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The Good Friday Agreement for slow learners

by Frank Schnittger Wed Oct 17th, 2018 at 09:42:59 PM EST

I don't like saying "I told you so" and I have a policy of not simply replicating stuff I have read elsewhere, so where do you begin when the Brexit negotiating process is panning out precisely as you expected? It's like watching a supposed thriller where every new twist has been so well flagged in advance it all gets boringly predictable. I have avoided Hollywood movies for years because the script always seems to follow the same formula to the point where you cannot identify with any of the characters and you just don't care what happens to them. The scriptwriters are just playing with your emotions and seeking to manipulate your fears.

And so we have Theresa May continuing to play out her role as the designated fall-girl, seeking to bring home a deal you just know will be rejected by the House of Commons. You have the EU Commission and Council playing out their role as the big, inflexible, bad, pack of wolves seeking to bully and disrespect the game and pugnacious Mrs. May. You have May continuing the fight even as some of her supposed warriors fall by the wayside - only to betray her by sniping at her from the ditches.

And you have the cantankerous Irish only itching for a fight and being as awkward as possible. Why can't everybody just be reasonable and get along? My sociology lecturers used to joke that "common sense" was rarely common and almost never sensible. What is obvious to some can be very difficult for others. What works in one context can be sheer madness in another.

And so we have the DUP extolling the virtues of new technologies and how they can create friction less borders with the Republic but are absolutely impossible to implement at sea and airports or "in the Irish Sea". Boris Johnson rails against proposals which he says are in "in violation of the Act of Union of 1800, and the very basis on which this country [the UK] is founded". But as Noel Dorr, former Irish ambassador to the United Nations patiently explains, that act of Union was amended by the Good Friday agreement:

That agreement - an international treaty between the UK and the Irish Government, registered at the United Nations - recognised "that it is for the people of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts", voting concurrently, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish"; it recognised the right of all the people of Northern Ireland to be "Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose"; and, most notably, it specifically provided for "changes" in British legislation and in the Constitution of Ireland "relating to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland" (emphasis added).

To give effect to the agreement on the UK side, parliament passed the Northern Ireland Act 1998. Its first article provides that Northern Ireland "shall not cease" to be part of the United Kingdom without the consent of a majority of the people there.

It also provides that, if a majority in a poll do express a wish to form part of a united Ireland, proposals to that effect agreed between the British and Irish governments will be put to parliament. Furthermore, Article 2 repeals the Government of Ireland Act 1920 and - as Boris should know - stipulates that the new act is to have effect "notwithstanding any other previous enactment".

To implement the agreement on the Irish side we changed our Constitution so that it now provides that "a united Ireland shall be brought about only by peaceful means" and with the consent, democratically expressed, of a majority in both jurisdictions in the island.

These back-to-back provisions - agreed by all participants in prolonged and arduous negotiations following years of conflict, incorporated in an international treaty registered at the UN, ratified in concurrent referendums by the people of Ireland North and South and, from a legal point of view, enshrined in law by an Act of the United Kingdom Parliament and, in Ireland, by an amendment to the Constitution - which, since 1998, ought properly be described as "the constitutional status of Northern Ireland".

As a settlement, this, so far as I know, is unique. And it creates a constitutional status for Northern Ireland which is distinctive and quite different from that of any other part of the United Kingdom.

In theory it should be easy to insert clauses in the Backstop wording of the Withdrawal Agreement which explicitly reiterate these points, and thus enable Boris Johnson and Theresa May to get off their high horses about the EU trying to break up "their" Union and effect constitutional change in Northern Ireland. But in practice neither May nor Johnson are as yet "solution seeking" and working to find a practical solution. They are still at the grandstanding stage when they should be closing in on the deal.

Simply put, N. Ireland remaining in the Single Market and Customs Union is an economic arrangement of no constitutional significance whatsoever. Indeed it merely maintains the status quo established by the Good Friday agreement.

My fear is that it may be some time after a hard no-deal Brexit has actually happened before they realise that all this posturing has been in vain. The EU was never going to allow the UK cost free and unfettered access to the Single Market indefinitely. Norway has to pay a sum not dissimilar to what the UK pays per capita for complete EU membership. For N. Ireland they were prepared to make an exception - as they have for Greenland, Jersey and Gibraltar - but as usual the DUP can't even recognise a gift horse when they are being offered it.

I have responded to Noel Dorr's article (in the comments) as follows:

And yet, to a extent, Noel Dorr misses the point of DUP opposition. The DUP is aware that "the backstop" doesn't change the constitutional status of N. Ireland and that it, indeed, maintains the status quo of no customs border within Ireland.

