For the cabinet, crunch time hasn’t been formally reached but it all seems over bar the shouting. Significant resignations are unlikely. After a progress report to the cabinet this morning, the old Remainer David Lidington says agreement is “within touching distance” while the younger Leaver Brexit secretary Dominic Raaab repeats the mantra of “good progress.” Raab had been reported as a possible cabinet quitter. Boris for once, sounds plausible: “No one is fooled by this theatre. Delay after stage managed delay.” Meanwhile the government are facing defeat in the Commons this afternoon over a vote to force them to break precedent and publish the Attorney General’s full advice on the PM’s withdrawal proposals. The DUP are said to be ready to oppose them for the first time on a Brexit vote, but the government may avoid a vote, back down and publish and be damned.
Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, is opening the debate for Labour. Nigel Dodds, the DUP leader at Westminster, asks Starmer to confirm that paragaph 50 of that report said there should be no new regulatory barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain without the approval of the Northern Ireland assembly. Starmer accepts that.
Starmer says this issue remains unresolved. He is not pretending it is easy, he says. But he says we keep being told a deal is near, only to be told it is not ready.
UTV’s Tracey Magee tweets that DUP sources say their MPs will vote in support of today’s Labour motion calling for the publication of the legal advice on Brexit including the backstop. The party has previously called for the advice to be made public.
Kate Hooey, reared at Mallusk on a pig farm just beyond the northern edge of Belfast, a passionate unionist and yet a Labour MP, has written a diatribe against the EU and the Irish government which has fascinating details about a fishing dispute in it. Experts will know all about it but why has she left it so late to make the overall case? It all goes to show that the devil is in the detail. While for me, it’s always been clear than any deal will be worse than what we have now, there was plenty wrong with EU regulations and the common fisheries policy was one of them. Better though to have fought for change inside the EU house than shouting over the wall outside. It would be wrong to elevate fishing as another breakpoint in the negotiations. Michael Gove, a Scottish fish processor’s son, is using fishing rights reform to try to make Brexit more appealing in pro- Remain Scotland.
Extracts from Kate Hooey’s article
The Irish government, in cahoots with the EU, has deliberately made the border an issue and unfortunately our Prime Minister and her officials have fallen for it completely by agreeing to a backstop that would see NI being treated differently to the rest of the UK. By implying that the peace process is threatened by a hard border, even though no-one has said they will build it, is scaremongering of the worst kind. The EU wants to keep us locked in to their regulations and rules: the Irish government is playing hardball even though it would suffer most if the UK were to leave on WTO rules. The Irish PM has behaved rather shamefully with some of his rhetoric and is clearly intent on becoming a future EU commissioner.
The hypocrisy is breathtaking too as his government have already erected a hard border against fishermen from Northern Ireland. Predating membership of the EEC, a 1965 Voisinage or neighbourhood agreement between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland granted reciprocal access to fishermen from each jurisdiction to fish in the other 0 to 6 mile territorial waters, reflecting traditional and historic fishing patterns around the island.
A legal dispute surrounding the harvesting of mussels resulted in an October 2016 judgment by the Dublin Supreme Court advising that whilst the Voisinage Agreement was desirable, there was no constitutional basis in Ireland to support the agreement. Until such time as this was resolved by the Irish government, the decision was made for Ireland to withdraw from the reciprocal agreement. As a result of the Supreme Court’s decision, Northern Ireland vessels are no longer allowed to fish in the 0 to 6 nautical mile zone in Irish waters. Irish fishing vessels continue to benefit from access to fish in British waters around Northern Ireland.
Draft legislation designed to resolve the matter was tabled but resisted by the Irish fishing industry, which lobbied Irish politicians on the basis the matter could be used as leverage against the UK during the Brexit negotiations. Ireland’s fishermen take 40% of their annual catch from British waters. Irish politicians agreed and the legislation designed to resolve the matter has been stalled since March 2017.
Leo Varadkar’s government has erected and maintained a hard border against Northern Ireland fishermen in the hope that this will exert some kind of influence on the UK during the wider Brexit negotiations. Our UK government claims to be maintaining the moral high ground on these issues, but the question arises: how long does the UK keep to the moral high ground when dealing with an Irish government that is taking our goodwill for granted?
When will the Prime Minister speak out and condemn this behaviour? When will she start speaking out in support of British citizens rather than seeming to care more about Irish views? It is this hypocrisy from Dublin that makes it certain that I and many other MPs will not support an agreement with the EU that panders to this kind of behaviour.
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