But a new customs backstop won’t be enough….

If the temporary extension  of the customs relationship was greeted with euphoria, it was shortlived, as the FT reports. It exposes the next big issue. The single market looms. Mrs May was accused by some Conservative MPs of “bouncing” the cabinet into adopting the scheme, and others said they had been kept in the dark. Senior EU officials also expressed doubts about the UK approach, warning that it diverges significantly from Brussels’ preferred outcome. “If this is it, we will … Read more

Breaking… The UK will meet the June deadline with a breakthrough plan for Brexit and the border, to a cautious welcome from Varadkar

Has  the fog started to clear?  Can any sense be made of the claim and denial about extending the transition beyond 2020 to buy time to solve the customs relationship and the border? The Guardian, RTE and the BBC all thinks so, reporting top level briefings from both governments  at the EU summit  in Sofia. Without overdoing  it sounds like a modest breakthrough on the hitherto incompatible versions of the stopgap . The longer term relationship involving a longer transition … Read more

New backstop plan ties the whole UK to the customs union to buy time for solving the border problem

The rumour has now become fact (almost) Britain will tell Brussels it is prepared to stay tied to the customs union beyond 2021 as ministers remain deadlocked over a future deal with the EU, the Telegraph has learned. The Prime Minister’s Brexit war Cabinet earlier this week agreed on a new “backstop” as a last resort to avoid a hard Irish border, having rejected earlier proposals from the European Union. Ministers signed off the plans on Tuesday despite objections from Boris Johnson, the … Read more

Fears for the future of the Union move centre stage in Theresa May’s Brexit strategy, claims The Times

The Times has followed up on its report  on how Theresa May challenged the complacency of the arch Brexiteer Jacob Rees Mogg  in her series of back bench briefings in No10 when he claimed that a border poll could be won anytime  despite Brexit,   Mrs May said, ‘I would not be as confident as you. That’s not a risk I’m prepared to take. We cannot be confident on the politics of that situation, on how it plays out.’ ” This … Read more

May tells Rees Mogg: with a hard border I’d not be confident of winning a border poll

Times report Theresa May confronted Jacob Rees-Mogg at a meeting with Tory MPs designed to break the deadlock over Britain’s future customs arrangements with the EU, The Times has learnt. The pair clashed yesterday over the impact of rival plans on the Irish border, in what witnesses described as the prime minister “sending a tough signal” to hardline Brexiteers that she was not prepared to jeopardise the Union. It came after Mrs May went over the heads of her squabbling cabinet with a personal … Read more

With all respect to concerned former soldiers, Theresa May is right to see off last minute demands for a selective amnesty

After appearing to side with her Defence Secretary on Wednesday in favouring a selective amnesty for former security forces in Northern Ireland, the Prime Minister has thought the better of it as the long delayed consultation on the Legacy Bill was launched. We are in the peculiar position of Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill broadly welcoming the Bill, while the  DUP leader Arlene Foster  contemplates a legal challenge to the High Court ruling that she wasn’t entitled to refuse to submit a … Read more

Political ferment is reflected in the GFA junketings, but no sign of a breakthrough

Will the DUP and Sinn Fein pay any attention to the eloquent pleas of the elder statesmen to return to the Executive?  On the surface the answer appears to be no, unless something is going on behind the scenes we don’t know about. Local politics suffers from elder statesperson fatigue. This generation has learned how to take in their stride the high sounding generalities from popes, presidents and prime ministers past and present.  The shock of the new wore off … Read more

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

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

“Northern Ireland to become an EU province” after a Brexit breakdown. Did we not know that already?

Tomorrow the EU will publish its legal version of December’s joint Report or Withdrawal Agreement that was supposed to guarantee against a hard border. The intention is to remove any idea of a fudged   political deal that could be changed later. It  will however become the EU’s law not the UK’s. Britain will argue that Withdrawal Agreement will be superseded as a result of a final free trade agreement. However as has been well trailed,  it will omit the guarantees … 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

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 pic.twitter.com/5TbHJJRI1h — 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