Stepping back from the cliff edge has begun. Chequers is not dead – says the EU

The salvage job has already begun and a better verdict sought than disaster.  If Salzburg was not all a misunderstanding, it was more like a farce without the laughs. People literally passed each other in the night.  Theresa May’s ten minute pitch over dinner, followed by a leaders’ chat over lunch next day without her was hardly the stuff and style of diplomacy. In the gap between the two meals,  rumours and spin raised  suspicions and fears about  British intentions … Read more

Theresa wraps the flag around herself and Northern Ireland. But fresh proposals on the border may test the DUP deal

Flanked by two Union Jacks in the State Downing Room of No 10, Theresa May reacted to her mauling in Salzburg with a sharp sense of affront. Let’s face it,  a woman can still register hurt dignity more convincingly than a man.  The setting was in fact improvised; it had been moved inside from the street because of a deluge. And in a faint but uncomfortable echo of her disaster at last year’s party conference,  there was a delay because  … Read more

Theresa May takes a big share of the blame for Salzburg but not all of it. How do they all walk back from the cliff?

Salzburg has turned out to be a Suez moment, a sudden and unexpected blow to  the government’s  prestige delivered by the discovery that UK  does not possess the political and economic weight to  make a deal with the EU so special that that it violates existential Union rules.  The shock is all the greater because the EU decided that, too close to deadline, the British had allowed themselves to be deceived by too much diplomatic fudging; and this had tempted … Read more

Chequers: they thought it was all over. It is now. Brexit brinkmanship or bust

Donald Tusk President of the EU Council At our EU27 working lunch today we had a good discussion on Brexit, which once again reconfirmed our full unity. Let me highlight three points. First, we reconfirmed that there will be no Withdrawal Agreement without a solid, operational and legally binding Irish backstop. And we continue to fully support Michel Barnier in his efforts to find such a model. Second, we agreed to have a joint political declaration that provides as much … Read more

No breakthrough for May at Salzburg. More moves on the border needed and concessions on the single market

God knows where we are now. Groping towards a solution probably.  We’re unlikely to get much more clarity from Salzburg by the end of the day.  The suggestion of a second referendum by the Maltese and Czech leaders made an interesting diversion but little more. The Irish Times headlined “stark divisions” between May and Varadkar in advance of their breakfast meeting today but added: Sources close to the prime minister accepted, however, that London would be bringing forward proposals on … Read more

Brinkmanship on the border: May squares off before EU leaders as Barnier revises his plan

To herald her appearance at today’s EU summit at Salzburg, Theresa May has presented  a bullish case for her Chequers plan where it matters most – to the Germans. In an article under her name in the heavyweight paper Die Welt, she insists that Chequers contains the border solution without resorting to the EU’s legal draft of the backstop. Say it quietly but she may be pushing at a door, if not wide open, just left ajar. Pardon the cliché,  … Read more

New November “deadline” for agreeing withdrawal terms puts pressure on all sides

The mantra “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” may be joined  with a new one, “ nothing changes until everything changes.” This  applies in spades to the border backstop wrangle. Rather than face crunch point at Salzburg on Thursday, EU leaders have confirmed that the terms for UK withdrawal will be settled at a special Brexit summit in November. So that’s all good, then. But the backstop still nags and Theresa May has said nothing to wish it away, … Read more

The burning border problem. Is it a gnat or a camel?

Only two things  are sure about the Brexit arguments.  Over the border issue ’they’re hotting up inside the Conservative party. And the binary nature of the exchanges between Theresa and Boris produces only deadlock as binary arguments tend to do. In her BBC interview no doubt she believes she’s defending “the precious, precious Union” and the will of the Northern Ireland people. But as interviewer Nick Robinson might have reminded  her, they voted in favour of Remain. Does it really … Read more

Brexiteer border plan is not a game changer, nor a government wrecker for the DUP

Will Arlene Foster proclaim the merits of the Brexiteer European Research Group’s plan for the border when she meets Theresa May?  She will come under immediate pressure to give her verdict – for or against the Chequers plan on which May refuses to compromise; or in favour of the ERG’s? Nigel Dodds has declared the plan which is rival to the prime minister’s plan “positive and timely.” But is this an implied  threat to withdraw support from the government? It … Read more

Big business’s demand for same sex marriage must set a precedent for more challenges to our embarrassingly out of touch politicians

Hooray!   At last! Civil society, for so long  fearful of saying a single word that would offend a politician, has plucked up enough courage to speak out on a burning issue that’s also a glaring anomaly.  In a  move  that takes advantage of the political vacuum and shows just how fed up they are with it,  normally cautious big business is calling  for equal marriage to be extended to Northern Ireland. They’re arguing on the grounds of creating better jobs … Read more

As the practicalities of the border issue are wrestled with, the pressure on the DUP is mounting. Are the hardline Brexiteers preparing to rat?