Their opposition is part economic: N. Ireland trades more with Britain than it does with Ireland, and therefor any impediments to trade across the Irish sea could have serious economic consequences. It is also in part political: as it feeds into their paranoia of any kind of new political distinctions being made between Britain and N. Ireland.

Little matter that there are already legislative and regulatory differences between N. Ireland and the UK when it suits them - e.g. on marriage equality, access to abortion, phyto-sanitory controls, animal exports, and the rules governing the transparency of political donations. They can argue that these are devolved matters, whereas continued membership of a Customs Union may not be.

The answer to their concerns can be found in Greenland, which left the EU even though it remains part of the Kingdom of Denmark proving that even full membership of the EU doesn't have to apply uniformly to all parts of a sovereign state. Jersey and Gibraltar also have anomalous relationships with the EU that may survive Brexit.

But Brexit has become the DUP's revenge against the Good Friday Agreement - a chance to get one back against their nationalist antagonists - and to give ground now would be to lose face and perhaps their leading position within Unionism.

The logic of the British position is far less clear: to risk a no-deal Brexit for want of an agreed back-stop makes no sense whatsoever. But perhaps a no deal Brexit actually has to happen for that to become clear to the BoJos of this world.

Reading the pages of the The Telegraph still gives the sense of a country living in a time warp unrelated to present day reality. There is a sense of entitlement which no other non-member of the EU presumes - not even the USA. It may take a very long time for the penny to drop for the UK to actually realise that merely having been a member of the EU doesn't entitle it to continued benefits other non-members do not enjoy. Indeed, if the EU were to give those benefits to the UK, the EU would be required, under WTO 'most favoured nation' rules, to give the same benefits to all other non-members of the EU.

There is only so much you can achieve across the negotiating table, and changing a whole national elite's sense of entitlement is not one of them. That can take many years of hard and bitter experience. Increasingly, it looks like we are going to have to get used to a prolonged period of no deal antagonism with the UK, only to finally arrive at a deal that could have been agreed yesterday. Seamus Mallon famously described the Good Friday Agreement as "Sunningdale for slow learners" - in reference to an 1973 agreement to resolve the N. Ireland conflict which was quite similar to the Good Friday Agreement and which had been sabotaged by violent unionist opposition.

A return to the dark days of conflict in and around N. Ireland will never be tolerated by Ireland and the EU. It remains a question of how long it will take the UK to realise this. Perhaps the Irish Backstop will come to be known as "The Good Friday Agreement for slow learners".

Commenting on the fact that N. Ireland effectively costs British taxpayers about £10 Billion in subsidies each year, Fintan O'Toole, as usual, has a good take on the DUP position:
In the latest Future of England survey, there is a buried landmine.

It has received some attention for the breathtaking revelation that fully 83 per cent of Leave voters and 73 per cent of Conservative voters agree that "the unravelling of the peace process in Northern Ireland" is a "price worth paying" for Brexit that allows them to "take back control".

But there is actually an even more explosive finding, less immediately lurid but of far greater consequence for the DUP. The proposition put to these English voters is this: "Revenue raised from taxpayers in England should also be distributed to Northern Ireland to help Northern Irish public services." Just 25 per cent of Leave voters, and 29 per cent of people who said they voted Conservative in 2017, agree.

What is even more striking is that antipathy to sharing English tax revenues actually rises if Northern Ireland is explicitly included in the question. In the abstract, 38 per cent of Leave voters agree that revenue raised from taxpayers in England should be spread across the whole of the UK. That falls to 25 per cent when Northern Ireland is explicitly mentioned.

Tories and Brexiteers in England are literally not buying the union any more. On the only real test that matters - the willingness to share their money with their kith and kin in Ulster - three-quarters of English Leave voters have their hands firmly in their pockets. The message could not be clearer: Kith? My arse!

And here's the true idiocy of the DUP's alliance with the Brexit ultras: the only people in England who are still willing to subsidise Northern Ireland are Remainers. The DUP has taken sides with the enemies of the union against its friends. While just 25 per cent of Leave voters are okay with it, 52 per cent of Remain voters in England agree that their taxes should pay for Northern Ireland's public services.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Oct 17th, 2018 at 09:49:55 PM EST
tbh, I think the leaver view of N Ireland is that the tribal BS of nationalists and unionists isn't worth subsidizing.

Right now, the DUP posturing has been entirely without consequence. Their particular sense of entitlement is that the rest of the UK will protect their privileges using military force c/w an amusingly one-eyed view on how justice is applied in the Province. Knowing that, up until now, the UK Government have been willing to blow £10 billion a year on buying a peace between 2 communities whose divisions stem from injustices rooted in the 17th century, they have become careless about Westminster's committment to the status quo.

