The Windsor Framework shows progress on issues we were previously told could not be improved. Partly, I suspect, because the EU has accepted arguments made by external parties that the risk to the single market (at present) from the UK is minimal.
That may change over time, for the rest of the UK as well as for Northern Ireland, but the framework allows for facilitation of some form of dynamic alignment without ever suggesting that is what’s in scope. It’s a potential anchor on any radical Brexit.
I’m not sure how this plays with the DUP’s attempt to frame the deal in a positive enough light that they could eventually signup to it, or negative enough to spin that out until after potentially tricky local elections (which they cannot collapse).
Newton Emerson on The View last Thursday reminded us that the unionist vote (in spite of how both British and Irish propagandists now spin their post hoc rationalisations) was split such that up to 40% voted against Brexit.
This may explain why so many since 2016 have left the larger Unionist ship and joined the Alliance and Green parties. It’s worth remembering this when weighing the fact that the biggest Unionist party is also the only substantial pro Brexit one.
Herein lies some of the painful internal dilemma for the party which itself is comprised of ideologues and pragmatic politicians. Newton put it well in his Irish News piece on Saturday:
Dodds has objected to the Stormont brake – as has Sammy Wilson, another party officer – for being in reality a Westminster brake. More interesting is the Norwegian comparison made by British and European politicians, officials and experts.
Norway and two other countries in the European Free Trade Association are in the single market via the European Economic Area, with a similar ‘emergency brake’ on EU law.
It seems that some in London and Brussels think Northern Ireland might show the path towards a Norway-type arrangement for the whole UK.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was asked about the Norway model last week in the Commons. He objected that it would still mean Northern Ireland being treated differently to Britain. That was not an objection to Britain following suit.
Divergence with Britain is the thing that hurts unionist sensibilities, rather than the poor form of Brexit (ie, purely dysfunctional rather than simply hard in any substantial sense) that has been poorly delivered up to now.
Even hardliners like Dodds would let a “radical” Brexit go if it restored the integrity of the union again. Ironically that might also mean relinquishing the advantage it currently has in exports to the EU over the rest of the UK.
As Owen Polley notes, “the ‘Windsor Framework’ is unlikely to become anyone’s favourite child”. But it could form a sort of Wittgenstein’s ladder which allows another pivot towards a more stable and pragmatic arrangement with the Single Market for the whole UK.
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