Parliamentary arithmetic moving against a no-deal Brexit

Now that the Christmas lull in the interminable Brexit wars is over, the various parliamentary factions are preparing to do battle once again as the 29th of March draws closer. The first significant vote of 2019 is expected tomorrow, when parliament is scheduled to vote on Yvette Cooper’s amendment to the Finance Bill. The intended purpose of the amendment is to seek to prevent a no-deal Brexit by blocking tax powers if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, … Read more

Crisp advice to Parliament on what to ponder over Christmas

Perhaps the most celebrated of constitutional experts Vernon Bogdanor, has no doubts about what should happen next. The irony is that there is a much greater consensus among MPs than is apparent from the posturing of May’s opponents. Kenneth Clarke believes that about 80% of MPs are against a no-deal Brexit, while nearly all MPs accept that there should not be a hard Irish border, which would be incompatible with the spirit of the Good Friday agreement of 1998. The withdrawal agreement achieves … Read more

Does recall purdah benefit Ian Paisley? Will it end up in court?

Not only are there complaints that  three centres are inadequate  to cover the whole of rural North Antrim for recalling Ian Paisley and forcing a by election, but there are complaints about the purdah  on comment it enforces too. This twitter dialogue from two leading commentators Michael Crick of Channel 4 News and Anthony Wells of YouGov covers the point.       The 2015 Recall of MPs Act says that during the 30-day period NOBODY – journalists or anyone – … Read more

Arlene Foster challenges Sinn Fein to debate abortion reform in the Assembly, claiming SF support for DUP stance

Arlene Foster says some Sinn Fein supporters have told her they will vote DUP because of her party’s position on abortion. In her first interview since Ireland’s referendum on the issue, she told Sky News a lot of people were feeling “disenfranchised” by the result. “I have had emails from Nationalists and Republicans in Northern Ireland not quite believing what is going on and saying they will be voting for the DUP because they believe we are the only party … Read more

Senior Conservatives are willing to defy the DUP over abortion

Perhaps the abortion issue is emerging as a new category which breaks the  rules of  conventional political wisdom.  As far as Westminster is concerned, It seems the last word has not been spoken by Theresa May. This is a devolved matter. Our focus is restoring a democratically accountable devolved government in Northern Ireland so that locally accountable politicians can make decisions on behalf of the public they represent.” It is not only Stella Creasy and mainly Labour colleagues that are … Read more

Do Labour MP Stella Creasy and friends have the knowledge and stamina to progress abortion reform against the odds?

You thought it had gone quiet? Not if Stella Creasy can help it.  Repealing the nineteenth century Act which ultimately banned abortion and is still on the statute book, would be a route to broadening the scope of abortion regulations in Northern Ireland. So claims Ms Creasy the Labour MP who is championing the cause at Westminster. She has set out her stall not only in the Times but the Guardian. The repeal of the 1861 Offences against the Person … Read more

The direct Westminster route to abortion reform is not the one to follow. It’s time for civil society to step up to the plate

Northern Ireland as a place apart over abortion rights has exposed many English MPs to the complexities of devolution for the first time over something they care about deeply, so much so that they seemed at first to dismiss them altogether. There is a precedent of a kind.  On Brexit Westminster is ignoring the SNP government’s refusal to assent to the terms of EU withdrawal on the grounds that this is a reserved matter for Westminster. Although  abortion rights are … Read more

After the huge majority in the Republic, all is changed utterly in the North. The Union is more at stake than ever

The scale of the verdict in the Article 8 referendum will create a new surge and a new context in Northern Ireland politics.  While it would be an exaggeration to say that it might even sweep away the entire unionist position if it does not radically change, even that is not inconceivable, if added to the impact of a hard Brexit. NI abortion reform and the risk to the UK government While all bets are off, it would be unwise … 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

On the legacy deadlock, equality before the law for the security forces is not moral equivalence with the IRA

Ruth Dudley Edwards has just commended “Legacy: What To Do About The Past in Northern Ireland”, a short book by Unionist councillor and redoubtable human right campaigner Jeff  Dudgeon,  edited mainly from the contributions at the conference on legacy legislation he organised in Belfast on March 3rd. As you’d expect, Ruth shares the passionately held view that the UK’s so far unseen draft Legacy Bill is based on a flawed approach developed by the traditional justice academic lawyers who to … Read more

DUP threatening to bring the government down over a customs union – or are they?

