Quote of the Day: UK “government as a general principle seems to be falling apart”

It’s not just that this British government is falling apart. It’s that British government as a general principle seems to be falling apart.

Harry McGee in the Irish Times’ Inside Politics Newsletter

  • Food First

    Refer to James Brokenshire on Brexit Central look like U E & U K agreement over the border is about reached

  • mickfealty

    Separate blog coming on that shortly. Thanks for the heads up.

  • Zorin001

    I have to say i’ve seen better re-enactments of the OJ chase than Patel and the BBCs rather anaemic showing yesterday.

  • Zorin001

    On a more serious note, there are some parallels here to the last days of Major, sex scandals, division over Europe etc. However where are the “big beasts”? Maybe its nostalgia but even on its last legs the Major cabinet and benches seemed to at least have more heavyweight talent, who do we have now? Fox? Johnson?? The most surprising aspect of the Patel saga was that it took so long for her ambition to exceed her ability, and shes hardly the only one punching above her weight in the cabinet.

    At least with Major we weren’t facing the most pressing political issue of a generation, now we have a Government circling the drain while the country as a whole looks to be in the process of going over a cliff.

  • Korhomme
  • 1729torus

    Very reminiscent of the 2007-2011 Fianna Fáil government I thought.

  • 1729torus

    According to EU sources, there are only two weeks left to make a breakthrough or trade talks can’t start until March…

  • mickfealty

    That should focus minds. Unless, it’s working on Stormont time??

  • 1729torus

    It sounds like an all-Ireland Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. These were developed by the EU with countries like Tunisia or Georgia in mind, and basically allow these countries to be part of the Single Market for goods, and some services – more than Canada, but less than Norway.

    I’d very strongly recommend that you visit http://www.3dcftas.eu and skim through their excellent publications for a an hour or two before writing your piece. This is a website concerning the DCFTAs signed with Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova.

  • 1729torus

    There will be no extension past the end of the EU budget at the end of 2020.

  • Gary Thompson

    Border then in the irish sea possibly?

  • 1729torus

    Customs border in Ireland, regulatory border in Irish Sea. The first will wreck NI’s agriculture.

  • Abucs

    I’d say division and decline Korhomme. If people do their secular religion through the state, that state is either going to be paralysed with division or be steered toward authoritarianism.

    In the long run only the workings of smaller government with lots of strong independent, voluntary, community minded, non government associations can prevent this regression.

    The larger the state the less room for these groups. I believe the answer to people’s happiness is to limit the state’s power and distribute this power among community groups with like minded culture who can work together without the adversarial component of diverse groups fighting over centralised power .

  • siouxchief

    Reading this I thought the regulatory border would be the bigger concern for farmers so putting it in the Irish sea would be good news but maybe I’m interpreting it wrong


  • Brian Kann

    whatever people say about the EU, they are generally very good at publications like this and making them accessible to the public. Their legislative summaries and trackers are generally excellent.

  • Brian Kann

    Brokenshire could take his unique skills to a bigger arena, couldn’t he?

  • 1729torus

    Agricultural tariffs aren’t the biggest concern, but they’d still wreck NI farming on their own. But it’s better than not being able sell into the EU at all or anywhere without loads of paperwork and inspections.

  • El Daddy

    What does that mean, sorry?

  • runnymede

    You are getting ahead of yourself. Nothing in Brokenshire’s article suggests that. Indeed his comment that nothing must happen to weaken the integrity of the all-UK market could be read as specifically ruling out any regulatory border within the UK as well as no customs border.

  • hgreen

    UK govt hasn’t been fit for purpose for quite a while. Only the introduction of PR and central funding for political parties can stop the rot.

  • lizmcneill

    What’s the point in easing the regulatory burden if nobody’s going to buy our food because of tariffs? Might as well not bother.

  • 1729torus

    ensure that we have as frictionless and seamless a border as possible between Northern Ireland and Ireland … at the same time we need to ensure that nothing is done that undermines the integrity of the UK single market

    In that case, he’s engaging in magical thinking and talks won’t progress.

  • 1729torus

    It’s better than tariffs and having to get a veterinary certificate for the animal to show it was raised to EU standards and having to register the abattoir used and being subjected to random physical inspections at the border around 15% of the time combined with documentary checks 100% of the time …

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “Lie on your belly with your toes in the air” as the drunken lady fitness instructor requested on 1950s radio in the US……

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Or a beneficent dictatorship….,.

  • runnymede

    The statement is clear enough –

    ‘nothing’ to undermine integrity of UK market. An absolute.

    ‘Frictionless/seamless…as possible’. Not an absolute.

    The second goal is relative to the first. No change whatever in the government’s long standing position here.

  • runnymede

    Not really – either of these barriers will essentially mean meat trading cross border will become largely unviable.

    You then choose which market to prioritise – and the GB one is far larger than ROI.

  • 1729torus

    Meat made to EU standards will very likely be allowed in the UK.