If the absence of EU internationalism and Westminster subsidy leads to community tensions, then the Unionists may be disappointed in the lack of response from a Westminster likely to have problems to deal with nearer to home. An SOS from Belfast might garner a response which, whatever language is used, would boil down to one of "Grow Up" or "You made your bed, now lie in it".

The curious atavistic status quo of Ulster cannot survive any likely form of brexit. I suspect that May knows it, but tactically, doesn't feel the need to inform the DUP. The constant re-affirmations of a committment to Ulster which have little resonance within the Leave coalition suggests to me that Arlene Phillips is being played.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Oct 18th, 2018 at 07:51:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Letter to the Editor...

Dear sir,

Your correspondent Noel Dorr, former Irish ambassador to the UN, takes Boris Johnson to task for claiming that  agreeing to the Irish backstop arrangement would "mean violating the Act of Union of 1800, and the very basis on which this country [the UK] is founded". ("Unionists have nothing to fear from backstop deal with Brussels", Opinion, 17/10/2018).

He notes that the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement is enshrined in an international Treaty lodged with the United Nations, was implemented in Ireland by some quite radical changes to our Constitution, and was enacted into law in the UK by Northern Ireland Act 1998,which repeals and supersedes all previous relevant UK legislation. It therefore defines "the constitutional status of Northern Ireland" quite differently to the rest of the UK.

Seamus Mallon once famously described the Good Friday Agreement as "Sunningdale for slow learners", in reference to the very similar agreement in 1973 which sought to end the N. Ireland conflict but which was sabotaged by unionists. Perhaps the Irish Backstop will come to be known as the Good Friday Agreement for slow learners when it is finally agreed as it merely underlines the fact that the constitutional position of N. Ireland is already quite different from that of the rest of the UK, and that continued access to the Single Market and Customs Unions for N. Ireland is a very beneficial economic arrangement of no constitutional significance whatsoever - in the same way that Greenland is still part of the Kingdom of Denmark even though it has withdrawn from the EU.

Hopefully it will not take the 25 years it took for the Good Friday Agreement to replace the Sunningdale agreement for the UK (and the DUP), to come to this realization, as we may be in for a period of very antagonistic "no deal Brexit" relations in the meantime.

Fintan O'Toole notes that "the latest Future of England survey has received some attention for the breathtaking revelation that fully 83 per cent of Leave voters and 73 per cent of Conservative voters agree that "the unravelling of the peace process in Northern Ireland" is a "price worth paying" for Brexit that allows them to "take back control".(The DUP has entangled its destiny with the English Shinners, Opinion 16th. Oct.)

It is to be hoped that the British people themselves will not have need of a peace process any time soon if the consequences of a "no deal Brexit" are as severe as many people fear. It is always easier to pursue a particular course of action when it is other people who will have to suffer the consequences.

Kind regards,

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Oct 18th, 2018 at 12:05:26 AM EST
Boris Johnston does not care for truth or legal reality. He is the British Trump, saying things that may or may not be true, but which play to the prejudices of his intended audience.

There is no point writing long screeds explaining why his harumphing is wrong; Boris will chuckle and move on to the next lie. Rather it is best to point to his long history of deliberate lies and ask the audience to draw their own conclusions about this current nonsense.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Oct 18th, 2018 at 07:57:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Obviously, I don't agree, or I wouldn't have bothered to quote and write the screeds I have written. Boris' and May's inaccurate depiction of the constitutional status of N. Ireland and how it would be impacted by "a border in the Irish Sea" actually provides the Irish Government (and the EU) with an opening to draft a backstop text which is explicitly in line with the Good Friday Agreement and explicitly rejects any change in the constitutional status of N. Ireland without the agreement of the Irish people, North and south.

The Irish Government is giving nothing away here (not already conceded in the GFA) while inserting text which explicitly addresses the claimed threat to the integrity of the UK that a border might (even symbolically) represent. It remains, then, only to ensure that the border is as friction free as possible, something the DUP and UK government have been vociferous in claiming is possible with the use of new technology, etc.

If it is possible to do at 208 official border crossings (and many more unofficial ones), how much easier will it be at the handful of air and sea ports which handle UK trade, and which already implement agricultural and phytosanitory checks on food and other products moving between N. I. and GB, and many other checks on goods coming in from third countries.

If the DUP want to have any say in how these checks are implemented at local level, they will have to agree to the restoration of the Stormont Executive, something they have been steadfastly refusing to do on terms acceptable to the nationalist community. The EU could even insert text into the Backstop agreement giving Stormont the final say in how it will be implemented, knowing full well that Sinn Fein will never agree to a restoration of controls at the land Border, and that the N. I. economy will crater if import/exports cannot happen if they cannot be processed anywhere else.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Oct 18th, 2018 at 08:58:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The whole point of the DUP is that they simply do not concede to any other political organisation the right to determine what Ulster's relationship is with the rest of the UK.