An interview with Nigel Dodds for the PolticsHome website is headlined: DUP warns it could bring the government down if Northern Ireland kept in customs union – and let in Jeremy Corbyn? (my addition). Mr Dodds said continued membership of the customs union would “cross a very big red line for” for his crucial bloc of 10 MPs. He said: “For us there is the fact that if as a result of the Brexit negotiations for instance there was to … Read more

Taking their seats at Westminster would be a high risk U-turn for Sinn Fein

Noel Whelan  in the Irish Times  today repeats  the case for Sinn Fein to take their seats at Westminster  – but only after a general election for which the end of abstention would be in their manifesto. This differs from the plea by the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee who recently wrote that ..the taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, ventured to call on the party on Wednesday to take up their six – soon to be seven – Westminster seats “to make things better … Read more

Amnesty for security forces foreshadowed in the DUP deal

Just a footnote to yesterday’s post on the government’s floating of an amnesty for security forces. The Irish News follows up predictably enough with angry responses to what they rightly report as the adoption of the recommendation of the Commons Defence Committee report  just before the general election. The committee, which includes DUP MP Gavin Robinson, said that the pursuit of members of the crown forces was “wholly oppressive and a denial of natural justice”. “It can be ended only … Read more

For Westminster, Northern Ireland still isn’t a priority.

Patrick Thompson is a postgraduate student at Queen’s University, specialising in Northern Irish and Labour politics Last week a strange piece appeared on the news agency Bloomberg’s website about the Irish dimension of Britain’s decision to leave the EU. It was titled ‘Irish Border Throws Unexpected Hurdle to Brexit’. The notion that there is an open question around what Brexit means for the UK’s only land border isn’t groundbreaking. But the idea that this is a surprise most definitely is. … Read more

“it is tempting to conclude that SF has no strategy…”

From yesterday’s Irish News, Patrick Murphy, once again, making direct contact with the head of the nail. While the DUP’s future role in Westminster is far from predictable, it is easy to understand. Sinn Féin’s strategy, however, is less clear. Indeed it is tempting to conclude that SF has no strategy, other than to prolong the talks and hope for a lucky break, similar to the one the DUP received in Westminster. Sinn Féin collapsed Stormont because of the RHI … Read more

Update! Shock victory for free abortions in England for NI women as the government suddenly caves in to cross party pressure

The chancellor has just announced that the government intends to fund abortions in England for women from Northern Ireland. I recommend scrolling down the Guardian Live for the sequence of events ending in reverse order with the splash in George Osborne’s Evening  Standard, “Abortion Vote Chaos Hits May.” The Guardian believes this was done so fast and unexpectedly  to avoid  a Commons defeat on the Queen’s Speech, with some Tories supporting a Labour amendment  to introduce it. It carries a … Read more

Conservative pressure is increasing to allow NI abortions in England as a result of the deal with the DUP

The DUP deal with the Conservatives has elevated the refusal to allow Northern Ireland women free abortions in England under the NHS into a real issue in the House of Commons. And if Ian Paisley junior can be said to speak for his party (which is not always the case) the DUP may not oppose a change. This would help the party improve its image among the mass of MPs who opposed a deal with “dinosaurs.” Support for a change … Read more

And there could be more dosh to come! But the government rejects demands from a chorus of women MPs to fund abortions for NI women

The payout could be higher as a result of studies of the impact of lower corporation tax and scrapping air passenger duty.  In its financial analysis the FT points out that Costs will be higher if the renewed commitment to allow Northern Ireland to set its own lower corporation tax rate and air passenger duty results in lost revenues to the UK exchequer. The DUP has confirmed to the Guardian that they will seek assurances that the block grant will … Read more

First questions about the DUP deal with the Conservatives

Handing over the money is not contingent on restoring the Executive – at least in print. but it is clearly intended  to put pressure on Sinn Fein. If there is no Executive what happens with the new £1 billion and even the already promised £500 million? A budget has to be passed next month by the Executive or by Westminster. The DUP has accepted that the British government will be impartial  according to GFA principles for the Stormont talks and … Read more

Do we want Westminster to impose uniform UK standards? On abortion and same sex marriage? How about an indemnity for soldiers?

 Social reform – on abortion and same sex marriage – is not only a bone of contention in the Stormont talks. It’s creating a clash with MPs across party at Westminster at a precarious time for the future of both legislatures. The Supreme Court’s rejection of the appeal against the decision of the Health Secretary for England Jeremy Hunt not to allow Northern Ireland women to have free abortions on the NHS in England may now become entangled in Westminster’s … Read more