Now what?  On the border issue, the EU Commission and the Brexiteers are coming closer together than either to the government, according to the Guardian.  This report shows that both sides are getting down to the practical options,  instead of political grandstanding. Do the options appeal to the DUP? Downing St are sticking with ” no EU officials” at British ports but for how long? Does ” no EU officials ” rule out categorically different rules for the island of … Read more

The EU may shoot Boris’s fox and bail Theresa out

The FT  has discovered a blink of light for Theresa May  amid the general Brexit gloom.  The Daily Telegraph is among other papers  lifting the story, labelling it, “Operation Save Theresa.”        The EU is preparing to give its Brexit negotiator new instructions to help close a deal with Britain, in a conciliatory move that will bolster Theresa May as she suffers savage attacks from Brexiters at home. An informal summit in Salzburg this month between the EU’s … Read more

If the MoD stalls over the Ballymurphy inquest, you can forget drawing a line under the Troubles

The Channel 4 film “Massacre at Ballymurphy” will quickly be seized on as ammunition in the battle of narratives for dealing with the past.    Those who complain that not only the narrative but justice has become one sided may believe that the documentary has handed a propaganda victory to Sinn Fein: and so whatever the gross hypocrisy involved,  it probably has.  But this is beside the point.  To think of it only in Clausewitzian terms is to view it through the … Read more

When oh when will the UK government stop stalling on the backstop?

Why  is  Michel Barnier being messed about over the backstop and the border? On Tuesday he said this to the Commons Brexit  Select Committee. I am very concerned about Ireland. We need to find a solution that avoids the return of a hard border and that remains today the main obstacle on our road to an agreement between the British and ourselves. On the ground, ladies and gentlemen, it is impossible—this is nothing new—to distinguish between customs checks and other … Read more

Spurred on by the generals, the government now admit they’re considering an amnesty

For the first time the UK government have admitted they’re considering a general amnesty arising out of the Troubles.  Although an amnesty is not government policy, the admission came in a Lords debate instigated by the former Chief of General Staff of the Army Lord Dannatt, supported by other former top brass and former secretaries of state. What remains unclear is  how this would affect the Legacy package of the Stormont House Agreement, including the proposal for an independent Historical … Read more

The time has come for the next Assembly to vote on a border poll

In a brave attempt to discuss a border poll dispassionately, Newton Emerson is tentatively suggesting that it might be a good idea to hold a sort of test poll outside the terms of the GFA “to clear the air.” Unfortunately his analysis is better than his prescription, as a poll of any sort  under official sponsorship, even one declared in some way not to count,  would  inevitably still stimulate  the  seven year itch  among nationalists he rightly identifies , to … Read more

From the London broadsheets, rare interest in Irish developing positions is to be welcomed

The criticism  is well made that  British  interest in Irish positions is generally self serving and fails to recognise their independent validity. Any slight shift in this is to be welcomed. The London broadsheets  have paid Sinn Fein the rare compliment of taking seriously the party’s think-in at Cavan. It’s worth noting that they have yet to broach the notion that a  Brexit solution would  be so much easier if Northern Ireland were to join the Republic.  Quite apart from … Read more

The arrest of two journalists is a symptom of a bankrupt system for dealing with the Troubles legacy, with no solution in sight

The arrest and interrogation of two journalists  suspected of stealing documents  in connection  with  the making the film documentary No Stone Unturned on the Loughinisland murders, is a perfect example of how the current handing of the Troubles legacy is deeply unsatisfactory. In the present vacuum, the PSNI, which still retains  front-line legacy responsibilities,  seems to feel bound  to  be seen doing something, even in cases where they look self interested, counterproductive and downright foolish.  On the face of it … Read more

Brexit crisis point is arriving even faster than expected

At the opening of the Westminster season, no time has been wasted for open warfare to break out inside the Conservative party.  Theresa May’s Chequers plan is assailed from both left and right, in the old terms, between Leave and Remain.  Its main thrust – separating the authority  to lay down rules for goods from regulations for services –   is now specifically rejected by Brussels. Crying wolf is easy but this looks really serious.  Boris slaps down his challenge in … Read more

The Pope’s visit revealed a Church at war between left and right and over the authority of the Pope. The result is deadlock

Two characteristics of the papacy of Jorge Mario Bergoglio emerged more clearly as a result of his brief visit to Ireland, neither of them encouraging. One was the local hierarchy’s relative powerlessness to influence what went on. Over the dashed hopes that he might come North, they talked like onlookers in the crowd. This goes flatly against all I ever assumed about the pledges of collegiality with local bishops after Vatican 2. The second is the relative powerless of the … Read more