And that actually includes the Westminster Govt. Their "loyalty" is entirely one-sided. It is one of demands, if anything be demanded of them in return, the answer is "NO".

They hate the GFA and their sole purpose in the last 20 years has been to find ways of breaking it. They may claim that they want an open border but, tbh, a "no deal" that rips the GFA apart is pretty much their absolute heart's desire.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Oct 18th, 2018 at 10:04:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Cakeism in the Soul
the vast majority of the UK political, academic, media and think-tank class do not really want to leave the EU, even those who say loudly how much the result of the 2016 referendum must be honoured. What they really want is to be able to remain in the EU but, like Joey Zasa, to be treated with the "respect" to which they think the UK is entitled. ...

I call this "cakeism in the soul", CIS for short. Those suffering from CIS want to be in the EU but on terms that suit the UK, because the UK is special and different. ...

There are the "blamers", those who blame the EU for the position in which the UK finds itself. ...

The reluctant blamer may also exhibit symptoms of "solutionism",... a search for magic solutions and formulae that will enable the EU to accommodate the UK in some fashion or other, an elixir that allows you to square circles.

Cakeism in the soul, CIS, is a desperate attempt to avoid hard choices, to think that Brexit can be done is such a way that nothing will change, that the UK can continue to sit at Europe's top table.

Schengen is toast!
by epochepoque on Thu Oct 18th, 2018 at 03:26:05 PM EST
An amusing column, but I doubt very much that CIS is anything other than an extremely isolated phenomenon.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Oct 18th, 2018 at 07:59:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not so sure. Having moved to Europe I'm finding I'm readjusting some attitudes, sometimes in surprising ways.

I think even nominal pro-Europeans in the UK tend to think of Europe as "That place with the quaint history and the tourist amenities we go on holiday to."

There's comparatively little sense of Europe as an industrial or scientific base, never mind an economic one. FT readers tend to have a broader view, but to most British people, Europe is a foreign country - somewhere essentially remote and other, with a slightly mysterious and probably backward-looking culture, because churches and castles and battles and stuff like that.

This is mostly the fault of the UK's media, which is relentlessly US-centric. A weather disaster in the US will make the headlines, while a weather disaster in France or Germany will barely merit a mention. The US presidential election gets huge coverage even though British people don't get a vote, while MEP elections get almost no coverage at all even though British people do.

And the older Boomer generation grew up with anti-German and anti-Russian war films which I'm sure have left many of them very confused about who our enemies are, and had a huge influence on Brexit voting.

So, generally the British don't see themselves as European, so much as a nation that might tolerate having European allies, as long as they behave themselves and don't get in the way of Empire.

There's a much closer sense of connection to the Anglosphere - although ironically it's not necessarily shared by the rest of the Anglosphere. (The US thinks of the UK in much the same way the UK thinks of Europe.)

Brexit has brought all of this to the surface. Britain, and especially the British establishment, simply doesn't think of Europe as anything other than a set of business opportunities made of multiple distantly related countries.

There's almost no sense of Europe as a political and economic entity in its own right. You could see this clearly when May went on her tour of Euro-leaders and tried to split them off one by one. She seemed genuinely surprised that this didn't work, and that this entity called "The EU" was likely to act as a unified whole.

The UK, meanwhile, has become a country without an identity. Brexit has revealed fault lines that were always there, but had always been suppressed by a kind of soft-liberal consensus.

The UK cannot negotiate Brexit - not just because Brexit is a political and economic impossibility for practical reasons, but because there is no longer any such country as "the UK". There are only squabbling interest groups with absolutely incompatible interests, which cannot be reconciled without eternal resentment and/or force.

I'm more sure than ever that a catastrophic No Deal is the plan, and always has been. One of those groups assumes this will allow it to take control of the country, but it's very likely indeed the outcome is going to be much messier than that.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Oct 18th, 2018 at 10:03:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you are onto something here. The impression I get is that most English people see the EU as some sort of optional extra sitting on top of historic nation states which they would like to business with on a one to one case by case basis on terms they can dictate and without the EU "interfering" in any way - almost like returning to a time before the EU existed.

They imagine that once the UK leaves the EU, that firstly, the EU might crumble without their financial contributions and leadership, and that would be great. Failing that, they imagine they can almost ignore the EU and carry on traveling to and trading with "Europe" as if the EU didn't exist.

The EU is seen as some sort of evil empire restricting free trade and freedom of action and an undemocratic interference in the free will of nations. They imagine that other countries will soon follow the UK's lead once they see the success that Brexit will become.

They even imagine that Ireland may want to rejoin the United Kingdom, and that will solve the backstop problem once and for all.

