Militancy can only expose Edwin Poots’ weakness. Instead he can claim credit if David Frost delivers acceptable mitigation of protocol terms

The tempo of Protocol politics  is quickening. Fresh from  calling into the Arcadia deli on the Lisburn road ( a favourite haunt of  SDLP, Alliance and Green voters no doubt as it once was of mine ),  Brexit minster Lord Frost  has  issued what sounds like an ultimatum to the  EU. “If the Protocol operates so as to damage the political, social, or economic fabric of life in Northern Ireland, then that situation cannot be sustained for long”. The new …

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Sturgeon is not as invincible as she projects. The Union has begun to fight back

The FT reports that the £ reached a new high level “as prospects for a new early  referendum on Scottish independence dimmed.”  This might strike you as very odd after panic hit the  London media  at the news of the inevitable SNP victory on Friday. Just as weird was the desperate consolation sought in the fact that the SNP failed to win an absolute majority by a single vote. I just don’t get that; they’re home and dry with the support of the Greens. The falling short is purely token. Clearly the markets dislike the uncertainty likely to be created by another Indyref campaign. The shock of first reactions in London means that Westminster realises at last that they may have a problem in Scotland. Do Johnson and the Tories care?  The same question occurs as for Northern Ireland. He is secure beyond his wildest dreams  or  rather  the nightmare of even a week ago when he seemed drowning in a tide of petty scandal.  Great Britain ( certainly not NI),  is now  looking split under three different convincing  mandates, Labour in Wales, the SNP in Scotland and the Tories  in England , all mutually exclusive.

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Brandon Lewis has tricked them into accepting a wrap on the Troubles

Maybe Brandon Lewis was being really clever.  His leak of a de facto amnesty united everybody against him for  gratuitously failing to  consult them and put victims first.  But he’s only done what he said he’d do a year ago. Therefore why the furtive briefing? It had all the cheek of John F Kennedy appointing his little brother US Attorney General.  “ I  opened the back door at midnight and whispered, “ It’s Bobby!” Look again. Lewis has grudgingly united …

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In the last chance saloon at those earlier cross roads, my Northern Ireland

How do I sum up the centenary, or at least my own share of over 70 years of it, more than half them in England? I can’t ignore the itch to say something, can I?  After all, this is a huge chunk of my life as it is yours, or many of you. Yet summing up is hard to do.  A quotation from As You Like it, the first Shakespeare play I read at school seemed apt at first:  “An …

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If Edwin Poots tried to crash the Assembly it would open the door to a border poll

Let’s assume Edwin Poots is a shoo-in for the DUP leadership. Comfortable in his minor elder statesman role at Westminster, Jeffrey Donaldson hasn’t the stomach for a contest. He might be willing to accept  it on a plate but that’s not going to happen. With more than a hint of desperation, some of us have been foisting the Nixon goes to China model onto Poots, meaning that the hardliner in politics may be better placed to compromise than the liberal. …

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Brexit and now Covid management shows Johnson’s government is blind to the threat of UK disintegration: a new insider report

Some years ago I found myself  as one of a small team  called to the Cabinet Office to be asked to do a study of the state of the devolution because Whitehall was too busy  to do it themselves. The official in charge was Philip Rycroft who in retirement has now let fly with both barrels. Little in this report by the Bennett Institute for Public Policy at Cambridge is breaking news; but it updates an absence of pan -UK …

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Brexit breakthrough on the protocol? Try this for size

If you’re  one of those souls who follow every twist and turn of Stormont politics, there’s one thing you shouldn’t overlook; that  sorting out the Brexit rows which are stoking division are largely  beyond local control. Another is what Newton reminded us recently, that  Stormont  boycott is now  a risky strategy. The Executive can stagger on for the best part of a year in the absence of one leading party – guess who? –  but with an election somewhere along …

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Jim O’Callaghan’s vision of an Irish unitary state pitched at unionists is strong on optics, but is inevitably weak on substance

  Picking up from Mick, I’ve been taking a closer look at Jim O’Callaghan’s speech on preparing for Irish unity, surely our lock down fret of choice – that is, I’ve actually read it. It’s worth reading on merit and not cynically as one of the opening shots in an outsider’s audacious campaign for the Fianna Fail leadership. This is one of the first that grapples with the issues of what a united Ireland might look like. He speaks respectfully …

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The latest real world effects of the protocol standoff

There’s a mixed picture of trade in and out of both parts of Ireland, some of them temporary and perverse The good news?   Via Sky News   A lot of freight, up by 4.3% in February, is now sent from British ports to  Northern Ireland  on ferries and then driven down into Ireland. More goods are now moving between Britain and Belfast because freight can now be sent from Britain to Ireland through Northern Ireland without complex customs procedures. Ferry data analysed …

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Behind the Paddy’s Day rituals, how deep is the Stormont crisis?

With so much guff, bluff and ritual about it, St Patrick’s Day is a poor bellwether for judging the state of affairs in Ireland remotely – and perhaps no better on the spot either. One glance at privileged youff crowding Botanic Gardens in defiance of lockdown, you might have groaned with me: “ Not the Holylands again. “ However BBCNI’s news story was encouraging. St Patrick's Day: Police clear crowds at Belfast's Botanic Gardens https://t.co/Fp6LvjTOC8 — Darran Marshall (@DarranMarshall) March …

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Boris Johnson has refused Arlene Foster on the protocol. Both governments and the EU should now get off their high horses and fix it.

