The main headlines of the Conservative manifesto are about the impact of striking a new balance between pensioners and what are excruciatingly called “ordinary working families.” and the tension between the pledge – if that’s what it is, to cut immigration to tens of thousands and still expand the economy. But here I concentrate of those matters of specific interest to Northern Ireland. Remember that while manifestos tend to be mainly broad brush, they convey a sense of direction.
The rhetoric of this one is modern British Unionist, as would be expected with the Union under threat but it avoids Rule Britannia jingoism And while the joint aims for the British and Irish relationship are just about covered, the relationship itself is described briefly as more of a practical necessity rather than something to celebrate and develop – unlike for example the tone and detail of the Irish government’s recent position paper which urges EU protections for EU citizens’ rights in Northern Ireland and argues for a lengthy period of transition and other matters. The detail of the Irish paper can be been seen as making the case for “special status”. However the Conservative manifesto doesn’t get drawn into the theme of “special status,” however defined, but seems to be pinning faith on reaching a deep and special partnership including a comprehensive free trade and customs agreement.
OUR PRECIOUS UNION
Here the Conservatives pledge more powers for the devolved areas and no more “devolved and forget”. This section is both a striking admission of past ( and present?) neglect but frustratingly vague on future detail
We are a United Kingdom, one nation made of four – the most successful political union in modern history. Its very existence recognises the value of unity – England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales achieve less as two, three, or four, than as the United Kingdom together. This unity between our nations and peoples gives us the strength to change things for the better, for everyone, with a scale of ambition we simply could not possess alone.
This positive evolution of our constitution has given a voice to people who felt distant from the centre of power, and responsibility to people for their own part of our great country.
We will continue to work in partnership with the Scottish and Welsh governments and the Northern Ireland Executive, in a relationship underpinned by pooling and sharing resources through the Barnett Formula. We will respect the devolution settlements: no decision-making that has been devolved will be taken back to Westminster. Indeed, we envisage that the powers of the devolved administrations will increase as we leave the EU.
However, we can still do more for the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The United Kingdom Government has in the past tended to ‘devolve and forget’.
Conservative government will put that right. We want the UK Government to be a force for good across the whole country. So we will be an active government, in every part of the UK. We will work closely with the Northern Ireland Executive, the Scottish and Welsh governments, and the new devolved authorities in England, for the benefit of all our people – but that will not be the limit of our actions in the four nations. We are ambitious for everyone in Britain and will leave no-one behind in our efforts to spread opportunity and prosperity throughout the United Kingdom
While the commitment to the GFA is “ undiminished “ the Republic is not specifically mentioned in this strong pro- Union piece of rhetoric. Does this anticipate a more active role to restore the Assembly? No clues here. Dealing with the Past should be “fair and proportionate” ( without repeating Brokenshire’s claim that there was too much focus from prosecutors on the army ( see my previous post). This may be an attempt to defuse the Sinn Fein charge of British bias.
Our steadfast belief remains that Northern Ireland’s future is best served within a stronger United Kingdom
Our commitment to the 1998 Belfast Agreement and its successors, together with the institutions they establish, is undiminished. The next Conservative government will therefore work to re-establish a strong, stable and inclusive executive at the earliest opportunity.
We will uphold the essential principle that Northern Ireland’s future should only ever be determined by democracy and consent.
Not a word about a border poll, one way or the other.
A Conservative government will work closely with an incoming executive to strengthen the economy even further, to improve productivity, reduce public sector dependency and promote Northern Ireland as a location for inward investment.
We remain committed to the devolution of Corporation Tax powers subject to the executive demonstrating fiscal stability.
As we leave the European Union we recognise Northern Ireland’s unique circumstances and will seek to ensure that Northern Ireland’s interests are protected.
A Conservative government will continue to work for the full implementation of the 2014 Stormont House and 2015 Fresh Start Agreements.
This includes new bodies for addressing the legacy of the past in fair, balanced and proportionate ways which do not unfairly focus on former members of the Armed Forces and the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The immense contribution of the security forces during the troubles should never be forgotten. We will reject any attempts to rewrite history which seek to justify or legitimise terrorism.
Worth including the key point on a Scottish referendum after the absence of any reference to a border poll one way or another.
The United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union but some would disrupt our attempts to get the best deal for Scotland and the United Kingdom with calls for a divisive referendum that the people of Scotland do not want. We have been very clear that now is not the time for another referendum on independence. In order for a referendum to be fair, legal and decisive, it cannot take place until the Brexit process has played out and it should not take place unless there is public consent for it to happen. This is a time to pull together, not apart.
LEAVING THE EUROPEAN UNION
Just in case there’s any lingering doubt.. “We will no longer be members of the single market or customs union but we will seek a deep and special partnership including a comprehensive free trade and customs agreement.
