The road to Brexit – part two…

You can read part one here… The Conservative Party and Brexit In her Bruges speech on 20 September 1988 Margaret Thatcher said[1]: We have not embarked on the business of throwing back the frontiers of state at home only to see a European superstate getting ready to exercise a new dominance from Brussels. The speech exposed the divisions in the Conservative party between Europhiles and Eurosceptics. The date is conventionally taken as the start of the Brexit process[2]. In a …

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When are the DUP going to ditch the Tories?

“What did we do to members on those benches over there, to be screwed over by this protocol,” Ian Paisley asked in Parliament yesterday, “ask your hearts, what did we do?” Oh Ian. It’s a cliché at this point to quote Edward Carson’s “What a fool I was…” speech. It’s boring. We all know it by now. I prefer the bit after that famous line: “And of all the men in my experience that I think are the most loathsome it …

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Is Now The Right Time for Brexit?

If Covid 19 has taught us one thing, we are not ready for a crisis to be sprung upon us. Stormont has been constantly criticised for its slow response, crucially regarding the PPE fiasco. The Brexit crisis however has been four years in the making meaning we should be preparing right? Recently some Northern Ireland MPs have advocated for a Brexit extension. However is Brexit at this time really a bad idea? As a pro European supporter I can be …

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Northern Ireland’s MPs and Brexit: Their past and future influence…

The UK in a Changing Europe recently published a report on Parliament and Brexit. The report examines how much has changed as a result of Brexit and, of course, the 2019 election which is unlikely to have happened in other circumstances. It also looks ahead to upcoming challenges for Parliament as the transition period hurtles along. This extract from the report considers the parties from Northern Ireland and their place in Westminster. It is easy to forget in hindsight, but …

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#BrexitDay-Nothing but damage

In Jan Carson’s The Fire Starters, there is a quote: “There is never enough silence to contain all our talking…….we continue to believe that across the sea, Europe (and also the world) is holding its breath for the next chapter in our sad story. The world is not waiting.” More than anywhere else in the UK, Brexit shifted the ground beneath Northern Ireland. It threw us down on different sides, sides that were also the battle lines that came before. …

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Reform and enlargement: Europe’s next struggle…

The first stage of the Brexit process, the ‘withdrawal’ is nearing its completion with a vote in the EU parliament on the withdrawal package now done. Barnier and the Commission throughout the process have presented a unified message with little breakdown in communication between them and the EU capitals. It may look to EU federalists like a stepping stone on the process of sovereign status for the Brussels institutions but upon closer inspection this notion is easily dispelled. The Brexit …

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This isn’t a coup. We should still be concerned and angry.

Boris Johnson set off a political earthquake when he asked the Queen to prorogue parliament on the 28th August. There have been huge protests in London. Opposition MPs are demanding meetings with the Queen. The Speaker has issued a statement calling Johnson’s decision a “a constitutional outrage.” Many people will be cheering Boris Johnson on. Others will be frightened and scared at what lies ahead. It’s the reason why many are referring to the current situation as a coup. When …

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Has a human rights culture gone too far? The subject of this year’s BBC Reith Lectures

Lord Sumption On what authority do we create “a rights based society”?  Is everything we call rights, actually rights or just preferences? Who arbitrates between competing rights? In what way are rights superior to ordinary law?  These are basic questions which lie behind the  claim often made in Northern Ireland that all rights are beyond legitimate dispute.  They also  lie at the heart of this year’s series of BBC Reith Lectures being given by Jonathan Sumption,  a recently retired  Supreme …

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Brexit Woes and a Broken Parliament: The Perilous Path Ahead for British Democracy

Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement has been rejected multiple times in Parliament. The EU says it can’t be re-negotiated, but that’s beside the point. Despite two series of indicative votes, MPs refused to back any alternative version of Brexit. There also wasn’t enough support for a no-deal Brexit, nor for revoking Article 50 to cancel Brexit altogether. In other words, Parliament rejected all the options available. There were none left. Even those who oppose the withdrawal agreement cannot fairly blame it …

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The catastrophic fire of Notre Dame gives us a poignant message for Easter, that our heritage is as much about renewal and rebirth as death and destruction

Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times brings  an American  perspective to the catastrophic fire at Notre Dame. Like him I immediately thought of the place accorded to the great cathedral by Kenneth Clark in his monumental BBC series Civilisation I saw when broadcast in the 1970s, and then kept in an old fashioned box set of  VHSs  for viewing by children as an essential part of their education. Like Kimmelman, I think of other fires and destruction of the …

