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

The Brexit Border in 4 key slides

Recently I decided that what is needed right now are some slides that attempt to put the Brexit border issue as simply as possible. This is a pared-back and simplified overview of complex matters, but it’s my attempt to provide an outline of what border controls could mean for different types of border with the EU after Brexit. It is the second draft of a work in progress and any corrections, comments and suggestions are welcome. Slide 1 shows the different … 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

Interesting point on the EEA

This is apparently old news, but does the UK Government need to give notice of leaving the European Economic Area or not? Until five minutes ago (HT the roads fans on SABRE), I would have said no.  Then I read the preamble of the agreement of the EEA, specifically the contracting parties. The contracting parties are not the EU, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. The contracting parties are the EU, the members of the EU in their own right, Norway, Iceland … Read more

The vast, terrifying vista of boundless possibility.

Storm clouds approaching

The slippery slope argument is a well-known logical fallacy for two reasons. Firstly, it is almost universally wrong. Secondly, it is almost universally believed. This is because human beings are innately loss-averse, preferring the certainty of the here and now (however imperfect) to the unknown possibilities of change. It is only when the here and now crosses a significant threshold of imperfection that uncertainty begins to look inviting. The mildly discontented compare the known and the unknown and say “don’t … Read more

So we just have to be smart. Apparently.

We are assured that technology will fix our borders (quite often by certain politicians, actually).  All we need are CCTV cameras at the border and no checks will be required according to a a report by Lars Karlsson, President of KGH Border Services, Former Director of World Customs Organization and Deputy Director General of Swedish Customs, so we are told by the DUP. Indeed, that’s what the Abstract says: This study, commissioned by the European Parliament’s Policy Department for Citizens’ … Read more

Surf and turf

Boats with EU, UK flags sailing in opposite directions

As blogger David Allen Green has pointed out, whoever produces the first draft of a legal document has the advantage. While the EU has been criticised for its backstop-Brexit draft, the UK has conspicuously failed to produce any draft at all, and shows no signs of doing so. The final transition agreement is thus unlikely to differ from the EU’s draft in anything other than some finer details and cosmetic language. This was of course predicable and widely predicted back … 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

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

Meanwhile on Brexit … the British fog may be about to lift a little

Don’t get too excited, but this really could be a significant week for achieving greater clarity on British government aims for Brexit. The fiercely   anti-Brexit FT reports that on an awayday at Chequers on Thursday, Theresa May will nail her ministers’ hands to  the table  (well, the FT didn’t quite put it that way) until they agree on a high level of alignment between the UK and EU rules. Haven’t we heard something like that before? Oh yes, December’s joint … Read more

London and Dublin must clear their lines for close cooperation on direct rule

Clarity rather than coyness is now needed over moves toward direct rule. Working on its  scope and duration is one more compelling reason for London and Dublin  to stick together.  On Monday at the otherwise disastrous Stormont meeting, Theresa May and Leo Varadkar pledged “to work together on a new plan on how to achieve a frictionless Irish border.” Good luck to them with that. On the continuing local stand-off, two elements are essential. Enough action must be taken to … Read more

On the border, a cabinet split emerges and UK-Irish tensions are renewed, as negative impact assessments of Brexit options are published in full

Northern Ireland comes out third  worst in the full version of regional assessments by HM Treasury of the impact of Brexit region by region. These were leaked to Buzzfeed last week then issued confidentially  to MPs and now published by  the BBC. The assessments, discounted by Brexiteers as failing properly  to model their preferred option of a free trade deal, emerged in full as tensions rose once again over the implications for the   border both within the British cabinet and … Read more

Arlene Foster spoke no empty words. The road to renewed cross community cooperation may run through Dublin and Brussels

Arlene Foster’s demarche surely marks a truce or even peace  between the Irish government and the DUP in the squabbles over Brexit. It will also  consolidate Dublin’s  improving  relations with Westminster. All this is welcome. Neither wants a hard land border on the island or trade barriers between the Republic and Great Britain. It was just that Dublin’s priority was elevating no hard border to a position of veto over the UK government’s whole strategy, while the DUP had a … Read more

“As with the hardest essay questions, there is no right answer but many wrong ones.”

Writing in the Guardian, “former Downing Street Brexit spokesperson”, Matthew O’Toole [no relation – Ed] has some intelligent, and interesting, things to say about “the psychology of imagined identity” here, and the task facing the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, as well as the UK Prime Minister in the next phase of the Brexit negotiations. [Definitely no relation! – Ed] From the Guardian article As Bradley will discover, Brexit has unsettled one of the most intangible but … Read more

“The fact that all of the other parties in the Dáil rallied around to wave the green flag on Tuesday demonstrates not that the Government got it right but that it successfully pandered to populist sentiment”

In the Irish Times, Stephen Collins on the risks involved in the Irish Government’s public positioning over the ongoing Brexit negotiations.  From the Irish Times article The British government and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) are the ones primarily responsible for Monday’s debacle, but the Irish Government didn’t exactly cover itself in glory. The way Tánaiste Simon Coveney jumped the gun with a premature radio interview on Monday morning and the subsequent mood music suggesting that the Irish side had … Read more

“ambiguity… appears to have led Dublin and Brussels to interpret it as a maximalist position, while the DUP believed or were led to believe that it would or could be minimalist.”

The parlous state of the Brexit negotiations has been generating more than the usual level of idle speculation, and arrant nonsense. [Including on Slugger? – Ed] No names, no pack drill… But there are some intelligent points being made, in some places, which are worth keeping in mind – if you are actually thinking about these things. Like other, usually reliable, observers, The News Letter’s Sam McBride, whilst initially a little puzzled by Monday’s developments, offered a coherent scenario yesterday. … Read more

#Brexit: the DUP and the Risks of Not Passing Go

The DUP torpedoed today’s sensible UK-EU compromise deal on the border because, according to an Arlene Foster tweet, the party could not accept any deal which separates Northern Ireland politically from the rest of the UK. This will come as a great surprise to campaigners for marriage equality, liberalisation of the abortion laws, and comprehensive education. There is no great Unionist point of principle against the terms of what was on the table in Brussels earlier today, except on the … Read more

Ireland and the border has emerged as the current acid test. In their own interests, Leo Varadkar and Micheal Martin should give Theresa May space to pass it

The current British position is admirably described by James Forsyth in the Brexit leaning, Conservative supporting Spectator. I can do no better than to quote it at length. It covers a viewpoint that cannot be dismissed by ardent Remainers like me.  Whatever the mood music, it will be taken seriously in the chancelleries of Europe. For they see that the British are gradually shifting. The next few weeks are the  time for quiet diplomacy with the megaphone put away and the tweeting held in check.

Read moreIreland and the border has emerged as the current acid test. In their own interests, Leo Varadkar and Micheal Martin should give Theresa May space to pass 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

Domestic political turmoil renders the Brexit negotiations even more unpredictable. This time it’s not London’s fault

Compared with some other key leaders, Theresa May’s position is  looking remarkably stable for a change  as she flies into Brussels today for what’s being billed in London as crucial meetings with EU leaders including Council president Donald  Tusk. The Westminster lobby is reporting that she’ll be taking soundings over whether a British offer of a bigger divorce bill – £40 billion is being mentioned off the record  – would be enough to persuade EU leaders to allow Brexit talks … Read more