On the backstop, Theresa May’s “passion” for solutions and a bit more clarity seems to be paying off

Theresa May and Michel Barnier have spoken. Barnier has picked his way critically through the UK White Paper with its “facilitated customs arrangement” and common rule book, asking all the pertinent questions but turning nothing down.  80% of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU is now agreed, but the EU’s version of the backstop remains the bugbear. The black scenario is:  no agreement on the border, no withdrawal agreement, therefore no transition and no deal. To be honest, nobody except … Read more

Theresa May is playing well off a weak hand

Five Labour votes on Tuesday, plus really poor whipping on Monday night  that allowed  the Lib Dem leader and his predecessor to miss the vote  are two crucial factors that helped save  Theresa May’s  bacon this week.  The Commons will stagger on until Tuesday after all, as the government didn’t dare press for an early recess today after their hair’s breadth wins earlier this week.  Internal opposition to May has come from both sides, first  from Brexiteers opposing the Chequers … Read more

Go further Theresa, even if it means splitting the party. And Leo, ease up on the backstop if she does.

Pressure may soon become irresistible for Theresa May  to go against the habit of a lifetime and take a terrific political life or death gamble. Opening up  beyond her  bedraggled Facilitated Customs Arrangement  unveiled at Chequers  is  Labour’s choice of a customs union – if not now, in the autumn. But this will mean a huge bustup and split in the Conservative party and require Labour support  – official or unofficial  – to pass. In the meantime, the Tainaiste is reconciled … Read more

My bet still is that Theresa May will face down her overexcited critics

For MPs at Westminster, the long hot summer ends on Tuesday week.  In the short time remaining, the government will scrape a majority for the Trade Bill.  Over the next couple of days David Davis and perhaps Boris Johnson will make resignation statements in the Chamber that will fuel speculation about a coup. But time is tight to mount a leadership challenge against Theresa May before the adjournment. The political journalists’ lobby know this but want to keep the pot … Read more

The bogey of a hard border is starting to vanish before our eyes

Majority reaction to the Chequers summit is cautiously optimistic, most reservations from all but the Brexiteer fanatics being postponed, using the alibi  of next Thursday’s publication of the 120 page government White Paper before they fully respond.  If you’re naturally positive, you’ll see it as an undoubtedly soft Brexit;  if  you’re a cynic whether Leaver or Remainer, you may call it a fake Brexit. The outcome can be summed up by saying that on goods and regulations, the UK will … Read more

Defence Secretary Williamson revealed as private backer of an amnesty for soldiers

Despite this Sun ” exclusive,”  the ambitious Defence Secretary – the man who as chief whip negotiated the Conservative-DUP parliamentary deal – will have other things on his mind today – like which way will he jump on Theresa May’s Brexit plan?   GAVIN Williamson has secretly backed an amnesty for IRA terrorists — as the price for ending the witch-hunt of troops, The Sun can reveal. The Defence Secretary wants Theresa May to grant British troops who served in Northern … Read more

The choice is shaping up between holding the Conservative party together and a Brexit that works, sort of

The FT reports Theresa May is to present a new post-Brexit customs plan to her cabinet this week, in an increasingly desperate attempt to find a solution that can unite her feuding ministers and find favour with a sceptical EU. Details of the new plan have not been set out, but its existence — confirmed by Number 10 — demonstrates that Mrs May has concluded that neither of the two customs options under consideration by ministers for almost a year … Read more

As another crisis hits the EU, raging against the Brexiteers is not an adequate response.

Boats with EU, UK flags sailing in opposite directions

Try as I might I’m unable to understand the appeal of Brexit for the UK, never mind Ireland north or south. I say “understand “deliberately rather than “appreciate”, as it is possible to see where people are coming from even if you don’t join them on the journey. Therefore I’m often a humble passenger on Fintan O’Toole’s train of thought. The greatly admired Fintan is among the most sophisticated critics of Brexit on either island from the high vantage point … Read more

What does Drew Harris’s appointment as Garda Commissioner tell us about Fine Gael’s attitude to Sinn Fein?

In the Irish Times Ed Moloney has a fascinating backgrounder on the ground breaking appointment of   PSNI Deputy Chief Constable  Drew Harris as Garda Commissioner. Might we now  expect that senior Garda officers will at last become eligible  to head the PSNI?  Or does  history suggest that a single force to serve the entire state creates too introverted a culture to adapt to elsewhere, even to the North?   Drew Harris brings heavy baggage with him and his  appointment will have … Read more

Veil of secrecy over Special Branch informer system lifted a chink as the Finucanes make their bid to the Supreme Court

The Guardian lead on the Walker report ( no relation), neatly coincides with the opening of the Finucane family’s bid to the Supreme Court to order a public inquiry into Pat Finucane’s murder.  The “secret”  report by a former head of MI5  complied in 1980 – nine years before he was murdered –  was  “the blueprint for making RUC special branch a ‘force within a force’, according to the human rights legal group the Committee on the Administration for Justice … Read more

Individual conscience may make implementing abortion reform as controversial as deciding on the principle

From the Asher’s case to abortion, individual conscience and the prerogatives of devolution greatly complicate reform beyond a straightforward appeal to human rights. Secretary of state Karen Bradley has been attacked for hypocrisy over personally supporting abortion reform while resting on her belief that the Northern Ireland public overwhelmingly support action by a Stormont that is non-sitting and in which there probably isn’t a majority in favour of reform anyway. She knows resting on constitutional propriety gets her off even … Read more

Why is the Pope not coming North? Are the disappointed faithful too frightened to ask and did the bishops fail to press their case?

