The DUP fired a shot against the government’s bows, taking care to miss

The headliner at Ronnie Scott’s looks crap tonight

Tweet of the day  from jazz buff Ken Clarke followed by..

I’ve been sat up in bed for hours, whisky on the bedside table, soft jazz playing in the background, trying to think if I’ve ever worked with a more idiotic bunch of self centred bastards in my nearly 50 years as a MP. Nope, still can’t think of any. Time for another bottle.

Gently reminding Nigel Dodds across the floor of the House that he hasn’t listened to the people of Northern Ireland, where the majority voted remain.

As the general political temperature climbs, the DUP could hardly afford to be left out. By abstaining in votes on the Finance Bill and voting with Labour on one, they fired a shot across the government’s bows, but still insisted that the confidence and supply agreement wasn’t dead.

The DUP’’s votes were deliberately designed to “send a message” to Theresa May “that if she wants to continue down the road of the withdrawal agreement and its effect on the Union then there will be repercussions in the Commons”. But this they say, is not the end of the confidence and supply agreement.

In fact the government squeaked home on New Clause 2. Corbyn’s bid to get a  review of child poverty narrowly missed out by 287 to 292. The DUP not backing the Government made it tight.

Creating a diversion from business’s opposition to their stance, Arlene Foster made a flank attack on Leo Varadkar for letting the cat out of the bag about the inevitability of a hard border in the event of no deal.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the Government is not contemplating a hard border on the island of Ireland in the event of a rejection of the draft Brexit withdrawal deal.

Speaking on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics, Mr Varadkar said the focus remained on getting the deal ratified, but he added that a difficult conversation with the EU would have to take place if the UK parliament votes it down.

This is where it gets confusing. The hard border message was still playing when secretary of state Karen Bradley addressed the business conference in Belfast. Presumably the DUP would call this part of Project Fear. But had she been briefed about Varadkar who had just denied it? (We know how she relies on briefings).

Nevertheless I still argue that the DUP should be cut from slack. Their objections to the special customs relationship for Northern Ireland only and the checks on east -west trade from GB are basically the same as the Remainer camp’s – that they  have no say in how these arrangements are administered and might – or might not – be changed. Too much execration of the DUP easily becomes a hue and cry against unionism generally – Dublin papers please note.

For here’s the big thing. Lurking in the guidelines for the permanent deal is a logic that the UK could cut Northern Ireland adrift and restore the backstop that has been avoided for the withdrawal.  While this explains some of the DUPs fears, it should also give them pause  before they alienate all but 80 or so English Tory Brexiteers, whose resolve in any case, has wobbled at least for now.  Today was a relatively good day for Theresa  May, DUP or no DUP. Mrs Foster’s statement ends in a plaintive note;

I appreciate the concerns people have about a no deal but this should not be a binary choice. It is absolutely clear that it is time to work for a better deal.The agreement that has been put on the table is clearly not a good deal and no one should be forced into accepting another false choice.”

Naturally Ms Bradley denies that any threat to the Union exists. But the Guardian in a  hard hitting editorial is not so sure. The question is as so often, who takes the blame?

 

A threat to break up Britain.

“It is a paradox that Brexiters who claim to be protectors of the nation state are pursuing a political project that will undermine it. The reopening of the question of Gibraltar is a sign of things of come. Conservative Brexiters have long shown they simply could not care less about Ireland. Their wish to leave the single market and customs union was made without reason. Mrs May initially adopted this pose, until she was forced to concede it would damage the peace process. The prime minister’s transition period will run until at least December 2020. Six months before, there will have to be a decision about whether or not to activate the Irish backstop, a policy of last resort to maintain an open border on the island of Ireland in the event that the UK leaves the EU without securing an all-encompassing future trading deal. Letting the EU have a joint say on the backstop is a sensible idea. Yet it enrages Brexiters, who see reasonable solutions as perfidious attempts to subvert the UK through supranational engineering.

Brexit continues to infect and envenom the union question. If Northern Ireland outside of the EU ends up able to trade, through some clever alignment mechanism, with an EU member state via an open border, then it will lend credence to the idea that other parts of the UK could also be in closer orbit to Europe than England and intra-UK trade ought to be unaffected. That might be why Mrs May is refusing to send powers to devolved parliaments. If this continues, it will bruise the UK’s internal institutional relationships. If left unattended, they will end up functioning even more rancorously in the years after Brexit than they do now. In the worst case, the union might be rent asunder. It is Brexit, not the EU, that represents a very real threat to the UK’s integrity”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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