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

The border in the Irish Sea… the future of north-south cooperation.The devil is in the detail.

RTE News’s Europe editor Tony Connelly has published two extremely useful stories on  essential detail. Does the Ireland/NI Protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement threaten north-south cooperation? Does the proposed customs arrangement for Northern Ireland amount to a border in the Irish Sea that threatens its constitutional position? How the rules would actually work is explained. This new customs territory would therefore be a combination of the EU’s customs territory, set out in EU law, and the UK’s customs territory. But … Read more

The prime minister may not have the numbers but options are running out for the DUP and the Tory Brexiteers

  With a week to go before the hoped for ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, Nigel Dodds has grabbed  Dominic Raab’s reading of the Withdrawal Agreement  as a lifeline.  It  may  confirm his worst fears coming from someone who only four days ago was in the inner circle, but now, much good may it do him.   In his Sunday Times article, Raab is withering about the European Commission’s approach to the talks and accuses Brussels of deliberately trying to wound … Read more

The DUP have a good point about the democratic deficit. But the cabinet critics are offering nothing new to solve it

Read moreThe DUP have a good point about the democratic deficit. But the cabinet critics are offering nothing new to solve it

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

Future Ireland / Protestants and Unity: Moving Beyond Tokenism to Deeper Engagement

“Want to write an article for Slugger about being a Protestant in an all-Ireland?” “Aye, no sweat.” What was at first a very easy ‘yes’ to what seemed a very simple question. But I sat down to write this article a few times and just had nothing to say. For the last few weeks I’ve struggled to come up with a single thought and couldn’t understand why. Then it hit me that the discourse I’d been engaging in, about ‘not … Read more

The DUP made little difference to the withdrawal agreement. And now they are only 10 among May’s many critics

The DUP have already started to polish up their narrative of victimhood.  Ian Paisley jr has been recalling his Dad’s roars of “Never, Never, Never,” at Thatcher’s betrayal of unionism in the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. The Brits have done it again! The Shinners were right all along.

“Back then we were on the edge of the union, there were major atrocities ongoing and all of that was feeding into the mood. We also didn’t have the political engagement we have had over the last 15 years, the IRA were the IRA then, things were black and white, with the emergence of Sinn Féin that changed things in terms of political engagement.

“However, I do think in terms of relations with the Republic of Ireland we are in similar territory, largely because Leo Varadkar has changed the dynamic, he has ostracised and angered unionists to a similar level.

“Enda Kenny forged positive relationships, Leo and (Simon) Coveney (Tánaiste) on the other hand have managed to create angst, and that wasn’t and hasn’t been the case for many years.

“That makes it similar politically, in that Dublin is acting as the enemy instead of a passive neighbour, but we must always remember this is a political crisis not a security one which is what we had back then.

But glee at the DUPs discomfiture should be resisted. Paisley jr had the grace to acknowledge differences.

The DUP didn’t ask to hold the balance of power; and when they did, the script was already mainly written. Their exposed position encouraged  a false sense of security. But behind the veneer of confidence, they had their suspicions from the moment Arlene Foster hauled Mrs May out of a lunch with Commission president Juncker to approve the first draft of what became the backstop and required her to insert “no border in the Irish Sea.”

Undoubtedly, the DUP won tactical victories. Would the insistence of no border in the Irish Sea have been quite so effusive without them?

Today they appear to have strength in numbers among the unholy alliance that is the massed ranks of May’s critics. But those very numbers mean that their edge has lost its sharpness. Who can identify the real assassin if so many are willing to plunge in the dagger?

In the marathon three hour battering Theresa May took in the Commons today, the DUP spoke more in sorrow than in anger – nothing like their old lord and master. The exchanges show how the prime minister and the DUP have been talking past each other. They spoke as if they knew that by their own standards they‘d failed and half expected to.

Sammy Wilson DUP

The Northern Ireland protocols make it clear that Northern Ireland will stay under EU single market law and will also be economically separated from the rest of the United Kingdom. Articles 7, 9 and 12 show that, even if the EU allows the UK to leave the single market, Northern Ireland will remain under single market arrangements, and any border down the Irish sea will be subject to the willingness of the EU to allow that to be avoided. How can the Prime Minister give us an assurance that Northern Ireland will not be constitutionally separated from the United Kingdom and economically separated from GB? Or is this not a case of Northern Ireland being put on a platter and abject surrender to the EU?