Many can't understand what all the fuss is about. Why doesn't the UK just leave? (They need us more than we need them, and that will force them to give us what we want in due course). There is a vague sense of entitlement encapsulated in the assumption that they can have their cake and eat it (Cakeism in the Soul) and that Jonny foreigner can go whistle if they don't like it.

They imagine that even if the UK leaves without a deal, sectoral and national deals will quickly be done because airplanes need to fly and Germans need to sell cars.

From an EU perspective, the view couldn't be more different. The EU is a complex structure of Treaties, laws and rules painstakingly put together, very difficult to change, and the only way you can function in a very complex world with competing interests and difficult trade-offs to be made.

If the UK leaves without a deal, it becomes just another country (like, for example, Russia) with which the EU doesn't have a trade deal or much in the way of bilateral deals and so some generic WTO trade rules may apply but otherwise it may as well be N. Korea. Special privileges cannot be given to the UK without also having to give them to all other WTO members under Most Favoured Nation rules.

For example, access to the Single Market cannot be given for free without Norway and others countries  also being given that access for free.

A Free Trade Agreement with the UK may be negotiated in a few years time, but only if it doesn't upset any important interest groups in the EU (e.g. farmers) because of the requirement for unanimity. In practice it may never be agreed if the parting is very rancorous and there is a lack of mutual trust.

Problems like N. Ireland, Gibraltar, Cyprus bases, and the treatment of immigrants will become a source of ongoing tensions and antagonism.

Even a very limited deal which could be agreed without difficulty now may become impossible to agree later because of the requirement for unanimity and because both sides will have drifted very far apart politically, emotionally, and structurally.

A sort of Cold Peace could develop where there are no actual hostilities or trade war, but very little meeting of minds or cooperation either. People will hunker down in their respective bunkers nursing all manner of bitterness, resentments and grievances.

And it will all be the EU's fault.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Oct 18th, 2018 at 11:24:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
When I arrived in Germany, I was of the opinion that the US was unique in its degree of insularity.  Then I kept running into English who spoke only English and who knew roughly squat about anyplace but their own locale.  Rather like the English couple in Casablanca (The husband gets his pocket picked.).  Then I realized we'd simply inherited it, with local modifications.
by rifek on Fri Oct 19th, 2018 at 01:29:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I hear the UK looks to the US like Ireland looks to the UK. But the bigger cousins rarely look back to the smaller (embarassing?) cousins. Which is why the UK establishment is now surprised by 'uppity' Ireland in the Brexit negotiations. And the UK will be surprised by how shallow the spheshial relashionship with the US is when trade negotiations start and they will be forced to import their crappy food.

Schengen is toast!
by epochepoque on Fri Oct 19th, 2018 at 10:24:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The US media coverage of the UK focuses almost entirely on the royal family. The vast majority of Americans have little knowledge of or interest in contemporary Britain, and do not know about and could not care less about Brexit. Any thought that the US might somehow bail out the UK from its problems is completely off the track.
by asdf on Fri Oct 19th, 2018 at 09:24:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
UK politicians have shown very little understanding of Irish politics and many have taken their lead mainly from the DUP. Being a small country beside a much larger one means that you have you have to be very aware of its politics. Brexit is an even bigger issue for Ireland than it is for the UK, and yet it is driven entirely by our bigger neighbour with little regard for its impact elsewhere. Without the EU on our side, there is little we could have done - a fact which probably annoys Brexiteers even more and reinforces their hatred of the EU.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Oct 19th, 2018 at 09:48:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So the establishment is going more for blatant cakeism but the reality of leaving has still not sunk in.

Schengen is toast!
by epochepoque on Fri Oct 19th, 2018 at 10:49:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Northern unionist commentator Newton Emerson on the DUP tactics:

Does the DUP really believe it can obstruct Brexit, Stormont and Westminster indefinitely?

After the fuss over DUP leader Arlene Foster's reference to a "blood red" line, comparatively little fuss has been made about her party threatening "guerrilla war".

The phrase was used by an unnamed DUP source in an interview last weekend and raised eyebrows sufficiently for the UUP to tell Foster to rein in this "reckless language".

The DUP turns out to have a tragically laddish back office culture. The same source, referring to the Conservatives, said: "We are going to squeeze their balls until their ears bleed".

It was the Tories all this language was aimed at. The DUP believes any sea border arrangement in a backstop would become permanent. If it cannot block a Withdrawal Agreement involving such an arrangement it is planning to fight on to prevent its implementation.

The fighting would be on two fronts. In Northern Ireland, the source claimed the DUP would refuse to re-enter Stormont even if that meant a permanent collapse of devolution.