  • 1729torus

    Of course, but trade talks will not advance in this case and the UK can trade on WTO rules. The EU will use its economic heft to protect its Single Market, even if that involves turning NI into a kind of buffer zone where EU rules apply and undermines the UK’s sovereignty over its own territory. The alternative would be to allow one of its member states to be potentially forced out.

  • Korhomme

    I’m no follower of football; thanks for the heads up.

    I see the problem with government as being too centralised and thus (literally) remote; I don’t think that ‘smaller’ government is the answer, rather a distribution.

    Back to Switzerland — and if you are familiar with the system there you can skip the next bits.

    Though Switzerland is a Confederation, that is not the principal base of politics. There are 26 Kantons, usually referred to in English as ‘counties’, though they are more than this. Within the 26 are about 2800 Gemeinde or communes, the lowest level of political engagement. I say ‘about 2800’ because some are very small, little more than a parish, and there have been efforts at ‘Fusion’ over the years. The system is one of subsidiarity. The Confederation is responsible for external affairs, the Post Office, many of the railways and the Militär, and not much else. There are Confederal departments for health and schools etc, but in these areas the real power lies with the Kantons; and the Kantons get their power from the Gemeinde. If you wish to become a naturalised Swiss, and live in the country, you apply to the Gemeinde; and it is the citizens there who decide. There isn’t a ‘Prime Minister’; the rotating chair of the executive is ex officio head of state, and receives ambassadors etc.

    The Kantons all have their own tax arrangements (VAT is centralised and uniform); some have progressive income tax rates. Others have ‘degressive’ rates, where over a certain level the percentage paid decreases. Some Kantons are rich, with low tax rates; others are poor with high rates; rich and poor are of course relative. And the Gemeinde have their own tax rates, as does the Confederation for its biennial tax. But the rates and the way things are calculated don’t change every year as can happen in the UK.

    It’s all like 26 pretty independent states with an umbrella. There are problems for the internal movement of people; school ages, terms etc can vary, making transfer of kids difficult — hence the Confederal attempt to ‘uniform’ things. (It used to be much more complex; each Kanton had import tariffs, many had their own currency and differing systems of weights and measures. There wasn’t a national currency, and it was cheaper when sending goods across Switzerland to do this through France and Germany rather than internally.)

    They have a mixture of representative and direct democracy; the representative bits are a ‘Militz’, that is they are part-timers. the direct bit is the referendums, and popular initiatives.

    It all means that the average Swiss is much better informed about things than is usual in the UK, and that local decisions are taken at local level rather than being ‘imposed from above’.

    It’s all complex, bureaucratic and expensive; but I think such a system would address many of the concerns you and others have about ‘big government’.

  • Abucs

    Thanks, i have a Dutch expat friend who lived in Switzerland and he always sings the praises of that country. Ironically he tends to argue with another Swiss friend who is a little critical (perhaps for the sake of it).

    Thanks for explaining the particulars of the Confederation. It sounds to have much merit politically although I hope it will also tends to produce a dis-jointed football team.

  • runnymede

    It might. But it might not be very competitive.

  • runnymede

    Why would the UK agree to that?

  • Ruairi Murphy

    I have to agree with runnymede on this one.

    I have read Brokensire’s article twice now and can see no encouragement for any “all-Ireland” trade agreement. His only reference is to protecting the island wide electricity market. You are getting ahead of yourself.

    Trade talks will proceed without resolution of the border issue – that has already been confirmed by both sides. It is not the border issue that is jeopardising trade talks.

  • 1729torus

    Simon Coveney says:

    We will need the UK to make serious and significant
    commitments in respect of the border if we are to move to phase two in

    If the UK doesn’t commit to somehow keeping NI within the EU’s single market for goods, there is no way Dublin can allow talks to advance to trade without abandoning this stated redline, (which is not impossible of course).

    Mr Coveney suggests the UK stay in the Single Market and Customs Union as one solution.

  • 1729torus

    Perhaps, but this is ultimately about the political objective of avoiding a hard border.

    NI would benefit from having smoother access to the EU than the rest of the UK, factories might start locating here. And if the UK cuts standards, NI agristuff can compete on quality – look at Kerrygold products in the US for an example of such a strategy

    (If the UK doesn’t cut food standards, then it will likely just stick to EU ones, so there is no problem at all)

    Incidentally, if NI tries to compete on price, you might see farms here bought up and amalgamated in to super-farms by Kerry Group or other Irish agricultural MNCs.

  • Ruairi Murphy

    He also said British direct rule would be “unacceptable” to the Irish government.

  • 1729torus

    But it’s not direct rule so long as Stormont is running…

    This trick won’t work when it comes to a physical hard border.

  • William Kinmont

    farm week reporting brokenshire on agriculture remaining in eu for trade and regulation and all ireland disease policies

  • William Kinmont

    BVA report on brexit suggesting 300 percent increase in veterinary time needed to compete this . same report notes huge veterinary shortage which makes achieving this fantasy

  • 1729torus

    The UK can bring in vets from abroad … oh wait.