The Prime Minister

No, that is not the case. Throughout this discussion and these negotiations, the interests of Northern Ireland have been one of the key issues that we have put at the forefront of our mind, because of the particular geographical circumstances of Northern Ireland and its land border with Ireland. Northern Ireland will leave the single market with the whole of the United Kingdsom. There will be specific regulatory alignment, which I recognise is uncomfortable. It will be in that portion of the single market acquis that relates to matters that ensure that a frictionless border can take place between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

As the hon. Gentleman will know, there are already some regulatory differences between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. There is a question in the future, which I know has raised a concern, as to whether there will be regulatory divergence between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in relation to that issue—because we are talking about a temporary period—of no regulatory divergence. The checks and controls actually relate to the degree of regulatory divergence, so if there is no regulatory divergence, obviously, that has an impact on reducing the necessity for any checks and controls. Crucially, the EU wanted to say that it would determine whether a good that was produced in Birmingham could be sold in Belfast. We were very clear that the EU could not determine that in the future. It will be the UK Government who make those determinations.

Hard to follow, isn’t it? This is the kind of nuance the DUP refuse to take in. She’s saying the less the regulation the harder the border, adding that there will be no disruption to trade in either direction across the Irish Sea. Is this really the slippery slope to Dublin rule? Should we not wait and see and complain if need be to the new oversight body?

If the DUP had never existed the  draft withdrawal agreement  would have been much the same. In truth whatever outcome is finally reached, there will always be pressure to avoid a physical  border  between the UK’s only land frontier and the EU.  And it is a basic error to assume the pressure comes only from the south.

Now they are looking a No Deal in the face that would guarantee new barriers no one wants by next March and risk serious damage to the whole island.

Apart from no Brexit, the practical alternative is to make the common customs area and regulatory alignment within the island a success and revive the moribund relationships of the Good Friday Agreement. If the DUP refuse the opportunity, the two governments should fulfil the pledges in the Withdrawal Agreement and do so themselves.

What do the DUP hope to rescue out of the present mess? We can hear a note of caution in their condemnation of the prime minister.  But the argument that a hard Brexit need not mean a hard border was lost a long time ago. Do they really believe they can muster the ranks for one last heave under her or  another Tory leader?

There will be mixed feelings at Westminster if the confidence and supply pact really does come to an end.  When it was concluded, many rank and file Conservatives felt a certain fastidious distaste  at the idea of dependence on what they regarded as reactionary “backwoodsmen” in the old term of  1912, whose idea of the Union was very different from theirs. Although  usually personally courteous, the DUP were never thought of as ” one of us.” I remember  being invited to an end of session DUP party for lobby journalists to find myself the only person present. These are Tea Party unionists who had no chance of dictating  events.

The essential difference between the cause and its advocates  was only  emphasised by their outright opposition to abortion and same sex marriage when an ad hoc cross party coalition of women MPs  rode to the rescue  to recognise a distinction between the  people of Northern Ireland and its representatives, a distinction which of course  includes the absent Sinn Fein.  Pact or no pact, that distinction has been maintained over defending the “precious Union.”  In this arena Northern Ireland has  been treated generously in spite of, rather than because of, the people they elect.

It’s a fallacy to suppose that there’s no such thing as gratitude in politics. When the dust has settled, the majority in the Commons that eventually emerges may ask themselves – why were the DUP  so ungrateful  when we’d gone through the contortions of an all- UK barebones customs arrangement whether it survives or not, in order to protect Northern Ireland’s position  in the Union? Not entirely fair and not the whole story. But a little acknowledgment and graciousness would go a long way.

 

 

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

As her Ministers start to quit over Brexit, is this the end of Theresa May?

About 8am this morning Shailesh Vara a NI Junior Minister quit over the Brexit deal (I never heard of him either). At 9am this morning the Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab quit. At 10am, Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey also quit. It seems the Ministers unhappy with the Brexit deal are spacing out their resignations for maximin impact. Who will go at 11am? Get your popcorn ready and enjoy the show. You can follow the BBC live feed to keep up to date… Brian … Read more

Northern Ireland is not disenfranchised by the Withdrawal Agreement and could enjoy the best of both worlds. Give it a chance!

