Mrs May’s tilt towards nationalism in Belfast implies an appeal to Varadkar to be more flexible about the backstop

Northern Ireland does not have to rely on the Irish Government or the European Union to prevent a return to borders of the past. The UK Government will not let that happen. I will not let that happen.

A fundamental belief in the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is part of my political heritage as a Conservative and Unionist – and that will never change.

But the Unionism I believe in is one that respects absolutely the central importance of Irish identity to those people in Northern Ireland who claim it.

Theresa May is no orator and she has a tin ear . To the weary, the cynical and the rigidly committed whom she will never satisfy, her speech in Belfast may have consisted of bland truisms. Her startling inability to think clearly on her feet was evident when Suzanne Breen’s unsettled her by describing her change of tack on the backstop as  a U –turn which undermined trust in her now.

I’m not proposing to persuade people to accept a deal that does not contain that insurance policy for the future… There is no suggestion that we are not going to ensure that in the future there is provision for this – it has been called an insurance policy, the backstop – that ensures that if the future relationship is not in place by the end of the implementation period, there will be arrangements in place to ensure that we deliver no hard border.”

This jumble of words – “ensure” is her verb of last resort –  got her into hot water    with the hard Brexiteers and exposed the fragility of  support for her renegotiation. They had already rejected one idea emerging from a meeting between the Commons Brexit committee members and Martin Selmayer the secretary general of the commission when Labour MP Stephen Kinnock thought he detected a willingness in Brussels   to reopen the withdrawal agreement in order to “copy and paste” assurances from Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, into it.

Mrs May has made a sincere and personal attempt to  broaden the basis of trust in Ireland after the Commons’ rejection of the backstop. She  offered familiar assurances to the DUP and unionism generally, going over old ground .  But here  she made a belated  response  to scathing criticism from critics in northern nationalism and south of the border.  This was something new, as if  she’d at last  woken up to  the distrust engendered among nationalists by her blithely  equating the interests of Northern Ireland  with those of the DUP.  Equally important she acknowledged the need to breathe new life into the GFA. If this is to amount to more warm words, it needs joint government action to surmount the mutual veto of the Stormont deadlock, which has left both sides with nothing to do except polish their rival narratives.   I don’t doubt her sincerity ; but her ability to deliver a good deal  via her chosen route of the divided Conservative party remains  in question.

The prime minister’s  appeal to nationalists to rely on the UK  rather than  Dublin or the EU to keep the border open makes sense immediately as an appeal to Leo Varadkar to be more flexible about the backstop. She  gave no clue about her hopes and intentions for the  forthcoming sequence of meetings with Juncker. Varadkar arrives in Brussels on Wednesday followed by herself  on Thursday. Expectations of these meetings are low but may surprise .

Extracts

“So I am here today to affirm my commitment, and that of the United Kingdom Government, to all of the people of Northern Ireland, of every background and tradition.

To affirm my commitment to the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, to its successors the St Andrew’s Agreement and the Stormont House Agreement, and to the principles they enshrine – which is absolute.

And to affirm my commitment to delivering a Brexit that ensures no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland – which is unshakable….

(The GFA) enshrined the principle that it is the ‘birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose.’

And it enshrined the consent principle: that it will always and only be for the people of Northern Ireland to decide what their constitutional future should be – and that the UK Government is solemnly committed to supporting and implementing their democratic wishes.

These principles are the bedrock of peace and stability in Northern Ireland. And they will forever be honoured by the United Kingdom Government.

A fundamental belief in the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is part of my political heritage as a Conservative and Unionist – and that will never change.

But the Unionism I believe in is one that respects absolutely the central importance of Irish identity to those people in Northern Ireland who claim it…..

I can only deliver on the commitments we have made if I can get a deal through the UK Parliament. And meetings with MPs across the House showed that I can only get a deal through Parliament if legal changes are made to the backstop.

First, we stand by our commitment in the Joint Report that there will be no hard border, including any physical infrastructure or related checks and controls. And this means people on either side of that border will be able to live their lives as they do now.

The Belfast Agreement delivers “just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos and aspirations of both communities.” And for many a seamless border between Northern Ireland and Ireland is integral to delivering this. And I know this has been the cornerstone around which the community in Northern Ireland has come together to deliver peace and prosperity. And I will not do anything to put that at risk.

So while I have said that technology could play a part, and that we will look at alternative arrangements, these must be ones that can be made to work for the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland.

Second, neither will I compromise on my promise to protect Northern Ireland’s integral place in the UK. When the European Commission proposed a version of the backstop which involved creating a customs border in the Irish Sea, I successfully resisted it. And I have ruled out any return to such a suggestion.

Furthermore, we will also ensure there will be no new regulatory barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK without Northern Ireland’s institutions having their say.

Third, there will be full protection for all existing cross-border co-operation.

Fourth, we will uphold the rights enshrined in the Belfast Agreement for all the people of Northern Ireland, right across the whole community. This includes upholding commitments around mutual respect, religious liberties, equality of opportunity, tolerance and rights.

I know that there are some in the nationalist community in particular who worry that some of their existing rights could be eroded when the UK leaves the EU. So we have already enshrined in the Withdrawal Agreement a legal guarantee of no diminution of equality and rights.

