The British and Irish governments mustn’t mess about. Time for Direct Rule by whatever name with Dublin support to tackle the cost of living crisis and move on to Assembly reform

We are teetering on a cliff edge of absurdity about calling an Assembly election “ nobody wants. ” From the DUP viewpoint Peter Robinson brilliantly  describes the contradictions in every party’s position except his own. He might have added that it was Chris Heaton Harris and his cronies in the ERG  who more than any other faction  got us into this trouble in the first place by championing a Withdrawal Agreement with the Protocol attached  under frankly false pretences. The …

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The political class will have to work hard to prevent Northern Ireland coming off worse in the UK government meltdown

As we treasure long memories in this distinguished forum, I offer 1973-4 as  the nearest parallel  to the  meltdown in government  we face today. In the UK as a whole the miner’s strike in 1973 produced power cuts and a three day working week.  Four months into ’74. Northern Ireland suffered its own exclusive version of power cuts all over again in the UWC strike, a loyalist revolt against the first fragile power sharing Executive that had been set up …

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The pennies are dropping: the UK government are starting to face reality over their mini Budget and restoring the Executive

By far the most important immediate question  for Northern Ireland is how to prevent the constitutional question dominating politics even more than before, at the expense of delivering government for  the people.  Apart from  threatening an Assembly election that would only increase instability, the British government has largely disqualified itself from influencing events in favour of a standoff over the Protocol, a problem they had exclusively had created.  Beyond formal courtesies the vital essential relationship  with the Republic went into  …

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Houses of sand: Unionism has a problem with younger voters. A huge one.

Whither the union. I find myself becoming weary as I write this. Articles about the demise of the union, about unionist malaise and mistakes, are so common these days that they all sound the same. I stopped writing them at one point because I had nothing new to add. Even now, people write these pieces with a weird air of arrogance. They want you to know that they and they alone have figured out that unionism is in a difficult …

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After the funeral of the age, back to the reality of today

The greatest public obsequies in history are over. The hangover begins now. The death of the Queen allowed millions to think of the nation as a big family which could unite at such a time.  Every nation or a distinct component of it needs an identity to survive.  For a large majority, the Queen was at the heart of it. Whether the unity survives both for the nation and- come to think of it- even the royal family- are quite …

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An example of leadership to follow

Electricity  bills set to soar to £500  a month in October, in my own area West London the electricity grid has hit capacity  and a ban on building new homes is in prospect  to 2035, rail  strikes with no end in sight, with nurses and teachers to follow and the possibility of a general strike to come…  Health and social care services in England face “the greatest workforce crisis in their history” and the government has no credible strategy to make the situation …

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The voice of sanity over the Protocol is drowned in Tory leadership Brexit frenzy

  Although by instinct I prefer to hunt for the substance behind political attitudes however perverse they seem, I’m reduced to calling the latest on the Protocol –   bonkers, plain and not so simple. The Tory leadership fight has tipped it into the surreal. First in a dash to complete his legacy, Johnson rushed to complete the Protocol Bill’s early Commons stages on the last full day on Thursday. Then it’s over to Lords in September and a new government. …

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On one thing MPs are agreed: the EU need to show greater flexibility. So is the Protocol Bill only “displacement activity?”

The mouse didn’t roar as the House of Commons sent the Protocol Bill on its way yesterday. “Only if enacted” said an uncharacteristically strident Jeffrey Donaldson, would the DUP go back to Stormont, advancing the curious argument that the Protocol Bill would “give back to the elected representatives in Northern Ireland the power to take the decisions that they have not been able to take.”(It would give them to Westminster not Stormont). Most MPs including the Conservatives who spoke, were …

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There are great dangers in Northern Ireland’s entanglement in the Tory Brexit mess. They must extricate themselves fast

From his analysis of the Protocol bill, I want to pull out Rafael Behr’s comments on how little Northern Ireland registers  in the wider media as itself, on merit . You can almost hear the groans from TV viewers,” Not Northern Ireland again”  in a situation even more incomprehensible to them than  the Troubles It isn’t every day that former prime ministers set old party enmities aside to deliver a unified message on a matter of national urgency. When John …

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Johnson sends an ultimatum to the DUP : return to the Assembly or we won’t proceed with the Protocol bill. Is the threat credible?

Political gaming  has intensified as the Times and the FT report that the UK government will not proceed with the Protocol Bill unless the DUP promises to return to the Assembly. As the bill will at best take a year to pass Parliament are the DUP being invited to buy a pig in a poke? Can this ultimatum over ride the DUP’s demands for “action not words?.  Is the briefing to the papers credible anyway except as short term pressure …

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How wise is it to play Protocol poker with a weak hand everybody can see?