Stormont is still officially necessary to implement the backstop. Many of the regulatory powers required for single market alignment are devolved and there is a role for Northern Ministers in the backstop's UK-EU implementation body, agreed at negotiators' level.

In addition, the British government promised any regulatory divergence across the Irish Sea would have to be approved by the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive, and this was included in last December's EU-UK joint report, even if Brussels has since declined to acknowledge it.

The second front was explained this Monday by DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds. Speaking to the BBC, he said any sea border would cause his party to cancel its confidence and supply deal with the Tories and withhold support for most domestic legislation, including budgets. However, the DUP would not oppose the government on votes of confidence, to avoid triggering an election and placing Labour's Jeremy Corbyn in Number 10.

The DUP appears to have conceded that it can't completely block Theresa May from conceding on the "border in the Irish sea issue" because of the risk of bringing Jeremy Corbyn to power. Instead they would try to make life as difficult as possible for her and block any implementation of the deal. However that might not happen for a couple of years, at the end of the Transition period, and who knows who would be in power then?

However Newton's second point is even more interesting. The DUP has long demanded that the Good Friday Agreement's insistence on cross-community power sharing government by the two main parties representing unionism and nationalism be scrapped because it gives Sinn Fein an effective veto on the formation of a government (Executive). Now that proposal could be turned on its head by preventing the DUP from having an effective veto...

Replacing mandatory coalition with voluntary coalition would allow the four other main parties at Stormont to form an Executive representing, on current numbers, two-thirds of Assembly members and 62 per cent of the electorate.

There would still need to be compulsory power sharing for nationalist buy-in but the UUP remains large enough to fill the unionist role, providing it could face down DUP accusations of selling out.

UUP leader Robin Swann called for voluntary coalition in his annual conference speech last October, although he was presumably not anticipating a nationalist-majority coalition.

However, the DUP is most closely associated with this proposal. It has always aspired to introduce voluntary coalition and has suggested it as the answer to every Stormont deadlock, until now.

After Sinn Féin walked out of the Executive in January 2017, the DUP called again for voluntary coalition. In subsequent talks to restore the Executive, its main demand was a rule change to ensure either of the big two parties walking out would not cause another collapse.

The DUP has only fallen silent on this subject since it abandoned a restoration deal with Sinn Féin this February, and became the party taking everyone's ball away.

In 2014, during a three-year crisis caused by Sinn Féin's refusal to implement welfare reform, Foster's predecessor Peter Robinson said Stormont was no longer fit for purpose and called for a "St Andrews 2" to introduce voluntary coalition, in reference to the 2006 talks that made major changes to the Belfast Agreement.

At St Andrews, the British and Irish governments ganged up on the DUP to bounce it into an Executive. A repeat today might see both governments edge the DUP out, hoisted by its own petard.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Oct 18th, 2018 at 05:45:17 PM EST
Sorry for hijacking the NI post again but you know it's bad when the resident conservative Spiggl columnist rubbishes the UK:

Brexit negotiations - How a Nation makes a complete fool out of itself - Jan Fleischhauer - Spiegel

No people has cultivated arrogance quite like the British. The sad truth is: what used to be a global power is now a country that can't even manage to find the way to the door without tripping over its own feet.

... The problem is: if you act like you are the navel of the world then you should be actually be the navel of the world... As it stands, the British won't even be an appendix of Europe.

... When Theresa May arrives in Brussels with a proposal you can be sure that it won't be worth the paper... Either ... ideas that were already rejected by Brussels or ... put away in her own party ... or Boris Johnson has eliminated them in his Telegraph column.

Until recently, I used to feel pity when I saw [May] lollop ... with her crooked smile and even more crooked offers. Now I catch myself thinking: Go with God, but go!

... Almost everyone who has a say in Brexit ... has attended an expensive school and has studied in Cambridge or Oxford. That's another bit of knowledge gained through Brexit: what on earth do they learn there? ... Would you trust a lawyer who goes into negotiations without preparation so that the appointment has to be canceled after a few minutes?

... We don't want to be unfair. ... Every nation faces decline at some point - sometimes slower, sometimes faster.

The reason why it's going faster with the British, is possibly connected to Britain being an island - something vehently defended by the Brexiteers. If you want to see what centuries of inbreeding can wreak look across the channel. Brexit offers another lesson to those who dream of the end of free movement.

