Joint authority? “What on earth have you been smoking?”

In the Irish Times Newton Emerson takes issue with two of the talking points being promoted by the SDLP and Sinn Féin – EU ‘special status’ for Northern Ireland and ‘joint authority’.  From the Irish Times

Northern nationalism has an alternative to Brexit – special status for the North within the EU.

Nobody has a clue what this means but at least Brussels has been asked if it will consider the possibility (it has said no).

Northern nationalism also has an alternative to direct rule from London. Should Stormont collapse, there must instead be ‘joint authority’ .

Nobody knows what this means either and Dublin has not been asked, which seems like quite an oversight, considering how much store is being set by southern input.

As he goes on to note

A trawl of every peace process document and statement over the past two decades appears to have taken place, looking for the term “joint”. Not since the last Cheech and Chong movie can there have been a search for joints quite so desperate and farcical.

All that could be found in the mountain of verbiage was a single 2006 statement from Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, representing the British and Irish governments, where they referred to “implications for their joint stewardship of the process” if the St Andrews agreement talks of that year ended in failure.

They specified these implications as continuing to develop the other elements of the Good Friday Agreement, including cross-border and east-west bodies, in the absence of a Stormont Executive.

Sinn Féin is now portraying this as an official plan B for joint authority, within the terms of the peace process.

Perhaps the party should be commended for trying to stay within agreed limits but its historical interpretation is finding few takers, not just because it is obviously nonsense but because it clearly misses the point.

Disaffected nationalists do not want a form of joint authority compatible with the peace process. They want joint authority as a replacement for the peace process.

It is hard to overstate what a complete start from scratch such a new settlement would entail. There is no serious precedent for joint authority in the modern world, except over stretches of water or ice. The exercise of authority turns almost immediately into a question of sovereignty, which by definition must ultimately be indivisible.

It’s also worth noting that whilst the UK Government remains in position to slap down any notion of ‘joint authority’ as the nonsense it is, continued agitation for ‘special status’ for Northern Ireland in the EU risks undermining both governments approach to negotiations over the UK leaving the EU.  As the Irish Government has pointed out…