Time was when prime ministers visited somewhere they used it as the backdrop to make a substantial speech about where they stood on the policy or move things along.  Think back to Tony Blair’s “acts of completion”.  Can you imagine Boris Johnson submitting himself to questions about his post Brexit and pro Union strategies?  Nowadays it’s enough for Johnson to turn up for a box ticking exercise, high viz vested or in a white coat, elbows bumping, for a few …

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No mention of the fantasy Irish Sea link in Johnson’s plan to link up the UK. Is he quietly ditching it already?

The BBC is reporting that a feasibility study is being made into Boris Johnson’s crackpot scheme of a bridge or tunnel over the Irish Sea (with ample space for customs clearing stations no doubt).  But intriguingly   the prime minister makes no mention of it in an article he’s written for the Daily Telegraph announcing a new UK wide  transport strategy “ to strengthen the very sinews of the UK.” Very odd that he makes no mention of his current pet …

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Bloodlands, the latest Belfast noir they’re calling it. Please don’t all swarm to Strangford Lough

Are you hooked on Bloodlands? (Sundays 9 p.m. BBC 1, iPlayer top slot).  If you haven’t it seen it yet  I won’t spoil the Goliath reference.  Jimmy Nesbitt is a grizzled PSNI detective Tom Brannick  bridging  a Disappeared angle  with  an Ulster Line of Duty. It’s the latest in the product line of creator Jed Mecurio’s love affair with making gripping TV series in Northern Ireland. Not quite as gripping as Line of Duty yet or as menacing and sophisticated …

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Learning to live in harmony with the legacies of Empire. Different experiences in Great Britain and Ireland

In the culture wars over shifting national identities it’s striking how nationalist Ireland is further along the road to reconciliation with its troubled past than a UK has reached in its troubled present. That is a journey that feels as if it has barely begun. Perhaps all that righteous victimhood has become easier to cope than all that tortured guilt.  BLM –  Gladstone and Churchill off their pedestals    The focus is turned on the role of Empire and in …

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Arlene must tell us if she agrees with Peter Robinson’s option of Assembly withdrawal to fight the protocol

Peter Robinson under arrest at Clontibret 1986 Arlene Foster has all but declared the DUP’s lack of confidence in the UK government’s efforts to renegotiate the protocol. From the sidelines her predecessor Peter Robinson is  tempting her to contemplate doing something more dramatic about it than protest. With his acute ear he has picked up the drumbeats not only from the DUP core but from the loyalist undergrowth. Cannily  attempting to insure against taking the blame for another “flegs” debacle, …

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Leading constitutional expert backs DUP objections to the Protocol

Prof Vernon Bogdanor   Let us is suspend for a moment blaming the DUP for helping to saddle us with customs forms and phytosanitary checks at Belfast and Larne. Let us praise the SDLP and Alliance for looking for the bright side, at the  competitive  advantage NI business can enjoy NI to EU and GB if only the checks  GB to NI are drastically reduced. Mitigation may yet be the name of the game. But now a thunderbolt has been hurled …

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Authentic British and Irish patriotisms are needed. They are entirely compatible

Sir Keir Starmer, Labour leader    “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”, declared Dr Johnson, in a typically ringing remark that for over two centuries has been deployed against states trailing memories of  glory to repel criticism of today’s foreign adventures.  Remember though that when Johnson died in 1784, Britain was in the throes of expulsion from her North American Colonies. Parliament was divided between the Tories lamenting loss and defeat and Whigs who made no bones about …

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“To hell with the future and long live the past”. Allison Morris turns it around when contemplating a border poll. But has the EU Commission just changed the odds by uniting north and south against them ?

D The new Ulster University campus  under construction  In this year of different centenary  commemorations north and south (sorry,”markings”),  Allison Morris has written a terrifically interesting piece in  the Irish News . When it comes to  weighing the issues for a border poll, she raises the desire for a better life above the call of background, tradition and history, yes even the history of the Troubles. Without labouring the point, contrast this with the run of comment in the Newsletter …

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It is intolerable that Stormont is handing back hundreds of millions of pounds to London when urgent cancer cases are being denied treatment

The news that 275 people in Northern Ireland with “red-flag” cancer have had their surgery cancelled in the past week has been followed by the tragic irony  that the  Health Service  has been forced  to hand back £90 million unspent this year to the Treasury in Whitehall . The dismal information reminds me of Irish farm produce being exported from Ireland during the Famine of the 1840s while more than a  million starved.  The theory behind it is even more …

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UK breakup. The vacuum where the Union case should be stands exposed

 Will the drum roll start for a border poll and  wreck the prospects for even slim collaboration for dealing with the massive and more immediate  challenges of Covid and Brexit –  and just governing ?   Or will it promote a virtuous competition  between the DUP and Sinn Fein over which of them will be the better collaborator in government, with the hope of  wooing the uncommitted to their existential cause? Will the minor parties get squeezed or flourish amid growing …

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