What do you suppose Boris Johnson is up to with his on the face of it, kamikaze tactics over the Protocol Bill?  By pursuing the most aggressive line he seems determined to court a confrontation with the EU.  Can he be serious, even as a survival strategy? As Peston points out, where Johnson is on shaky ground is that within the Protocol there is explicit provision to suspend it, where there are ‘societal difficulties… liable to persist’ via its Article …

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Update: Tory civil war breaks out over the Protocol as reports say Johnson is backing an even harder line defying the EU

Larne Harbour 

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It’s still worth taking a punt on Boris. This time it’s in his own interest to compromise with the EU

In my last post, I was a lonely outlier when I argued that we had nothing to lose by giving Boris Johnson a chance to see what he can deliver.  I did so in full knowledge of his record and reputation.  I am unrepentant. At least equally irritating as Boris is the solipsism that assumes Northern Ireland is centre of world attention and reduces outsiders like the prime minister to bit players  in what Churchill called “the fearful integrity” of …

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Day light robbery of our democracy: the trap of the Anti-Protocol rhetoric…

Stairs going down.

Has there ever been a more ironically named political party across the UK and Ireland than the Democratic Unionist Party? The party, enabled by our broken political infrastructure, has graduated from padlocking swings in Ballymena on Sundays to effectively padlocking the doors to our democracy. It is currently holding the existence of democracy in Northern Ireland hostage, at the behest of an issue which they themselves have no idea what the issue being resolved looks like. Not only that: its …

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Give Boris Johnson a fresh chance to prove his sincerity and commitment. We have nothing to lose and much to gain

Ahead of his day in Northern Ireland, much media comment is focusing on Boris Johnson’s announcement of draft legislation later this week to unilaterally amend parts of the Protocol. This is both inevitable and regrettable.  Northern Ireland’s welfare is far more important than the abstruse game of higher politics. Boris Johnson’s article in the Belfast Telegraph deserves to be cautiously welcomed. It suggests a new level of engagement in all level of NI affairs even encroaching on  Stormont’s competences. Much …

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Incoherence in Westminster is just as great as chaos in Stormont

To use a well known term from political science, we seem to be in a right bugger’s muddle. Brinkmanship is the order of the day. Wobbling on the cliff edge is Liz Truss the foreign secretary, threatening to bring in legislation to allow business to disregard EU rules on GB-NI trade as early as next week. She argues  that existing  EU concessions would “ make things worse.” It focuses on the fact that grace periods mean the protocol is not …

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Frost’s resignation dissolves fudging over the Protocol and faces Johnson with the stark choice. And Liz Truss the party favourite will make it.

The social libertarian reasons David Frost has given for quitting the government such as the “direction of travel” on Covid restrictions and increased taxes are hardly the whole story.  For if he thought he looked like winning in the Protocol negotiations he would surely not have quit. His letter to Johnson smacks of the same disingenuousness as his Protocol reports – a hard line written in the language of sweet reasonableness.  Frost knows very well he has set Johnson a …

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Stiff medicine needed to get the Protocol over the line before Christmas

The pace of Protocol negotiations is quickening.  Yesterday and earlier today The BBC nationally was giving rare prominence to this incomprehensible topic (if you’re not NI/Irish).  After today’s meeting the straws in the wind were a bit more favourable but without Lord Frost  clearly  shifting position. Technical talks ahead of Friday’s meeting had focused on guaranteeing the supply of medicines from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. Mr Šefčovič said there had been progress in this area, adding: “We now need …

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Straws in the Protocol wind

From  the FT Rishi Sunak, chancellor of the exchequer, warned that provoking the EU into a trade dispute in the row over the so-called Northern Ireland protocol would hardly help. “Empty shelves this Christmas would be a disaster,” says one senior British official. “Nobody wants to be the person who screws up Christmas.” Rather than force a confrontation with Brussels, Johnson ordered his chief negotiator, Lord David Frost, to return to the table with renewed vigour to try to resolve …

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Johnson and Frost can afford another turn of the screw before retreat. The rachet is in their hands

Using the old mantra of Michel Barnier, the clock is ticking on the Protocol negotiations. Even so, picking up from Mick’s references to Irish Times commentator Ronan McCrea, it isn’t obvious to me why at this point  the EU should “play hardball.”  Granted that he fears the damage done in a lengthy arbitration period under the terms of the withdrawal agreement. ..during the lengthy period during which all of these procedures were being worked through, the EU would be faced …

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