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“Such pressure as is on Ireland (and it will be significant) will come from the reality of the situation…”

Worth quoting at length from Pat Leahy in the Irish Times on the Irish Government’s role in the ongoing Brexit negotiations.  It’s a welcome, un-hysterical look at a key player in what will unfold.  [And all too rare here! – Ed]  Indeed.  From the Irish Times By and large, Leo Varadkar, Simon Coveney and the Government apparatus as a whole have handled the Brexit crisis well – just as the Opposition, in the main, has been pretty responsible. Contrast our …

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Looking through the lens of history helps us ease the torments of Brexit

As a Christmas treat, let’s stand back from the tangles of Brexit and the backstop and take a broader look at how they’re complicating our fond old obsession with our choice of identities British, Irish and European. One of the leaders of the current debate is Fintan O’Toole  a torrentially eloquent writer who knows Britain as well as his own backyard. You’d be hard put to find an English equivalent writing about Ireland. What we see more of are endless voyages of …

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Why Brexit is going wrong and how it could be fixed (part 2)

This is the second of two posts here looking at Brexit through a democratic, rather than a political lens. In the previous post, I argued that the ‘cliff edge’ exit that is inevitable when leaving the EU is not sustainable for the EU, and that the UK would be doing everyone a favour by challenging it. The word “crisis” is over-used in British politics, but we are undoubtedly in one now. We have a Prime Minister who is trying to …

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Why Brexit is going wrong and how it could be fixed…

This is the first of two posts here in which I’m going to look at Brexit through a democratic, rather than a political lens. I’d argue that Representative Democracy is humanity’s single most valuable invention. It has provided government that fosters a level of prosperity and a standard of justice that all of our ancestors could only dream of, and it has hosted history’s greatest period of innovation. Representative Democracy is a robust system. It has an internal logic – …

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In true Bloomsday style, “Samuel Beckett got outrageously drunk…”

If you don’t know by now, it’s tradition!  [We know… – Ed]. Those of a sensitive disposition are duly warned, once again, that James Joyce enjoys the language in all its fecund nuttiness. And another reminder of a brief history of the day, from the Guardian, which includes this great 1924 quote from Joyce on Ulysses – “I have to convince myself that I wrote that book. I used to be able to talk intelligently about it.” Joyce’s last Bloomsday would take place on 16 June 1940, when the author was …

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“I think we must also recognise that there are real economic reasons why people have played up the issue of the Irish border…”

Played up is right.  Labour Party front bencher, the shadow trade secretary, Barry Gardiner, a former NIO minister, has apologised for “informal remarks in a meeting last month“, in particular, that his “use of the word ‘shibboleth’ in its sense of ‘password’ or ‘test of membership’ gave the impression that I thought the Good Friday Agreement was in any way outdated or unimportant. I absolutely do not.”  Which is fine.  But his recorded comments, last month, during a Q&A session after a speech …

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A noble illusion perhaps, but unity and reconciliation are not compatible

Writing in the Irish Times, Robin Wilson has eloquently identified “a cosmopolitan vista of “unification as reconciliation” among diverse individuals on the island…. as the current Tory government disappears down the Brexit rabbit hole”. Amid fears of a renewed, Brexit-induced hard Border, a plebiscite would be a blunt-instrument (and one-sided) response – less discussion, more sectarian headcount. A more sophisticated approach, less likely to lead to highly unwelcome consequences, would be to redefine the process of north-south co-operation recognised by …

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On Prague and its Windows

To read about the history of any great city is to behold a window (of sorts) into the past, but that of the Czech Republic’s capital has boasted arguably more spectacular views than many others. An important political and cultural fulcrum of Central Europe since the Middle Ages, the city certainly has a chequered and eventful heritage, and one that continues to provide drama and incident. Among other developments, Brexiteers on both sides of the Irish Sea are looking to …

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“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 …

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PM Tess and Good Queen Bess

Theresa May has made much of being a vicar’s daughter in seeking to build her image. Less remarked on is that she is from a particular sub-tradition within the Church of England, and so deeply formed by it that its particular take on English history will shape how she sees the UK’s relationship with mainland Europe. In thinking about Brexit, she must inevitably perceive echoes of the last time England was so bitterly riven about its identity and destiny, in …

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