiations, productive bilateral talks with sympathetic govs etc.

It’s not particularly useful for the opposition to prematurely set out red lines in advance of knowing what the government actually plans to do. But then again, at UK level there’s no longer much of an opposition to speak of.

 

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

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