It has to be faced. Brexit will happen. The Irish border problem will not stop it

It’s now clear to me that we convinced Remainers must accept that Brexit is going to happen. It will not implode through the weight of its own contradictions. There is no prospect of an alternative government that will halt the process. Yesterday felt like a real turning point.  As a result of yesterday’s agreement on the transition period the EU leaders will ratify on Thursday, the UK will remain within the single market and the customs Union beyond the Leave … Read more

After brinkmanship, agreement on the transition period, but another fudge on the border. The ” backstop” for Northern Ireland remains

Breaking….. I had just filed a piece below headlined “brinkmanship on the border “ when the Irish Times reported that that the British had agreed to accept  a legal  draft text containing  the “ backstop” option 3 on keeping Northern Ireland in alignment with the EU after Brexit as part of transition terms for exiting the Union. RTE also has the story There is a huge provisio. Both sides want a comprehensive final deal that negates any need for special status … Read more

Brinkmanship on the Border

Another day, another doubt.   After a weekend of sherpa preparations for the EU summit on Thursday and Friday, both sides are still unsure they can reach an agreed position by tomorrow night on transition terms and duration   for the UK’s departure from the EU.  From the Irish Times preview of the David/Barnier meeting, it’s clear that the Irish government neither want nor need to  take sole responsibility for imposing a veto on a transition timetable later this week. Irish and … Read more

Dublin not expected to use their “border veto” against a transition deal for the UK

Brexit talks will become more intensive over the next six months and will feature a greater focus in the Irish border, according to the EU side.  This week looks likes providing one of those so-called crunch moments when a key Brexit decision is reached in black and white but with grey edges.  The UK are hoping for agreement on a transition period longer than December 2020 as currently mooted,  during  which the UK would pay full EU budgetary contributions. The … Read more

On St Patrick’s Day we celebrate the safe old rivalries and cherished differences

Well it’s St Patrick’s Day after all and by the time many of you will read this, we’ll know if we’ve landed the Grand Slam. England cannot wait to get back to Twickenham. Back home. Back where they do not lose. At least certainly not in Eddie Jones’s time. This is a day when distinct identities can be safely contested with no holds barred within a reconciled whole – as in this fine piece of personal testimony by the Irish … Read more

Taking their seats at Westminster would be a high risk U-turn for Sinn Fein

Noel Whelan  in the Irish Times  today repeats  the case for Sinn Fein to take their seats at Westminster  – but only after a general election for which the end of abstention would be in their manifesto. This differs from the plea by the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee who recently wrote that ..the taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, ventured to call on the party on Wednesday to take up their six – soon to be seven – Westminster seats “to make things better … Read more

No threat to the Good Friday Agreement in sight, but bolder joint action is needed after St Patrick’s Day

Traditionally the St Patrick’s Day pilgrimages to America have been occasions for everybody involved in our politics to be on their best behaviour and bask in waves of Irish-American blarney. Not so much this year, as  Arlene Foster and Mary Lou McDonald have been left off the White House invitees list for failing to clinch the deal to get Stormont going again. But Adams and Paisley jnr are lurking in the wings as  living reminders of past glories compared to … Read more

To check Sinn Fein winning the propaganda war, a general amnesty should replace prosecutions in exchange for official disclosure, say unionist legal experts, arguing for the scrapping of the government’s Legacy Bill

“Transitional justice has facilitated republicans turning what ought to have been a hostile environment (namely, the historical record of over 2,000 attributable deaths, almost 60 percent of the total murder count, in a sectarian campaign of assassination and bombings – not to mention the accompanying litany of bloodshed, unblinking cruelty and lives destroyed) into a fertile soil allowing them to sustain a campaign of commemoration on ‘an industrial scale.  (The approach has) saturated thinking about the past to such an … Read more

Derry’s politicians should stop playing the victim and make more friends and influence people

Steve Bradley’s chastening post on  Derry part 1 is remarkable for its detailed analysis and the volume  of  comment in response -greater I think than for any of the usual subjects I’ve seen in a long time.   Certainly it touches a nerve with me. I left my Derry home to go to school in Coleraine and never lived there again after the fateful year of 1969 when the old order quite suddenly and easily fell apart, an arresting fact its … Read more

More than the leadership of Arlene Foster it’s about what the DUP under unprecedented pressure, is for

In “Arlene Foster’s authority is ebbing away“, Newton assesses the pressure on  her  in the Irish Times.  His fascinating analysis is  the latest example of local Kremlinology  peering into the suffocatingly tight networks that dominate these little parties.   But new outside elements are at play as never before to supplement rapid change at home , like the unpredictable fallout of Brexit and pressures for social change from London and Dublin. But for these pressures to have full effect, they must … Read more

Brexit battle lines drawn up, or the storm before the calm and other cliches

On the face of it,  the prospects are looking grim again but it may only mean that they’re getting down to business – at last- again. The BBC headlines “Brexit trade talks battle lines drawn.”  And the FT reports  that  the EU –  the  authoritative  Council of the nation states and not just the Commission of bureaucrats –  are taking a hard line for future negotiations with the UK –  slapping down Theresa May’s  supposedly emollient  attempt last week as … Read more

Both sides are now playing politics with the border


Theresa May must have been desperate to have signed the joint Report in December. She did so, knowing that it would do little but buy time before the next elemental clash, and focusing on  contradictory positions over the border. The price of a deal would then increase, just like a loan from a money shark. He didn’t force her to take out a loan, now did he? But those are the terms, dear. And so  today’s draft withdrawal Agreement which the EU have just published came as no surprise.

