“I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand.” Theresa May in Brussels? Answer. Worse: humiliation

What was Theresa May actually expecting  from the EU 27 leaders in Brussels? There was always the desperate hope for one of those last minute rush to settle against the declared odds. Instead… headlines… Daily Telegraph ( Brexiteer) Theresa May was humiliated once again by EU leaders last night as her attempts to improve her Brexit deal were thrown back in her face. The Sun (Brexiteer) and coiner of  dreadful puns BRUSSELS ROUT  Theresa May told to get stuffed by … Read more

What should Theresa May do now? Stop fudging and pledge to stay in the customs union

  Tonight if she wins by whatever margin, Theresa May should declare a victory and press on. No messing with hints that she’ll quit voluntarily in March next year. She needs more than reassurances from the EU that the backstop is dispensable. The huge question is, what can replace it? She should accept the challenge of the core Brexiteers and pledge that the UK will remain the customs union indefinitely. Under the looming shadow of No Deal,  she should go … Read more

No sign of Ireland blinking over the backstop, as Theresa May races around Europe raising the bogey of No Deal

Theresa May  at bay  threw down one effective challenge to  the massed ranks of her critics. “Come clean: do you want Brexit or not? “No”, chorused the SNP and she rolled her eyes. For as long as  Parliament cannot settle on an agreed  alternative she holds a narrow initiative. In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed woman is queen. In her whistle -stop tour of continental capitals, her ploy now is to seek  “reassurances”, a time honoured feature of … Read more

Keep your eye on the glimmer of light in the Big Picture. But first we need to re-examine the backstop, sooner rather than later.

Although the sight of it is darkly occluded, the shape of things to come is emerging through the fog. Whatever immediate  political strategy  Theresa May chooses today, the dream of the hard line Brexiteers is in process of disintegration.  Whatever the political turmoil today, the UK will retain some sort of close relationship with the EU.   In Northern Ireland, unionists will have a closer relationship with the Republic and with nationalists generally – and I would argue with only slightly … Read more

The DUP would be fools to vote for no confidence in the government and boost the chances of a No Deal default

Politics is in a vortex of fast moving events over which the government has little control. According to the likely scenario, Theresa May will lose the meaningful vote badly next Tuesday night.  What happens next is in uncharted waters. But this is how  the meaningful vote fits into the prescribed  timetable, courtesy of the FT: The vote is a legal obligation under the UK’s 2018 EU Withdrawal Act, which says such a vote must take place “before the European Parliament decides whether … Read more

A riposte to David McWilliams

Out of interest… It was surprising that the Financial Times should publish a long triumphalist critique of Northern Ireland by the economist David McWilliams without comment from other economists (“ The final frontier”, Life & Arts, December 1). Mr McWilliams claims that most people in Northern Ireland want to stay in the EU. It is true that 56 per cent voted for the UK to remain in the EU. He echoes Sinn Féin in claiming that this meant many unionists … Read more

Theresa May’s new olive branch to the DUP is unlikely to impress

So was  there something worth hiding that’s now been exposed under duress? In my opinion, it’s not so much a smoking gun, more a blast of painful shotgun pellets.  DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds was bound to describe as “devastating” the Attorney General’s full legal advice on the withdrawal agreement that the government fought  so hard to withhold yesterday – and lost. In a statement this afternoon Mr Dodds  rises  to new heights  with the description of the  backstop as … Read more

DUP are threatening May with collapse unnecessarily, even in their own cause

It looks worse and worse for Theresa May as a crucial week begins. The Times reports:   Theresa May was under fresh pressure last night as the DUP threatened to abandon her in a confidence vote if she failed to get her Brexit deal through parliament. Party sources said that they were considering the move, which would leave the prime minister without a Commons majority, over fears that her plan would create a border between Northern Ireland and the rest … Read more

Theresa May’s survival depends on cross party support for Plan B. Will she concede or quit?

First things first. Are we back to contemplating  the DUP holding the balance of power? The Sunday Telegraph and Sunday Times report what they rate as exciting new moves for an already potentially fateful week. The Democratic Unionist Party will join Labour and other opposition parties on Monday in a bid to force the Government to publish its legal advice on Brexit – a move that could delay the crucial vote on Theresa May’s plan. In an explosive alliance that will rock the … Read more

Game of chicken is hotting up

Brexit tensions are rising towards fever pitch. The Times story puts it neatly : If you step back from the noise surrounding Theresa May’s struggle to get her deal through parliament there are really only four Brexit options left on the table: Mrs May’s deal (possibly tweaked); no deal; a second referendum; and a Norway-style soft Brexit. Each option has its advocates in the Commons but none yet has enough backing to command majority support in the House. Ultimately MPs … Read more

Yes, No Deal would be a disaster, but don’t fall for May’s claim that it’s the only alternative