The ways of the Vatican are as inscrutable as those of the Chinese Communist party. Indeed they vie with the on-off – on character of the Trump- Kim Jong -un meeting in Singapore. Only a couple of days ago senior Irish Catholics were still holding out hopes that the Pope might pop up to Armagh. Then after his itinerary was announced, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin said that final confirmation had come from the Vatican that the pontiff will not … Read more

Would the DUP be any happier with a backstop, staying in the single market?

So it’s October then. The UK will fail to present its withdrawal plan to the EU summit at the end of the month and its backstop, handed in only after a cabinet crisis was averted on Thursday, would still lead to a hard border in Ireland. Lurking in the background may still be the option of some differentiation in NI’s status from GB. Such is the peculiar course of these negotiations, that the EU is mildly encouraged by the state … Read more

Peter Robinson was talking about much more than a border poll. The Assembly must become boycott proof

It was Peter Robinson “pulling the pin out of the grenade” and proposing  “generational” border polls that attracted most attention. But he had a good deal more to say at Queen’s that was  more important or at least more urgent.  He kept it lofty, generalised and above all brief, to avoid getting drawn into detail or appearing to lecture his successors. But his meaning is pretty clear . While he had to say he was optimistic about the future, he … Read more

The Churches are backing themselves into a corner of Northern Ireland’s narrow ground. The laity should take over

Following on from the testimony of  Gerry Lynch and Elizabeth Nelson, it’s  hardly a surprise that the continuing revolution in faith and morals over abortion and  LGBT rights won elsewhere but not here,  is splitting the churches. True to ancient form, the leaderships of the Roman Catholic and Presbyterian Churches are treating what is actually a clash of moralities as challenges to authority.  The Catholics appeal to canon law, the Presbyterians to the Bible. And that is still that. For … Read more

Don’t overbid, Leo. This is as good as it gets – for now at least

A cabinet crisis averted and a British proposal sent at the last minute to Brussels, saying simply that the UK “expects” that any use of the backstop — which would see Britain remain part of the EU’s common external tariff and VAT area to avert a hard Irish border — would end by December 2021. It leaves intact Theresa May’s pledge and the DUP’s requirement not to allow any border down the Irish Sea. Not a new idea but in … Read more

The abortion laws are contrary to human rights but the Supreme Court ducked how to remedy the breach

My reaction comes from a coastal cliff in the sunshine and  so is  very provisional. The Supreme Court opined that Northern Ireland’s abortion laws are contrary to human rights. That is a significant but not a definitive statement.   Because  by 4 to 3,  the court found itself unable to issue a formal declaration of incompatiblity with the European Convention on Human Rights  as the NI Human Rights Commission had brought its action on legal  principle rather than basing it on … Read more

Arlene Foster challenges Sinn Fein to debate abortion reform in the Assembly, claiming SF support for DUP stance

Arlene Foster says some Sinn Fein supporters have told her they will vote DUP because of her party’s position on abortion. In her first interview since Ireland’s referendum on the issue, she told Sky News a lot of people were feeling “disenfranchised” by the result. “I have had emails from Nationalists and Republicans in Northern Ireland not quite believing what is going on and saying they will be voting for the DUP because they believe we are the only party … Read more

The wheeze lasted less than 24 hours…

Trouble is, if you start a hare running you may have to shoot it.  David Davis had proposed Northern Ireland have a joint regime of UK and EU customs regulations, allowing it to trade freely with both, and a 10-mile wide “special economic zone” on the border with Ireland, thus avoiding checks there. The Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) declined to comment directly on the report, but also did not reject it, saying work was underway to “refine” possible customs … Read more

Latest wheeze – Northern Ireland to become a joint EU/UK economic area with a 10 mile buffer on the border

 Sun Exclusive! Special economic zone could be useful for dairy farmers and allow for trade on the border. David Davis praises ‘constructive’ talks with Michel Barnier in London The Brexit Secretary is also drawing up a 10 mile-wide buffer zone the length of Northern Ireland’s 310 mile border with Ireland. Dubbed a ‘special economic zone’, it will be for local traders such as dairy farmers – who make up 90 per cent of the cross border traffic – and share the … Read more