. We will make sure we have certainty and clarity over our future, control of our own laws, and a more unified, strengthened United Kingdom.
We will control immigration and secure the entitlements of EU nationals in Britain and British nationals in the EU. We will maintain the Common Travel Area and maintain as frictionless a border as possible for people, goods and services between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Workers’ rights conferred on British citizens from our membership of the EU will remain. We will pursue free trade with European markets, and secure new trade agreements with other countries.
We want to work together in the fight against crime and terrorism, collaborate in science and innovation – and secure a smooth, orderly Brexit. And we will protect the democratic freedom of the people of Gibraltar and our overseas territories to remain British, for as long as that is their wish.
As we leave the European Union, we will no longer be members of the single market or customs union but we will seek a deep and special partnership including a comprehensive free trade and customs agreement. There may be specific European programmes in which we might want to participate and if so, it will be reasonable that we make a contribution.
As powers return from the EU, we will be able to determine the level best placed to take decisions on these issues, ensuring that power sits closer to the people of the United Kingdom than ever before.
We expect that the outcome will be a significant increase in the decision-making power of each devolved administration but we must also ensure that as we leave the EU no new barriers to living and doing business within our own union are created. In some areas, this will require common UK frameworks. We will work closely with the devolved administrations to deliver an approach that works for the whole of the United Kingdom and reflects the needs and individual circumstances of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
We look forward to the Executive talking in extra powers over agriculture and fisheries and energy, to name but two. Do we not? This is a natural area for increased north-south cooperation. The two governments should start putting pressure on the parties to get on with it immediately if not sooner.
We will not bring the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights into UK law. We will not repeal or replace the Human Rights Act while the process of Brexit is underway but we will consider our human rights legal framework when the process of leaving the EU concludes. We will remain signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights for the duration of the next parliament.
The insistence on disapplying ECJ jurisdiction will cause real anxiety in Dublin and supporters of the GFA everywhere. The Human Rights Act is embedded in the Agreement and cannot easily be replaced by a proposed British Bill which would restrict appeals to Strasbourg. Theresa May must be aware of this and the ructions about it in London and Edinburgh. Even so she seems unfazed and determined to overhaul the entire rights regime as soon as possible. This situation strengthens the case for an NI Bill of Rights as provided for in the Agreement.
A COUNTRY THAT COMES TOGETHER
With annual net migration standing at 273,000, immigration to Britain is still too high. It is our objective to reduce immigration to sustainable levels, by which we mean annual net migration in the tens of thousands, rather than the hundreds of thousands we have seen over the last two decades. We will, therefore, continue to bear down on immigration from outside the European Union. We will increase the earnings thresholds for people wishing to sponsor migrants for family visas. We will toughen the visa requirements for students, to make sure that we maintain high standards.
. Leaving the European Union means, for the first time in decades, that we will be able to control immigration from the European Union too. We will therefore establish an immigration policy that allows us to reduce and control the number of people who come to Britain from the European Union, while still allowing us to attract the skilled workers our economy needs
The Guardian says
The Office of Budget Responsibility has estimated hitting the target could cost the economy £6bn a year net in lost skills and productivity. George Osborne has claimed that not a single senior cabinet minister privately supports the target.
The manifesto hints that future EU migration policy will close the door on low skilled migration from eastern Europe in particular. A new visa/work permit regime for skilled migrants from Europe is likely to provoke retaliatory visa regimes imposed on UK workers in Europe. There is also however a hint of widespread exemptions for skilled workers in “strategic industries” – which could open up a very large door for in any new immigration policy.
Finally, the vision of the post Brexit world of international trading with a place reserved for little old Northern Ireland
Britain has always been a great trading nation. Trade will continue to be crucial to our future growth and prosperity. As we leave the European Union, we want to negotiate a new deep and special partnership with the EU, which will allow free trade between the UK and the EU’s member states.
As part of the agreement we strike, we want to make sure that there are as few barriers to trade and investment as possible. Leaving the European Union also means we will be free to strike our own trade agreements with countries outside the EU.
We will ensure immediate stability by lodging new UK schedules with the World Trade Organization, in alignment with EU schedules to which we are bound whilst still a member of the European Union. We will seek to replicate all existing EU free trade agreements and support the ratification of trade agreements entered into during our EU membership.
We will continue to support the global multilateral rules-based trade system. We will introduce a Trade Bill in the next parliament.
We will create a network of Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioners to head nine new regional overseas posts. These commissioners will lead export promotion, investment and trade policy overseas.
We will reconvene the Board of Trade with a membership specifically charged with ensuring that we increase exports from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as England, and that trade policy is directly influenced by every part of our United Kingdom
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