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Newton Emerson is a unionist commentator from N. Ireland more closely aligned with the anglophile Official Unionist party thinking than with the Paisleyite DUP. Unsympathetic to any notion of a united Ireland, he can nevertheless make some acute observations on the contradictions and difficulties of DUP "thinking".

Foster is rattling around inside a logical trap set by May

Trapped between a hard border and a sea border, DUP leader Arlene Foster has hit out at the Belfast [Good Friday] Agreement. This has conceded a key rhetorical point to nationalists despite all the complaints they have made about her remarks. The point is not "I told you so", as expressed in many quarters, over the DUP never supporting the agreement in the first place. The DUP will happily tell you that itself. As far as the party is concerned it fixed the Belfast Agreement with the 2006 St Andrews Agreement, and it was only then, with the text amended, that it climbed aboard.

The nationalist point Foster has conceded is that some forms of Brexit might be incompatible with the agreement, at least to the extent where it would benefit from further alteration.

In a keynote speech in Belfast three months ago, May ruled out a customs border in the Irish Sea as part of the backstop on the grounds it would breach the agreement by threatening the constitutional integrity of the UK and changing the status of Northern Ireland without consent, thereby denying "parity of esteem and just and equal treatment" to the unionist community.

This novel interpretation was seen as such a sop to the DUP that May was accused of letting the party write her script.

But the prime minister also ruled out any land border infrastructure, saying "the seamless border is a foundation stone on which the Belfast Agreement rests. Anything that undermines that is a breach of the spirit of the Belfast Agreement."

Legally, both sections of the speech were nonsense. The agreement makes no mention of the nature of the Border, while the consent principle only applies to a vote for a united Ireland.

However, by matching nationalist nonsense with unionist nonsense, May was boxing everyone in by turning their own arguments against them. Or, as she summed it up herself with a perfectly straight face, any new customs frontier inside the UK "would be a breach of the spirit of the Belfast Agreement, and for exactly the same reason that a hard border would be".

The absurd over-reaction to her [Foster's] remarks, made off-the-cuff in response to a reporter's question, indicates the extent of nationalist paranoia that the DUP is leading the British government by the nose. However, the intemperance of Foster's remarks suggests the opposite - that the DUP knows that the limits of its influence are about to be exposed as the withdrawal agreement deadline nears.

A party that has never really suffered defeat or had to make a major strategic concession is going to find climbing down on something as totemic as a sea border extremely difficult to process.

Legally, Newton is probably correct in asserting that the principal of consent as written in the Good Friday Agreement applies only to a referendum on a United Ireland. But the political reality is that it has come to apply to any major change to the status quo in N. Ireland - it requires the support of both the unionist and nationalist communities.

Thus Brexit is a breach of this principle, as applied to N. Ireland, quite apart from the fact that it was rejected by 56% of the N. Ireland electorate as a whole. May has now conceded that it applies to how any major change in both the sea border with Britain or the land border with Ireland is regulated and policed.

This may have boxed Arlene Foster into a logical trap to some extent, but the larger logical trap is the one in which May finds herself. If any change in the status quo of how either border is policed is a breach of the principle of consent contained in Good Friday agreement, how much greater is the imposition of Brexit itself on N. Ireland, against the wishes of a majority of BOTH communities?

Some reports suggest the UK will propose making any divergence in regulation between N. Ireland and GB subject to N. I. Assembly approval. This could be difficult, given that that assembly may never meet again. But wouldn't it be much more consistent with the principle of consent as contained in the Good Friday Agreement, if any change in the Status of  N. Ireland (i.e. Brexit) was made subject to referendum approval?

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Oct 4th, 2018 at 06:37:39 PM EST

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