It’s probably rash of me to attempt a commentary on the Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol of this massive draft Withdrawal Agreement. But very provisionally, here goes. The first thing that strikes me is that the Protocol (from p301) takes great pains to give assurances that life will continue much as now, that the constitutional position is not threatened and there will be no border in the Irish Sea. It prevents a hard border by  instituting an all-UK customs alignment with the … Read more

Hubris and Nemesis – The Fall of the Co-operative Bank…

In ancient Greek mythology, the sin of hubris – excessive self-praise and over-weaning pride – was punished by Nemesis, the goddess of indignation. It is a metaphor sometimes used to describe how the giants of the banking industry were destroyed by market forces in the great recession that began in 2008. Their inflated egos allowed banks to lose the run of themselves, investing in assets that were vastly over-valued and which the bankers often didn’t even understand. It would be … Read more

May’s “stable as it can be” text could just be “the end of the beginning…”

Well, as the former DUP SpAd Richard Bullick noted last night, whilst we have an agreed text (“as stable as it can be”), this is likely only to be round one of getting anything through parliament at Westminster. We may now have reached the ‘hunger games’ phase of this process … — Richard Bullick (@RichardBullick1) November 13, 2018 The DUP has signalled clearly that since its ‘blood red lines’ have been breached, it’s not biting. So there goes the government’s … Read more

The moment of truth may really be very close – but what truth?

All we can do it count heads and count down, for the cabinet to take a decision – or non-decision – on Theresa May’s negotiating plan or face up to the serious option of No Deal. They have until Wednesday to agree proposals for triggering a late November EU summit and 21st January to seal the deal or bid to extend Article 50. Or for the Tory party to throw Mrs May out and plunge Britain into an unprecedented political … Read more

An original commemoration of the Fallen of World War One

You might have missed the centenary of the Day the Guns Fell Silent on 11th November, as commemorated  with terrific originality in the Pages of the Sea project devised by the film director Danny Boyle. Ireland was well represented by three very different people in three spectacular beach locations. Boyle’s brilliant Olympic 2012 opening ceremony in London displayed the British gift for creating new traditions without irritating venerable traditionalists with dogmatic lessons about the iniquities of war and the  British … Read more

Future Ireland: Uniting people is the starting point

I was in a cafe recently when the owner, who I know from being a regular, came over and asked me, “David, clear something up between me and the Missus – was that you on the TV we saw the other night … [puzzled look] … you were part of a panel … Mike Nesbitt was there too.” To which I answered – ‘Yes, guilty! Was me!’ After a little discussion about how he didn’t realise I was interested in … Read more

Face it: A backstop is a necessary condition to avoid catastrophe. May’s conditions do not threaten the constitutional integrity of the UK – for now

The Times headline is unqualified: “No- deal will “include new border in the Irish Sea.”  So we know what side they’re on. Theresa May’s adoption of  a “temporary” backstop whose terms and conditions she insists would not play a part in a permanent deal with the EU was inevitable.   But here’s the bigger problem. To be temporary, it must mean that  the whole UK will remain  in long term close alignment with the EU.  A looser permanent relationship like a … Read more

Unionist objections to the backstop are more than DUP paranoia and need to be addressed

Cabinet approval for Theresa May’s Brexit withdrawal proposals, is again delayed as demands mount from inside the cabinet and without to have sight of the Attorney General’s legal opinion in full. (I’m not sure why is meant by “legal.” What they’re really looking for is  a navigation chart around the treacherous rocks).   The idea of ministers trooping in like junior officers to a “ secret” room in the Cabinet Office like the general’s study  to view  a summary of the … Read more

For the sake of British-Irish relations also, the backstop gap must be bridged

The urgent task now is to close the gap between Leo Varadkar’s idea of a review clause for all-UK temporary membership of the customs union and Theresa May’s. The essential first move is to discover what each means.  Both leaders are under domestic pressure for compromising already. Both sides are desperate for a deal, both economies would suffer severely from the chaos of a crash-out no deal. Both leaders would experience the bitter taste of failure affecting their own positions … Read more

Even if Theresa wins cabinet support for her ” all-UK customs arrangement”, time is running out to knock it into shape for the negotiations

In a nutshell, this is   the first problem Theresa May will confront from up to a dozen cabinet ministers this morning.  “We must have control of the backstop. If Theresa doesn’t stare down the EU and win a mechanism that does this, the whole argument is immaterial as there is zero chance of passing the Commons.  The Taoiseach indicated an openness to consider proposals for “a review mechanism”, provided that it was clear that the outcome of any such review … Read more

Confusion over the state of the Brexit negotiations increases anxiety as May’s cabinet prepares to decide on a formula

Civil society in both islands  looking on anxiously at contrasting stories about the state of the Brexit negotiations are speaking out. Persistent fears of a hard border has prompted a group of nationalists to  approach Leo Varadkar  to protect northern nationalists’ rights. This the second appeal of its kind in a year. Latest 4pm  Leo Varadkar said this afternoon Ireland is willing to consider proposals for a review clause in relation to the backstop for the Irish border. The backstop … Read more