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

Splits widen in May’s cabinet and party as Varadakar comes closer to backing Hammond’s version of a soft Brexit

Brexit politics is hotting up amid the snows of Davos. The Brexiteer house paper the Daily Telegraph reports remarks from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar taking a soft Brexit line close to Chancellor Philip Hammond’s in the Swiss resort.  Hammond is the key figure here. He has  lit the blue touch paper to ignite the Tory right and  earned himself a rebuke from a No 10 which is trying to damp down the first flickers of new surge against Theresa May’s weak … Read more

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 … Read more

Karen Bradley appointed new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

As the BBC report, the UK Culture Secretary, Karen Bradley, MP, has been appointed as the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland by Prime Minister Theresa May replacing James Brokenshire – who resigned today due to ill health. Karen Bradley MP becomes Secretary of State for Northern Ireland #CabinetReshuffle — UK Prime Minister (@Number10gov) January 8, 2018 Adds  From the BBC report Mrs Bradley, 47, has been the MP for Staffordshire Moorlands since May 2010, and became a Home … 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

Brexit and the border is widening the gap between London and Dublin and depressing further the chances of a return to Stormont

It has started to happen. Will it continue?  Can it be reversed? The politics of Brexit  is openly dividing the UK and Irish governments and further polarising the DUP and Sinn Fein,  making a return to the Executive less likely than ever.  Predictably Brexit is increasingly becoming domesticated as the new big theme  in a revived unionist v nationalist struggle. What’s just happened?  The sequence was best described in a cool- headed column in the Indo by Dan O’Brien, chief … Read more

Brexit is in a mess, but not irretrievably

Want to know where we really are on Brexit? In  three words, in a mess. Can we get out of it?   Possibly at the eleventh hour, 10 pm on Friday 19 March 2019, just like the Good Friday Agreement in fact. Nothing  is agreed until everything is agreed. As so often – like the Stormont standoff – the politics look more difficult than the rational solutions. The Irish and British prime ministers profess themselves in the dark about  each others’ … Read more

The UK proposals on the border likely to underwhelm, as the Ref 2 debate hots up

Theresa May has had  the temporary excuse of being on holiday to explain away the continuing churn over Brexit inside and outside the government. No more. She returns from holiday this week. Little to comfort her awaits.  Rather than a produce a rallying cry the promised publication of several major Brexit policy documents by midweek is likely  to give both sides of the debate more ammunition to throw at each other. By themselves they cannot constitute  a coherent strategy. But … Read more

The shape of a Stormont deal is emerging. Will promised public consultation seal the deal or become yet another stalling move?

So the parties are to respond to a paper issued by the two governments today. After four months of apparent lack of close engagement by the British government in particular , talks  took on a clearer shape and urgency since the Westminster general election. The paper has been seen by Barney Rowan and summarised in Eamonn Mallie’s website . The content of the the legacy section has been around for months with agreement said to be on the brink for … Read more

“The DUP deal is in danger”

As many suspected… Sam McBride in the Newsletter reflects unease at the delay as well as DUP surface optimism that a deal is still on course.  Ken Reid of UTV tweets that a deal this week is unlikely. The delay can hardly be only out of respect for the still unknown number of victims of the Grenfell tower fire, certainly as far as the government is concerned . Mrs May is visiting the tower  today as well as  meeting  five … Read more

How can May encourage the other parties to the Stormont talks without disclosing the DUP deal? ( new version)

So after a confusing day against a background of tragedy in which it was first reported that the DUP deal would be postponed until next week, Theresa May  is meeting the other  Assembly parties without them. Make  of that what you will. All of Westminster will be agog . The elephant will be in the room in non-corporeal form. May can hardly  afford  to answer question one, can she? Mrs O’Neill has already made it clear she will raise the issue … Read more

Fears of a side deal with the DUP on the peace agenda are exaggerated. It requires cross community consent

So the DUP confidence and supply deal with the minority government will be delayed out of respect for the victims of the horrific North Kensington fire.  Mark Devenport has a credible analysis of the state of play. This leaves out saying anything definite about legacy matters that so spooked the political class over here when someone showed them the DUP’s 2015 manifesto.   The Guardian’s Home editor Alan Travis first raised the hare. The 12-page route map sets out a list … Read more

The DUP are in pole position to remove the threats both of a hard border and a border poll

Brexit ‘s revival of  the spectre of a hard border and the support  of Ireland’s partners for a united Ireland  with consent within the EU was the perfect formula for the complete polarisation that has duly happened at Westminster level. Nationalism is now without representation at Westminster for the first time since 1966. The SDLP’s special pleading   for an anti-Brexit pact failed and their attack on Sinn Fein for abstaining from Westminster as if it was a new idea left … Read more

Sadiq Khan saves growing row over police resources from becoming a farce

The row over Theresa May’s police cuts is going Gothic since Trump entered the fray to criticise London Mayor Sadiq Khan and then typically to repeat  his attack even though May tactfully corrected him. The London Evening Standard (editor George Osborne, the former chancellor sacked by May) details the developing story. It turns out Corbyn was prompted to call for May’s resignation by an ITV correspondent’s question. He in turn  had taken up  the resignation call from Steve Hilton, David … Read more

May’s and Corbyn’s descent to bickering over the response to jihadist terrorism shows their mutual mediocrity

Theresa May  is under pressure  even in her supposed area of expertise. The attacks on her for “police cuts” are election chaff. Her real defence  that cuts  that seemed sensible in 2010 are less so in the light of recent events doesn’t work in the climax of an election campaign, and Jeremy Corbyn’s call on her to resign is almost  laughably hypocritical. Even so she has only herself  to blame  for misfiring in her reaction to London bridge outside No 10 … Read more

DUP needs to watch its advocacy of what’s becoming its own minority enthusiasms

It’s been a rough week for Arlene and the DUP. Newton Emerson is clearly losing patience with the DUP leader’s impetuosity… After his career almost imploded in 2010, Robinson displayed convincing signs of humility and reflection, at least for a while. Foster has met a few Gaelgoiri but she is still triangulating her position to imply she has not moved an inch. It is clear she feels herself to be the victim of a cunning republican plot – and that … Read more

Conservative manifesto very warm on the Union, cool and correct to the Republic, no mention of special status in ” a comprehensive free trade and customs agreement”

TORY LAUNCH: Here I concentrate on those matters of specific interest to Northern Ireland. Remember that while manifestos tend to be mainly broad brush, they convey a sense of direction. The rhetoric of this one is modern British Unionist, as would be expected with the Union under threat but it avoids Rule Britannia jingoism.

The UK rejects the EU timetable for negotiations. A border solution will have to wait

A pat on the back is due for Slugger for anticipating this reaction  to the EU negotiating guidelines. The FT (£)  has picked up Brexit Secretary David Davis’s interview on ITV’s Peston show yesterday   “How on earth do you resolve the issue of the border with Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland unless you know what our general borders policy is, what the customs agreement is, what our trade agreement is?” he told ITV’s Robert Peston. “It’s wholly … Read more

Theresa May’s flying visit will not halt the strange ebbing of British authority in Northern Ireland

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

The soft Theresa is no more forthcoming than the hard Theresa

So there is a hard Theresa and a soft Theresa. The hard Theresa has been subject to some searching assessment today. First, Janan Ganesh in the FT (£), on her claim that Brussels bureaucrats were interfering in the British general election by leaking a derogatory account of her dinner with EU Commission president Junker.  To leak the gist of a private dinner is normal political sport. A near-verbatim account, couched in a snide tone, is a breach of trust that … Read more