You’ll recall that Arlene Foster finally let May go ahead to sign the Report at the second attempt after  requiring   a cardinal tenet of unionism to be included, that no economic border would  come between NI and GB.  Foster in her statement added the rider that “more work is needed.”  But now she may be ruing the day she was so accommodating, not a position she often holds. For “more work” in DUP terms was never done.   Today Foster could only declare the draft “constitutionally unacceptable and economic catastrophic.”

It turns out those assurances were worth even less than the paper they were written on. As we reported yesterday they’re absent from the final text. This is because they were written off as a mere internal affair between the UK government and the DUP and not a matter for a lofty EU legal document.

.The status recommended for Northern Ireland is bound to raise Unionist and Tory hackles by  removing one of the usual planks of sovereignty, the main trading and border policies,  without seeking permission from the people who live there .  The Brexit cry “Taking back control” rings very hollow here. But in the end they can’t be serious. This draft is Operation Hope Not.

In cold print the EU paper really does remove traditional aspects of sovereignty which in EU parlance was pooled.

Read moreBoth sides are now playing politics with the border

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

Are the terms civic “unionists” and civic “nationalists” an oxymoron?

  Over the past year we’ve heard many laments about the vacuum in decision taking but little specifically critical of politics from leaders of society. That’s par for the course for people who  have been keeping our  show on the road for decades. Few of them had little respect for political parties who in their view held society back. But now twenty years after the GFA and after a year – or many years by another measure – of deadlock, … Read more

“Northern Ireland to become an EU province” after a Brexit breakdown. Did we not know that already?

Tomorrow the EU will publish its legal version of December’s joint Report or Withdrawal Agreement that was supposed to guarantee against a hard border. The intention is to remove any idea of a fudged   political deal that could be changed later. It  will however become the EU’s law not the UK’s. Britain will argue that Withdrawal Agreement will be superseded as a result of a final free trade agreement. However as has been well trailed,  it will omit the guarantees … Read more

A timely reminder that today’s unionists and other non-nationalists have as big a stake in human rights as nationalists. Further polarisation must therefore be avoided

The stale stereotype that nationalists are all for civil rights and unionists fight them tooth and nail is challenged in an open letter signed by over 100 “civic unionists, pluralists and other forms of civic leadership” published in the Irish Times.  It’s a riposte to similar letters from “ civic nationalism” appealing to the Dublin government “to defend the legal, human and language rights of Irish citizens in the North, and warning that the British government’s deal with the DUP … Read more

For the sake of clarity, all sides should stop spreading myths about Brexit and the Good Friday Agreement

Ignorance and special pleading about the Good Friday Agreement and its relationship to Brexit and the border has been a feature of angry comment that has followed the collapse of the Stormont talks. The Daily Express led the pack The Good Friday agreement explicitly stipulates there cannot be a hard border on the island of Ireland, leaving Brexiteers launching impassioned arguments on the deal. It does nothing of the sort. Even Adam Boulton who speaks with the great authority on … Read more

Equality has arrived but the DUP and Sinn Fein have yet to face up to what it means

“Equality” has always been a Sinn Fein buzzword. As the recanted ex- IRA man Shane Paul O’Doherty lethally today quoted Gerry Adams speaking in 2014: “The point is to actually break these bastards – that’s the point. And what’s going to break them is equality … That’s what we need to keep the focus on – that’s the Trojan horse of the entire republican strategy is to reach out to people on the basis of equality.” Other views are  un-cynical … Read more

Does Brexit threaten rights protection for Irish citizens in the North?

What happens to a raft of human rights when we leave the European Union and the European Charter of Human Rights no longer applies? The question is raised by the leading constitutional expert Vernon Bogdanor.  Successive UK governments (and I!) thought we had opted out of it for years, but the European Court of Justice ruled in 2013 that we hadn’t. Inevitably there is an Irish angle to this that may be of  particular concern to Irish-EU citizens in Northern … Read more

Congratulations are due to the DUP and Sinn Fein negotiators. How can the DUP be persuaded to implement it in their own long term interests?

After rubbing our eyes several times, the first thing  to do about the 13 pages of  the Draft Agreement published  in full by  Eamonn Mallie is to have it recognised for what it claims to be.   As Sinn Fein has already insisted on its authenticity, the initiative now lies with the DUP.  Clearly the document was the hymn sheet the secretary state Karen Bradley was working off in her Commons statement yesterday , although she understandably  refused to publish it, … Read more

Care is needed to stop the wheels coming off the Good Friday Agreement

I suppose it was inevitable. On the fringes of Westminster politics the alignment of Leave with a Brexit Union and Remain with support for the GFA is hardening, as shown in reaction to the failure so far to restore Stormont. This is what happens when people dip into the issues and pull out again. Living with them requires steadiness. Former secretary of state, stout Brexiteer and Shropshire lad Owen Paterson tweets that the GFA “has outlived its use.” Kate Hooey, … Read more