For Northern Ireland and the Union, the choices after the election are all to play for

Peering into a crystal ball however cloudy is as irresistible for the curious voter as the compulsive gambler. Favourable predictions for the Conservatives range from an overall majority of over 100 to fewer MPs than May won in 2017 but still the largest party.

Serious hopes of a Labour majority are round about nil. They are likely to need the support on some basis of minority parties, the SNP, the Lib Dems and who knows? – even the DUP.

Johnson’s pledge to conclude a simple free trade deal by the end of 2020 is greeted with widespread incredulity. Yet if he manages to form a government at all, he will enjoy a degree of flexibility denied Theresa May because no one but no one would want another early election. And narrow winners tend to get confirmed in office.

Johnson the hard line leader of a minority government and prisoner of the Brexiteers would manage to steer his withdrawal agreement through Parliament. The fun and games over the final settlement would then begin, probably with less political disruption than in previous years over withdrawal. Over the next eighteen months leading to the next Holyrood election in May 2021, he would tough it out with the SNP and refuse to allow a second independence referendum. The case for waiting until at least the final settlement has viability.That could take several years.  And following the Spanish example over Catalonia he knows the EU would not support an illegal SNP referendum, even though Nicola Sturgeon unlike the Catalan rebels would not actually risk arrest if she called one.

Somebody in government would have to pay some attention to mitigating the impact on Northern Ireland. The DUP with between 8 to 11 seats could still matter.  Estimates of the impact of the withdrawal agreement range from checks amounting luridly to a virtual  Berlin Wall of checks in the Irish Sea “concluding that about 75%of Northern Ireland’s imports of goods would be subject to EU tariffs on their arrival in the region” to defiant optimism that trusted trader schemes can still work in mitigation and the NI therefore can enjoy the best of both worlds.

 Shanker Singham, guru for the alternative arrangements case has found a new champion for NI – the Republic no less, which is also concerned about barriers to East West trade, (and) will now have to push hard for a Free Trade Agreement between the UK and the EU. They will need to see many of these simplifications in place as soon as possible for East West trade”.

So no clarity there.

With a clear majority Johnson the one nation Tory might turn his attention to limiting the damage to the Union. Once withdrawal is achieved the zero sum choice between Brexit or the Union eases.  This argues for a final settlement like May’s withdrawal agreement, closer to Norway than Canada. But he would have to face his right wing down. Faced with the complexities of the fresh negotiations, the appeal for a softer Brexit might grow. The case can be made that a softer than Canada Brexit will benefit the heartlands of English nationalism, whether the Tories capture them or not.   Again the lessons of the last three years argue against yet another election.

Corbyn as leader of a minority Labour government is pledged to negotiate a more comprehensive agreement on workers’ rights etc and a customs union in six months and present a choice between that agreement and Remain in a second referendum. In the end the Lib Dems would surely support a referendum. Corbyn’s continued fumbling over this and a second Independence referendum in Scotland will deny him a formal confidence and supply deal with the SNP. But he doesn’t really need it to survive for at least a couple of years. He will promise loadsa money to Scotland and the SNP have nowhere else to go. He will hope the second referendum on Brexit will take the shine off the appeal of Indy ref 2 and create “never-endum” fatigue.

On Northern Ireland Corbyn would not win a single vote by promising a border poll to the absent Sinn Fein. While he might continue to dither over supporting Remain, there would be plenty in the Labour party who would present a Remain vote as solving Ireland’s Brexit problems at a stroke. Who knows the DUP’s might find their definition of NI’s  interests as coinciding  with that result or have it enacted without them.

Oh to be an optimist and perchance to dream?




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