Schengen is toast!
by epochepoque on Fri Oct 19th, 2018 at 12:41:44 PM EST
One think you can't say about Johnson is that he is the result of centuries of inbreeding.....
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Fri Oct 19th, 2018 at 12:48:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I imagine boarding schools do effect one's genes.
by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Fri Oct 19th, 2018 at 07:44:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
They result in the expression of some genes and the repression of others...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Oct 19th, 2018 at 08:23:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We could call it Transgenerational Boarding School Syndrome, a sort of inbreeding through caning and the likes. There's your British Ruling Class.
by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Sat Oct 20th, 2018 at 02:30:40 PM EST
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More optimism about a Brexit deal in Brussels. Less in London - Eurointelligence
What we find particularly significant was the intervention by Angela Merkel who urged both sides to show compromise. As the FT reported this morning some observers saw in her remarks a message that the EU negotiating team should rethink its approach to the Irish border. She also stressed that in the event of a no-deal Brexit there would be a hard border in Ireland, something the Irish government still seems to be in denial about. Her intervention seems to have puzzled some of those present. We are far less puzzled. If you know about Germany's massive dependence on trade with the UK, the last thing Germany needs right now is a hard Brexit. Germany supported a united EU front against the UK. One of the Brexit predictions we made was that Germany would soften its line as talks headed into the final phase. This seems to be happening now.

Would a no-deal Brexit automatically imply a hard border in Ireland?
by Bernard (bernard) on Sun Oct 21st, 2018 at 10:16:38 PM EST
yes, because no deal means no trade arrangements.

However, the real push for no deal isn't coming from Germany or the EU, it's coming from the lunatic right in the UK who wish us to become a low wage, no regulation offshore tax haven whilst they plunder the UK or any assets to sell off and make money.

Then they'll all retire to the south of France where they all own dachas

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Oct 22nd, 2018 at 06:51:52 AM EST
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She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Mon Oct 22nd, 2018 at 03:11:29 PM EST
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The linked Eurointelligence article is a good example of Brits not understanding the European Union as a political project.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Mon Oct 22nd, 2018 at 03:13:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, even though the outfit is nominally based in London, it looks like the principals do include three Germans and one Spaniard (not totally unknown from ET denizens).
by Bernard (bernard) on Mon Oct 22nd, 2018 at 04:32:49 PM EST
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I'd diagnose Munchau as suffering from Stockholm syndrome. He's been doing contortions to justify why Brexit must happen since the referendum.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Oct 23rd, 2018 at 09:12:19 AM EST
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Shout out to Megs... merci Bernard...

PS. I'm not sure Merkel has all that much clout left... let me rephrase, Merkel is very much weakened here, and her recent attempts at "finding compromise" have already shown she's lost power, since they didn't work. For example, her attempts at helping the auto industry avoid the worst payback from the diesel scandals, and resultant coming Fahrverbot (diesel autos not allowed) in frankfurt and other major cities, shows her previous ability to force compromise has waned at best. (I won't go into the details of her attempted compromises here.)

Not to mention, her attempt to keep the government together is on very shaky footing.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Tue Oct 23rd, 2018 at 02:38:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Tue Oct 23rd, 2018 at 02:38:31 PM EST
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I'm not too sure Merkel is in any different situation to most governments in Europe. There is a crisis in government legitimacy which means that far right/nationalist movements are gaining ground, governments are losing majorities, and increasingly shaky minority governments based on unstable coalitions are barely hanging on.

Varadkers' Party, Fine Gael only have 49 seats out of a parliament of 158 seats and are dependent on Fianna Fail abstaining on confidence votes and a number of independents of varying hues and allegiances. Talks are ongoing as to whether this arrangement can continue. Traditional coalition partners like Labour and the Greens have been decimated.

Theresa May's problems have been well documented, but how many other Governments in Europe are barely hanging on? The most remarkable political achievement of recent times has been the unanimity of the EU27 in the Brexit negotiations. It seems to be about the only thing they can agree on.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Oct 23rd, 2018 at 07:13:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Fahrverbot (diesel autos not allowed) in frankfurt and other major cities

Municipalism, my friend. Your friend. Everybody's friend. The return of democracy, and of constructive disobedience. There is an epoch-making shift going on, and it's a Good Thing (except when it's the hard right doing it of course)

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Wed Oct 24th, 2018 at 09:23:00 AM EST
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Subsidarity is not well understood.

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.
by Cat on Wed Oct 24th, 2018 at 09:32:55 AM EST
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It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Mon Oct 22nd, 2018 at 03:40:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by Bernard (bernard) on Wed Oct 24th, 2018 at 07:28:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Any and every Irish government which attempts to erect customs posts at the land border with N. Ireland will fall, possibly never to be seen again. We fought a civil war over the issue and won't open that can of worms again. If the EU thinks that Theresa May is difficult to deal with, try dealing with an Irish government with it's back to the wall. IT WILL NOT HAPPEN. Even if there is wholesale smuggling across the border, some other means will have to be found to deal with it - random, roving customs patrols; trusted trader schemes; checks at Irish air and sea ports etc.

