It’s been a funny week. [Yeah, another one. We know. – Ed.] On Sunday, Fianna Fail’s Lisa Chambers noted the strangeness in a commemoration in Cork of the old IRA commander and government minister Seán Moylan, like this:
It seems strange to stand here beside a patriot who fought British tyranny and say “Brits In”. But these are strange times.
The British decision to leave the most successful transnational organisation in history is an unprecedented act of national self-sabotage. Our island risks being collateral damage in that act of kamikaze politics.
We need a Brexit deal that keeps the UK as close to the EU as possible and keeps alive the possibility of them re-joining in the future.
The current deal (it’s really a provisional arrangement in order to reach an actual deal) has the support of all main political parties in the south. In Northern Ireland, it was greeted with relief more than outright welcome by non-unionists. But neither Unionist party is happy.
Whilst no southern party wants to look like it is lecturing the British, few seem to have the least understanding of where the hostile reaction from unionists in both parties comes from. For Nigel Dodds’s part, he has argued that the deal on offer…
…would place a trade border in the Irish Sea, subject us to EU rules without any power to influence or change them and binds us to the EU with no unilateral ability to leave.
None of which would necessarily happen. Yet the alienation between unionism and the rest of Irish opinion has left little room for trust. The core problem for May is that few of those who voted for Brexit had a single shared or shareable idea of what it would mean.
In reality, by not articulating a clear outcome at the start (something simple and sellable like Norway say, or Canada) the core objection in London to her deal is that it has merely diminished the hand of the UK going into the next phase of negotiations…
Please explain to me what on earth the UK has 'won' in the Brexit negotiation. The chance to negotiate a future relationship with even fewer cards that our paltry hand under Article 50? https://t.co/NLW6yYFslZ
— David Steven (@davidsteven) November 18, 2018
Talk to some in the DUP and they express frustration that the solution offered by the EU on the Irish Sea “border” was withheld when it came to dealing with the prospective land border between the UK and the EU, ie that checks can be done in-market rather than at the ports.
And if that smacks a little of paranoia, consider this report in The Sunday Times in which Dominic Raab…
…accused senior figures in the commission of plotting to punish Britain, revealing that he was told by British diplomats that Martin Selmayr, the German official, had boasted that losing Northern Ireland would be the “price” Britain had to pay for Brexit.
It’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you. Katy Hayward’s argument in today’s Irish Times that the DUP’s prime motivator is a lack of trust in the UK Government, is partly true. But in fact, the PM’s complicated Chequers proposal is neither an easy nor a clean sell.
Her task wasn’t helped by the UK media’s insistence on focusing on controversial fringe figures, like Rees Mogg. It fell to the chair of the 1922 Committee to point out he was unsuited for the leadership of the Conservative party because he’d never been in government.
Today, in the story the media has been turning itself inside out over, the 48 letters have barely reached the mid-twenties. The inability of the UK to think coherently and socially about its own future (regardless of who’s in power) has contributed to the mess it now finds itself in.
From the Irish side, Kevin Cunningham (in a piece that deserves wide readership on both sides of the water), quietly notes:
Goaded by nationalist politicians playing on anti-Brit sentiment, the negotiations have facilitated a myopic, zero-sum analysis of our interests.
That the Taoiseach sought meetings with every anti-Brexit party in Northern Ireland, down to the Greens (2 MLAs) but not either of the two now pro Brexit Unionist parties (38 seats between them) has done nothing to dampen the multiple neuroses sparked by the 2016 vote.
The UK Government may have, in the Taoiseach’s words, signed off on the deal but the initial polls indicate that neither Remainers nor Leavers like it. A huge proportion of voters haven’t even heard of it yet. Confusing the voters is hardly a winning strategy.
That’s primarily a result of the UK government’s insistence on a bespoke deal which gets some things (like control over immigration) she wanted upfront but which comes at the price of retaining huge uncertainty over the political destination of the final deal.
The Taoiseach is now placing his eggs in May’s basket. That could still pay off, not least because she has become semi-detached from Irish nationalism’s favourite bête noire, the DUP. It all depends on how this impasse resolves itself.
In Westminister, it is not clear that without workable alternative options on the table even an election would resolve anything either. In which case, a “no deal” may well be on the cards. Dan O’Brien now rates that outcome as a 68% possibility…
While it is often observed that there is no majority in Westminster for a no-deal exit, the vital point is that it is the default outcome. Unless something else is agreed and voted through parliament, British membership of the EU will simply lapse at 11pm on March 29. That means a no-deal Brexit.
British politics has been in a state of paralysis over Brexit for two-and-a-half years. It is possible, that as the cliff edge approaches, minds will change. But the matter has become so visceral that even the sobering effect of the prospect of a period of severe economic disruption may not be enough to change minds.
Few want to go there, but the political reality is that if this negotiated deal proves unsellable, the British, the European Commission and yes, the Irish government too may have boxed themselves in to the extent that such a collapse becomes inevitable.
Yet Mrs May will do what politicians under fire have done for generations when they find themselves in a pickle: keep kicking the can forward in the hope that something will turn up. She got it through the cabinet with a few casualties. So far her party is holding together.
Next, the pressure will come from the opposition who will try putting in amendments to the agreement that the EU has it cannot alter. Labour is hungry for an election which the Tories are determined not to give them. And yet, without the DUP, where does she get her numbers?
“There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.” “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Lewis Carroll, “Through the Looking Glass”
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty