The parlous state of the Brexit negotiations has been generating more than the usual level of idle speculation, and arrant nonsense. [Including on Slugger? – Ed] No names, no pack drill… But there are some intelligent points being made, in some places, which are worth keeping in mind – if you are actually thinking about these things.
Like other, usually reliable, observers, The News Letter’s Sam McBride, whilst initially a little puzzled by Monday’s developments, offered a coherent scenario yesterday.
When I asked the DUP last night if it had been consulted on the issue, a spokesman did not directly answer the question either way but stressed that the party had “regular discussions on all of these things” with the government and that there was an “ongoing dialogue” between the DUP and the government on Brexit.
Certainly there was a clear undertone in Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s statement last night that something odd had gone on, with his suggestion that the UK government had agreed to the text on Northern Ireland only to withdraw that after Arlene Foster’s statement during the meeting with Mr Juncker, leaving him “surprised and disappointed”.
There is a more Machiavellian possibility. It could be that the DUP, knowing that having argued for Brexit and that because of its MPs’ leverage it is vulnerable to being blamed for any deal which is seen to undermine the unionist position, has calculated on something else: a very public flexing of its muscles now, allowing it to point back to how it stopped this deal if slightly more advantageous terms can be reached. [added emphasis]
And although this doesn’t look good for Mrs May, she potentially gains at least one card here: being able to say to Brussels that the Northern Irish question is not as simple as some there have presented it to be, and she is prepared to be more flexible than some of the Northern Irish parties, who she needs to bring with her.
And by today, his thoughts had crystallised further.
Mr Dodds said that the DUP accepts there could be “some sort of regulatory alignment – in certain specific areas” across the island of Ireland after Brexit but that Monday’s text had “far too much ambiguity”.
The text did appear to have considerable ambiguity – something that in one scenario could appeal to some DUP members if the text was to be legislatively interpreted by Stormont, where unionism would have a veto, but not if it was to be interpreted as Brussels and Dublin did.
Taken together, developments in the 24 hours after the DUP pulled the plug on the deal suggest that the party had been in the loop on this issue but was alarmed at either the leaked text or the way in which it was being spun in Brussels and Dublin.
The ambiguity – often constructive in putting a deal together but destructive later on – appears to have led Dublin and Brussels to interpret it as a maximalist position, while the DUP believed or were led to believe that it would or could be minimalist. [added emphasis]
If now, however, the debate is not about whether there can be regulatory alignment between Belfast and Dublin but about where that alignment should be, a deal would seem far more possible.
By way of illustration, here’s BBC NI political editor, Mark Devenport.
Two different forms of words are now doing the rounds.
Leaks from Brussels on Monday claimed a draft text said: “In the absence of agreed solutions, the UK will ensure that continued regulatory alignment with those rules of the internal market and the customs union which, now or in the future, support north-south cooperation and the protection of the Good Friday Agreement.”
This would be open to the UK government to parse on the grounds of which rules are relevant to that agreement. [added emphasis]
The Irish Times has reported another formula which has apparently been disputed by the British government.
It says: “The UK remains committed to protecting north-south co-operation and a guarantee to avoiding a hard border.
“The UK’s intention is to achieve these objectives through the overall EU-UK relationship.
“Should this not be possible, the UK will propose specific solutions to address the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland.
“In the absence of agreed solutions, the UK will maintain full alignment with the internal market, customs union and protection of the Good Friday agreement.”
This appears more a comprehensive text, less open to interpretation and potentially creating an internal customs barrier within a post-Brexit UK. [added emphasis again]
So does the government widen the playing field across the UK or try to narrow the terms of the text dealing with Ireland?
The interpretation could be set to be a pivotal point – if Tánaiste, and Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, is to be believed.
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said the Government wants to give British Prime Minister Theresa May time and space to manage “difficult political issues”.
However, he said he did not want to give the impression that the Government would reverse away from the Brexit border deal that was in place yesterday.
Speaking on his way into Cabinet this morning, Mr Coveney said the Government will work with the British government on presentational issues around the text which had been agreed on the border, but the core meaning must remain as the Irish Government will not be reversing out of an agreement which they felt they had secured yesterday. [added emphasis]
And with an eye on the wider picture, here’s Brendan O’Neill at The Spectator’s Coffee House.
In 2008, the Irish people voted against the Lisbon Treaty, which was in essence a new constitution for the EU. A Brussels insider described them as ‘ungrateful bastards’. The EC said there was ‘no Plan B’ to Lisbon — in short, it would carry on regardless of what the daft Irish thought. Pro-EU commentators insisted the Irish had been brain-warped by ‘populist demagogues’. It was precursor to the snobbish, anti-democratic fury that has likewise greeted the Brexit vote in certain EU fanboy circles. On Lisbon, too, the Irish were forced to vote again, and again they gave in the second time round.
Not content with dissing Irish voters, the EU then took over the running of their country in 2011. It sent the Troika — the EC, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — to oversee an overhauling of Irish public spending in order to keep the Euro ticking over. The Troika suits were effectively an unelected government. In the words of an Irish Times account of how they conducted their affairs in Ireland, they ensured that ‘members of the government were deliberately kept in the dark’. A budget for Ireland was drawn up by EU officials who didn’t consult Ireland’s own cabinet. To the EU, Ireland is a kind of colonial outpost, and its people pesky, irritating know-nothings.
And yet now the EU says it is Ireland’s mate and trusts it to make big decisions. It really doesn’t. It wants Ireland to do one thing and one thing only: wound Brexit. Ireland is being played like a fiddle. It is being used by an EU that is still reeling from our brilliant Brexit sucker-punch and which is so desperate to preserve its flagging authority that it is willing to pit Ireland against Britain; the Irish government against the British people; Irish concerns against British democracy. This is cynical, divisive and dangerous. An oligarchical institution that has demonstrated nothing but contempt for Irish and British voters and which is so speedily losing the plot that it’s happy to stir up tensions between nations in order to do over a democratic vote? With each passing day I grow happier and happier that I voted for Brexit.
The possibility exists that the Irish Government may well be being played willingly… although, they are taking a greater risk than the rest of the EU.