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

No threat to the Good Friday Agreement in sight, but bolder joint action is needed after St Patrick’s Day

Traditionally the St Patrick’s Day pilgrimages to America have been occasions for everybody involved in our politics to be on their best behaviour and bask in waves of Irish-American blarney. Not so much this year, as  Arlene Foster and Mary Lou McDonald have been left off the White House invitees list for failing to clinch the deal to get Stormont going again. But Adams and Paisley jnr are lurking in the wings as  living reminders of past glories compared to … Read more

More than the leadership of Arlene Foster it’s about what the DUP under unprecedented pressure, is for

In “Arlene Foster’s authority is ebbing away“, Newton assesses the pressure on  her  in the Irish Times.  His fascinating analysis is  the latest example of local Kremlinology  peering into the suffocatingly tight networks that dominate these little parties.   But new outside elements are at play as never before to supplement rapid change at home , like the unpredictable fallout of Brexit and pressures for social change from London and Dublin. But for these pressures to have full effect, they must … 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

For the sake of clarity, all sides should stop spreading myths about Brexit and the Good Friday Agreement

Ignorance and special pleading about the Good Friday Agreement and its relationship to Brexit and the border has been a feature of angry comment that has followed the collapse of the Stormont talks. The Daily Express led the pack The Good Friday agreement explicitly stipulates there cannot be a hard border on the island of Ireland, leaving Brexiteers launching impassioned arguments on the deal. It does nothing of the sort. Even Adam Boulton who speaks with the great authority on … Read more

Congratulations are due to the DUP and Sinn Fein negotiators. How can the DUP be persuaded to implement it in their own long term interests?

After rubbing our eyes several times, the first thing  to do about the 13 pages of  the Draft Agreement published  in full by  Eamonn Mallie is to have it recognised for what it claims to be.   As Sinn Fein has already insisted on its authenticity, the initiative now lies with the DUP.  Clearly the document was the hymn sheet the secretary state Karen Bradley was working off in her Commons statement yesterday , although she understandably  refused to publish it, … Read more

Care is needed to stop the wheels coming off the Good Friday Agreement

I suppose it was inevitable. On the fringes of Westminster politics the alignment of Leave with a Brexit Union and Remain with support for the GFA is hardening, as shown in reaction to the failure so far to restore Stormont. This is what happens when people dip into the issues and pull out again. Living with them requires steadiness. Former secretary of state, stout Brexiteer and Shropshire lad Owen Paterson tweets that the GFA “has outlived its use.” Kate Hooey, … 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

The draft agreement revealed: So far but yet so near

The cats have been let out of the bag thanks to the sources of Eamonn Mallie and Barney Rowan, (Sinn Fein?). From documents of “a dozen pages or so plus annexes and separate agreements,” we pick up the story below from a week ago last Friday. The secretary of state will no doubt be questioned on the details in a statement on the talks failure  when the Commons resumes tomorrow.  The Sinn Fein leadership will meet Theresa May on Wednesday … Read more

As the 20th anniversary approaches, the contrast is glaring between the commitment and success of the Good Friday Agreement and the neglect and failures of today

Bill and Hillary Clinton may register a no-show at a conference called to commemorate  the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement on 10 April, the Sunday Times reports. Organised by the impressively branded Senator George J Mitchell Institute For Global Peace, Security And Justice at Queens University, the conference line up includes every surviving key figure from the 1998 peace settlement except the incapacitated John Hume.  If Bill and Hillary scratch, Tony Blair may follow suit. And then … Read more

Arlene and Mary Lou are at least explaining themselves. But how much does Stormont matter now?

“tiocfaidh ár lá   Pat Leahy in the Irish Times The extent to which coaxing the DUP back into powersharing is secondary for Sinn Féin was captured perfectly by McDonald’s speech at her ardfheis coronation at the RDS last weekend. If Sinn Féin was primarily concerned with helping Arlene Foster to bring her party back into Stormont then McDonald wouldn’t have rounded off her peroration with that rousing “Tiocfaidh ár lá!”Never mind that it was unscripted; it wasn’t accidental.    Arlene … 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

Next time, the governments must not leave it entirely to the DUP and Sinn Fein in secret

It would have been a remarkable feat if the DUP and Sinn Fein could have  struck a deal  in secret, alone and unaided.  Secrecy may be essential for last moves to reach a compromise. But over a year none of the ground had been prepared with the public and it showed. The background was too noisy – RHI, the sudden illness and death of McGuinness, minority governments in London and Dublin with other fish to fry, including monumentally,  the throwback … Read more

For a political deal ever to emerge, mutual ignorance needs to faced and mutual respect observed

Mick has rightly just pointed out how tantalising easy the language issue could be to solve, were it not for the politics that expresses a far deeper  mutual ignorance ( in both senses) than is often recognised and which 20 years of supposed power sharing has failed to reduce.  Politically there must be limits to the management of the voluntary apartheid state we appear to be creating before cohesion collapses altogether.  That moment may not be as far off as … Read more

What would yet send them over the top? Or is it all over?

  While Mick has presented the glass half full argument that Sinn Fein have at least indicated a willingness to return to Stormont, attention is bound to be more focused on hopes dashed or at least seriously  dampened . But there’s  no point in railing against Arlene Foster for  bursting out in public with a negative message against an  Irish Language Act (“however packaged”)  or speculating that   DUP supporters with  Jim Allister perched on their shoulder were  “spooked “ by … Read more

Sceptical, not cynical about “the long drawn out attempt to breathe life back into the Stormont arrangement”

Whilst on Saturday Brian highlighted the question of “the prospect of Sinn Fein’s return to Stormont as Mr Adams’ parting gift”, today Ed Moloney posits another, equally plausible scenario… You know, a cynic might suspect that the whole thing, at least the long drawn out attempt to breathe life back into the Stormont arrangement, was staged or timed so that the breakthrough would happen just when Sinn Fein want to present a new, Adams-free image to the electorate down South, one … Read more

Could the DUP handle the return to Stormont as Gerry Adams’ parting gift?

The  papers are at one in running  the story that a Stormont deal may be imminent next week. But  “with more work to be done” the emphasis ranges from glass half full to glass half empty. The Irish News headlines “ speculation quelled as differences remain ” while  Suzanne Breen now bylined as the paper’s  political editor, sticks her neck out  with the quote from “sources” that, “we may not have an agreement within hours but we are potentially on the … Read more

Irish citizenship may open the door to an extended role for Dublin and Brussels in the North after Brexit

Brian WalkerFormer 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

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