Whatever you do don’t take Theresa May literally when she insisted before the Commons Liaison Committee that the stark choice lies between the withdrawal agreement and No Deal. Granted, re-opening the deal would be no breeze…  “What is clear is that any extension to article 50, anything like that, reopens the negotiations, reopens the deal. And at that point the deal can go, frankly, in any direction…. I think the most important reason why we should not be going down … Read more

The DUP are waking up to the idea that Fortress Ulster has no future. They should be encouraged, not abused

They are still talking in euphemisms.  They are desperate to avoid finding themselves suddenly on the losing side without any notion of the outcome. Goodness knows what Theresa May can offer to sell the withdrawal agreement when she visits Northern Ireland  on her nationwide tour. Experience of local negotiations argues strongly against side deals and the arguments have been so well rehearsed already. Entirely wisely, the DUP are for once hinting at a solution to the backstop conundrum other than … Read more

Why would the DUP NOT support a soft Brexit for the final deal that would get rid of border problems?

With the cabinet splitting every which way in all directions, Theresa May comes into her own as the ace stonewaller to every burning hypothetical question. As the fateful moment of signing the withdrawal agreement arrived in Brussels this morning, the prime minister was still insisting to the massed ranks of sceptics back home: “This isn’t about me. It’s not the case that there is another negotiation to be done. This is the deal that’s been agreed, it’s the only deal … Read more

Peter Robinson urges the DUP to drop their ban on an Irish Language Act and get real about restoring Stormont

  Elder statesmen a.k.a. retired politicians often grow wiser in retirement after shedding the burdens of office and the cares of  party management. Sometimes their advice is welcome; sometimes it’s a stalking horse for a change of direction by their successors; sometimes it’s an embarrassment to them. We will soon know which it is this time. Conforming to type, Peter Robinson, for over forty years the usually steely self- disciplined deputy leader  then leader of the DUP  has offered some … Read more

Too many are unconvinced by Theresa May’s claim of alternatives later to the backstop. And some are prepared to ditch Northern Ireland

What matters next has changed.  Summit signing on Sunday apart, the next real stage of Brexit is not about Brussels but how MPs will react to what’s in front of them. The political declaration published today was full of warm words for a deep and meaningful relationship but it is clear that British options for striking out independently are constrained by the legal terms of the withdrawal agreement featuring the backstop. Try and she might to hint at a different … Read more

DUP take care. Unionism needs UK support to develop a viable vision

Alex Kane’s position as the voice of reasoned unionism is confirmed by the remarkable fact that he’s invited to write for all the main papers which are read in Northern Ireland. He has just delivered the latest version of his message to encourage the creation of Unionist Unity (my caps) to meet the challenges of special status for Northern Ireland with the EU against the background of the coming potential nationalist majority.  If that means killing off the last illusions … Read more

Theresa May is in there, in the general jostling for last minute gains

What a mad rush to the tape it’s turning out to be!  Theresa May will be in Brussels today ahead of Sunday’s summit  to squeeze the last scrap of advantage  out of the withdrawal agreement as they all look ahead to the future. The EU states on the other hand are equally determined that as the price of leaving, Britain will be denied advantages she enjoys now. Last minute objections are being raised by the Spanish over the status of … Read more

Is May suddenly beginning to take seriously an alternative to the backstop?

Who’s the bloke in the flat cap with IDS and Peter Lilley? Yes! It’s our very own David Trimble leaving Downing St last night after this gang of three veterans made a last minute pitch for a different border solution to that agreed between the EU and Theresa May. Lilley, a Thatcher disciple and former trade secretary refused to reveal what went on  the Today programme this morning. Now No 10 tells us that May listened and the cabinet discussed … Read more

For all its flaws, Theresa May’s direct appeal to Northern Ireland should prompt the DUP to stop playing a loser’s game

Theresa May has taken her campaign to win support for the Withdrawal Agreement direct to the people of Northern Ireland.  Adopting May’s authentic voice for an article in the Belfast Telegraph, her script writer weighs in   with “the best of both worlds” argument couched in the usual boilerplate, ticking all the boxes but failing to  frame the choice as between the withdrawal agreement and the DUP’s negativism. Keeping it general, there is only a feeble attempt to “de-dramatise” Northern Ireland’s … Read more

The DUP fired a shot against the government’s bows, taking care to miss

The headliner at Ronnie Scott’s looks crap tonight Tweet of the day  from jazz buff Ken Clarke followed by.. I’ve been sat up in bed for hours, whisky on the bedside table, soft jazz playing in the background, trying to think if I’ve ever worked with a more idiotic bunch of self centred bastards in my nearly 50 years as a MP. Nope, still can’t think of any. Time for another bottle. Gently reminding Nigel Dodds across the floor of … Read more