There is a long an honoured tradition in Ireland of laws formally enacted but totally ignored in practice dating back to the time when the British ruled and the Irish subverted wherever possible. This has been in rapid decline in recent years, but can always come back. Think of the black economy in Italy, Greece, Spain and many Eastern European states. It is characteristic of poorer, less rule bound societies or more divided societies with less consensus around the methods of government.

My German relations coming to Ireland used to be astounded at the very relaxed attitude to law enforcement and observance in Ireland when compared to "Vee haf rulz" Germany. That culture has changed in recent years, but you can force an Irish government to sign any law you like, it simply won't happen in practice. Ireland will veto anything it can in the EU until that situation changes. It is simply an existential issue for the Irish political establishment and many more besides.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Oct 22nd, 2018 at 05:32:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
some other means will have to be found to deal with it - random, roving customs patrols; trusted trader schemes; checks at Irish air and sea ports etc.
That should be OK with the EU27, if it works for Ireland. After all, fudging a solution is a time honored tradition in the EU.
by Bernard (bernard) on Tue Oct 23rd, 2018 at 01:32:49 PM EST
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Controls at air and sea ports can certainly prevent smuggling to the EU26, it's in the Irish Market where smuggled goods may be rife. Not too serious if it is merely some paperwork and tax evasion by private individuals and small businesses etc. and it should be possible to control the Tescos of this world with VAT style import duty collection and on site customs inspections. But we don't want "chlorinated chickens" here either.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Oct 23rd, 2018 at 07:01:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
yet it's actually the foodstuffs and the regulations involved that is the sharp end of border situation.

Plus, I imagine that the EU26 may be minded to turn a blind eye if the trade across the border is a trickle. But if it begins to become in any way substantial then they may become much lesss amused.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Oct 23rd, 2018 at 08:32:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.
by Cat on Wed Oct 24th, 2018 at 06:18:04 AM EST
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way-back cranking machine, 2009

So may I hasten to add: There are always rules to be had. Not those rules, the other rules.

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.

by Cat on Wed Oct 24th, 2018 at 06:25:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Vitamin D deficiency explains all.

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.
by Cat on Wed Oct 24th, 2018 at 09:33:39 AM EST

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty
by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Oct 24th, 2018 at 11:17:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Let's try rule of the people by the bureaucracy for the benefit of somebody-or-other.  

Because governating is hard work

Bill gives NI civil servants greater flexibility

Introducing the bill to the Commons on Wednesday afternoon, Karen Bradley described it as "an important step" towards the goal of restoring devolution.

The bill aims to give civil servants greater flexibility when it comes to making decisions.

They will be supported with guidance from the Northern Ireland secretary, but the final decision will rest with the civil servants.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Wed Oct 24th, 2018 at 11:22:31 PM EST
Nazis, cash and tragedy: A day in the life of Brexit
Needled by German Social Democrat MEP Udo Bullmann's remark that "right-wing nationalism and extremists" are "undermining the European Union," Kamall -- a Tory MEP and leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists -- hit back.

"When you talk about right-wing extremists, we have to remember that Nazis were national socialists. It's a strain of socialism," he said.

Even Kamall appeared to have understood that he had crossed the Maginot Line, but before he could tweet out a "nothing personal" comment -- after all, what's less personal than comparing a German socialist to the Nazis? -- Bullmann pointed out that it was "an awful thing to say."

Leftist MEP Gabriele Zimmer, also German, questioned Kamall's grasp of 20th century European history. "Surely you're not so isolated on your island that you don't understand the history of Europe," she said. "You should not treat these terms lightly."

At the rate Brexiteers are antagonizing even supposedly sympathetic countries, like Sweden or the Eastern Europe countries, MEPs will be relieved to see the back of their British colleagues, come March 29.

by Bernard (bernard) on Thu Oct 25th, 2018 at 10:11:07 PM EST
It has been noteworthy that the European Parliament has been even more hardline in its approach to Brexit than the European Commission. Many years of exposure to Nigel Farage and his ilk appears to have generated a determination to be rid of the English MPs as quickly as possible in as humiliating a fashion as possible.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Oct 25th, 2018 at 11:22:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
national socialists are socialists, are they?

Hmmm, sad news, shepherd's pie doesn't contain shepherds either

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Fri Oct 26th, 2018 at 12:17:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Are you sure?
In 1973 the Opera Rara contribution to the Camden Festival was an even greater triumph: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe, translated by Don White with some splendid jokes, including the immortal one-liner offered by the cannibals' cook, "Shepherds' pie with real shepherds."
When they did it in Austria, the line became "Jägerschnitzel, mit echte Jäger".

In the same vein, the Nazi "Wehrmacht" means, literally, "defense force". So they were merely defending themselves all along.

by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Fri Oct 26th, 2018 at 12:29:32 PM EST
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