  • 1729torus

    Fun questions:

    Will there be an all-Ireland food safety agency of some kind?

    Who will sit on the committee responsible for determining which EU laws apply to NI?

    Will the Irish government or the UK government be responsible for overseeing the transposition of EU legislation? Will there be a committee like the one above?

    Will there be Irish officials from the Department of Agriculture randomly checking lorries between NI and Scotland to see if regulations are actually being adhered to? Or will there be officials from the EU Commission?

    Will the DUP farmers start making pilgrimages down to Dublin to lobby the Minister for Agriculture?

    Will the DUP complain if SF try to start using their tangible influence in Dublin as a means of leverage within NI? Imagine if SF controlled both RoI’s Ministry for Agriculture and Ministry for Foreign Affairs!

  • William Kinmont

    I agree with your initial thinking here, but actually republic has same or worse shortage of vets.

  • William Kinmont

    I think there will be an all Ireland body for food safety disease control etc. Presumably all Eu laws rules with relation to agrifood will apply and the UK gov will transpose them without any input or influence on forming them .
    Daera will happily police imports from Scotland with the vigour they do now you could escape from colditz easier than get a horned ewe in from scotland with one dot missing from an i on your forms.
    I think that the financial dependancy of our farms on this working will comit the DUP to excusing this compromise. ( the loyalist voters in city estates wont be interested enough in agrifood to notice this compromise

  • Korhomme


    NI 0 : 1 CH

    (Interestingly, in relation to this match I saw NI described as a ‘pretend country’ on Twitter; I’ve heard and seen plenty of descriptions of NI but never this one before.)

  • Georgie Best

    NI beef might not be very competitive in Britain if there is South American beef on the shelf also. That’s why it is important that access to EU markets.

    I still think tariffs are unlikely, owing the damage they would do in Britain.

  • David Crookes

    Unlike Real Madrid.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you Korhomme for a clear and vivid explanation of something rather complex.

    I was staying with a descendant of one of the people who reconfigured the Swiss political system in the early twentieth century over August, in a beautiful old medieval townhouse. His family library, begun in the sixteenth century contained his grandfathers political papers.

    As someone passionate about intelligent and organised decentralisation I’ve long been interested in the Swiss political arrangements, as a model of genuine local and popular empowerment. It was an extraordinary experience to be able to talk over a week with someone who had grown up in the family of one of the makers of the system. The San Francisco wall graffiti tells us “ the people who are destroying the world have names and faces”, but sometimes we have the unexpected luck of putting names and faces to those who have given their lives to making the world a better place to live in.

  • Korhomme

    The Swiss system is a ‘work in progress’. The constitution of 1815 was delivered by the Congress of Vienna; it was inflexible — rather like the current US constitution. The Sonderbund war in 1847 was a reflection of the dissatisfaction of several Kantons. After this ‘very civil war’, both sides sat down in Bern and wrote a new constitution in 1848. This was altered in 1875, and has been continuously updated since — referendums and popular initiatives weren’t in the 1848 version.

    If there is a moral to this, it is that what seems like a permanent order today will be out of date tomorrow; and that any constitution needs to be capable of revision and improvement — it needs to be written into the constitution that it can be changed.

    I’m sure you enjoyed your time there recently, it sounds fascinating.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Any real system will need to change as the world changes. In Britain we are watching the older accountabilities and collegiate model of cabinet government pass as real power centralises on a model set in motion by Thatcher in the 1980s and honed further by Tony Blair. In this context the centralisation of real power in the executive makes our own systems off devolution almost the opposite of the Swiss model of local empowerment. Unfortunately, we appear to be changing in the wrong way for anyone who values democracy.

  • Korhomme

    Devolution in the UK is rather like a few inconsequential crumbs being thrown to the peasantry; the largess of the elite and the man in Whitehall who really does know best. Of course, real power remains in the centre. Historically, the centre took power from Wales, then Scotland in 1707 and Ireland in 1800/01.

    In Switzerland, while I said that the Gemeinde was the ‘lowest’ organ of government, I should add that it gets its legitimacy from the ‘sovereign’; but, as the papers there always remind us, it is the Volk, the people who are souverän, sovereign. They guard their sovereignty jealously, and allow the Gemeinde only to do what they permit; and the Gemeinde have the same relation to the Kantons, and the Kantons to the Bund or Confederation. It’s very much the opposite to the UK.

    And, while there is a chairman of the confederal executive, his or her powers are very limited; but in the UK we see the emergence of an ‘executive president’; this was very apparent in the Tory presentation of Theresa in the most recent election. This process began with Blair, a PM who had when he became PM had no ministerial experience of any sort to guide him — and neither had Cameron.

  • mickfealty

    zzzz… wake me back up then?

  • Kevin Breslin