There have also been serious concerns raised about how UK immigration rules treat citizens here exercising their rights under the Agreement to be Irish.

There have also been serious concerns raised about how UK immigration rules treat citizens here exercising their rights under the Agreement to be Irish. The birth right to identify and be accepted as British, Irish or both, and to hold both British and Irish citizenship is absolutely central to the Agreement.

But I know that in some cases recently, people have encountered difficulties in securing their rights as Irish citizens to bring in family members. I understand the serious concerns that have been raised.

So I have asked the Home Secretary, working closely with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to review these issues urgently to deliver a long term solution consistent with the letter and spirit of the Belfast Agreement.

Without a devolved Government – and with only unionists represented in the House of Commons – it is more important than ever that we uphold our duty to ensure all voices in Northern Ireland are heard.

Northern Ireland does not have to rely on the Irish Government or the European Union to prevent a return to borders of the past.

The UK government will not let that happen. I will not let that happen.

At the same time, we must continue to support all efforts that can lead towards the restoration of Northern Ireland’s political institutions.

And the UK Government is absolutely committed to ensuring that when an Executive is restored it will have real influence to speak for all the people of Northern Ireland as we shape the UK’s future relationship with the European Union.

As we work to address the unique challenges that Brexit poses to Northern Ireland, so I also want to ensure that we continue to maintain – and indeed enhance – the strongest possible bilateral partnership between the UK and Ireland.

I have said many times that I want to see a new, deep and special partnership between the UK and the 27 Member States of the European Union.

But our relationship with Ireland is deeper than our relationship with any of the other 27.It is uniquely rooted in ties of family, history and geography.

So I want to work closely with the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the Irish Government, as so many of our predecessors have before, to strengthen the bilateral relationship we have built.

And this can and should take many forms.

We already have the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference, and regular Summits between UK and Irish politicians. But as we leave the European Union, we will need to establish new ways of coming together to develop further our unique relationship.

For example, the Irish Government has suggested annual meetings where the Prime Minister and Taoiseach, together with senior Ministerial colleagues, come together to discuss the big issues of the day.

We will also want to strengthen our economic relationship and have already together identified areas like construction and smart cities as ripe for enhanced collaboration.

And both the UK and the Irish Governments have already made clear that we would support the tantalising possibility of a joint UK and Ireland World Cup Bid for 2030, should our respective football associations choose to pursue this.

… I hope we can also take steps to move towards the restoration of devolution – so that politicians in Northern Ireland can get back to work on the issues that matter to the people they represent.

For ultimately, the measure of this moment in Northern Ireland’s history must be more than whether we avoid a return to the challenges of the past.

It must be how, together, we move forwards to shape the opportunities of the future”.

Just when you were sure unicorns were mythical..

An 11 page briefing on the explosive Futitsu plan has been leaked to The Sun.

Named the ‘Drive Through Border Concept’, it ensures there is no need for any physical checks on the border or hard infrastructure.

Instead, a tracking system monitors vehicles on designated routes as they cross from Northern Ireland to the Republic via GPS as well as number plate recognition cameras.

Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay is studying the plan closely.

It has also been circulated among a working group of senior Tory Leavers and Remainers who have come together to propose a new backstop based on stand-off customs checks, dubbed the Malthouse Compromise.

EU critics of the alternative arrangements to change the backstop have claimed the technology doesn’t yet exist to police the border and are years away.

But The Sun’s revelation today heaps more pressure on PM Theresa May to agree to push the border plan during talks in Brussels tomorrow.

On the other hand from Faisal Islam of Sky News, news of that far busier border –  where  as “frictionless as possible” can only mean entirely open – by default.

 

John Keefe is a director of Get Link, the rebranded name for the owners of Eurotunnel.

“Fresh vegetables, fish from Scotland, car parts, processed food, powdered pharmaceuticals – nothing here is checked. It is absolutely frictionless now. It’s like moving something from Manchester to London, there’s no check on the motorway, that’s how it works today,” he explains to me walking down the platform next to one of freight trains.

Depending on the customs trade deal, somewhere and somehow there might have to be checks for plants, tariffs, for rules of origin on manufacturing parts. So what does he understand by the Government’s mantra of “as frictionless as possible”?

The ‘as possible’ has to go. The only way to run this is frictionlessly.”

Sky News has revealed that the Government had obliged key border operators to sign non-disclosure agreements over the shape of the post-Brexit border.

Number 10 and HMRC acknowledged this fact after our story. The Opposition suggested that it was “disturbing evidence” from a “Government obsessed with secrecy” that was “trying to hide the fact that they have no plausible plan for protecting British trade and manufacturing”.

The scenarios described to Sky News have been broadly interpreted by the industry as “hard Brexit”, “soft Brexit” and “no deal”. It is the last scenario that has raised the most eyebrows in industry.

“This is what we call the ‘Throw Open the Borders option’,” said one operator. The scenario involves the UK on day one of Brexit unilaterally deciding not to enforce customs checks, and other border checks, and presuming that a reciprocal approach will be taken by the European Union, and thus at least temporarily maintaining a non-negotiated form of frictionless trade in goods.

 

 

 

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