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Brexit in Northern Ireland

by Frank Schnittger Thu Oct 25th, 2018 at 03:02:06 PM EST

Letter to the Editor, Irish Times.

A Chara,

Newton Emerson's article on Leo Varadker having a "tin ear" on N. Ireland is notable chiefly for the for the quality of the comments beneath it in your on-line edition. [Leo Varadkar continues to show a tin ear to the North, Opinion, 25/10/2018]

For all his criticism of the DUP, Newton remains of the view that Brexit is somehow just politics as usual, and the usual rules of politics should apply. But to quote WB Yeats, all has been changed, changed utterly, by Brexit.

Time was when Taoisigh had to tip toe around unionist sensitivities for fear of exacerbating a very dangerous situation. Bertie Ahern's finest achievement was his contribution to the peace process. He deserves a reprieve from political purgatory for that alone.

But the DUP's adoption of a pro Brexit policy in N. Ireland, against the wishes of 56% of it's electorate, is a full frontal attack on democracy, the peace process, the Good Friday Agreement, and all that is decent in Irish politics. To imagine it can now be business as usual in the aftermath is delusional.

Frankly, the DUP have now been written out of the script as far as the future of Ireland is concerned. Loyalists can continue to vote for them if they wish, but no one will take them seriously. What Sammy Wilson "thinks" is good for satirical and comedy columns only.

Mr. Varadker's job is to protect the interests of the people of Ireland from the very serious economic and political implications of Brexit. If that upsets some unionist or brexiteer sensitivities, then so be it. A "tin ear" can be useful in drowning out irrelevant noise. Certainly no one will take the DUP seriously outside its heartlands of north Antrim and east Belfast.

There will be no functioning N. Ireland Assembly or Executive while the current crop of DUP "leaders" are in power, and until Brexit is done and dusted, one way or the other. Not only will the DUP be sold down the river by Theresa May, they will be the laughing stock of everyone else.  

Leo Varadker can bank a few thousand extra votes every time the DUP excoriates him. Michael Martin [Leader of the opposition and Fianna Fail] must be green with envy.


Newton states that "nobody envisages new passport controls, road closures or routine queues for motorists under any circumstances - all widespread public concerns from both a practical and security perspective".  However this is precisely the prospect that Theresa May's "time limited" backstop envisages.

Theresa May is hoping she can use the EU's generousity towards N. Ireland as a lever to prise the same concessions for the UK as a whole. However while the EU has historically tolerated anomalies in relation to relatively insignificant smaller regions - Greenland, Gibraltar and Jersey come to mind - doing the same for a major power is another matter altogether. Norway pays a sum not dissimilar to the UK's (net per capita) contribution to the EU for access to the single market. Theresa May is not going to get that for free for the UK as a whole.

That is why the EU wishes to include this commitment only in a non-binding "political declaration" to accompany the formal Brexit Agreement. The messy business of sorting out how much the UK will have to pay for the privilege is best left for another day. But seeing an opportunity to grab the high moral ground (to prevent violence in N. Ireland!) Theresa May wants to achieve this privileged position for free for all of the UK now. As Fintan O'Toole has noted:

But there is a dramatic twist: the bargaining is not so much about Northern Ireland. It is bargaining with Northern Ireland. The sheer cynicism of what is going on is so breathtaking that it is hard to credit and thus easy to miss.


The British approach to Brexit has been so chaotic that it has seemed silly to look for method in the madness. In relation to the Irish dimension of Brexit, we've become inured to magical thinking (the wonderful efficacy of not-yet-invented technological solutions), blithe misapprehension and sheer fatuousness (Boris Johnson's insistence that the Border is just like that between two London boroughs).

This has been oddly comforting. Since this stuff is so evidently childish, we can wait for the adults to enter the room.

But the comfort is false. The adults did enter the room. The Brexit negotiations are now in the hands of serious, skilful professional mandarins. And they've done something remarkable with the Irish Question. Remarkable in that it takes some nerve even to contemplate it.

For what it comes down to is a strategy of using the human suffering of the Troubles to try to extract a favourable post-Brexit trade deal from the EU. You have to be very clever to think of trying this - and utterly shameless.

The irony is that the DUP cannot recognise a gift horse when they are offered it. Their farmers are already going to lose the generous subsidies offered by the EU's CAP programs which the UK government has promised to continue only for the life time of the current parliament. N. Ireland will also lose considerable funding under various regional and peace programs. At least the "backstop" would continue to offer them unfettered access to the EU Single Market.

But for the DUP, British nationalism trumps all. They are emotionally and ideologically invested in the extreme right wing nationalist Brexiteer project and have close personal relationships with may hard line Brexiteers at Westminster. Most of their MP's can look forward to continued safe seats and ennoblement to the House of Lords if all else fails.

Ian Paisley jnr. recently survived a recall petition in his safe N. Antrim constituency for accepting well over £50,000 in luxury holidays from the Sri Lanken  government for lobbying against UN human rights abuse investigations in their country. DUP leader Arlene Foster, wasted £500 million on a "renewable heat incentive scheme" which paid people more than the cost of the fuel, with the result that many (including her friends and relations) burned tons of fuel in farm barn-houses to no useful purpose other than to profit at the taxpayers expense. The DUP could put up a donkey up for election in some constituencies and still win. Such is the tribal nature of N. Ireland politics.

But as the Brexit negotiations approach their denouement, everyone is getting nervous. The DUP's leading position in N. Ireland unionism is at risk if their Brexit strategy goes seriously wrong. Somehow this is supposed to be Leo Varaker's problem. Normally one of the key requirements of a good negotiating strategy is to avoid humiliating your opponents: You may need them to work with you afterwards. However in this instance the DUP have managed to humiliate themselves all by themselves with no help needed from anyone else.

Blaming everyone else for their predicament is just par for the course.

Display:
Even the Ulster Unionist party (the DUP's rival for unionist voters affections) has little time for the DUP antics: DUP accused of dragging unionism `into the gutter'...
Politics is "deeply broken" in Northern Ireland and it is clear there is no possibility of the restoration of Stormont anytime soon, the Ulster Unionist Party leader has told his party's annual conference.

Robin Swann accused the DUP and Sinn Féin of running Northern Ireland into the ground and said that if the British government believed there was no prospect of reinstating powersharing, it should step in and appoint direct rule ministers.

"Stop letting the people of Northern Ireland wither on the vine because you're either too busy looking over your shoulder at the DUP and frozen in fear at the thought of upsetting Sinn Féin sensitivities," he told the conference in the Armagh City Hotel on Saturday.

"Stop telling us that you're the `Conservative and Unionist Party' like that's enough. It's time to prove you are," he added.

Mr Swann said the Renewable Heat Incentive inquiry demonstrated just how "shambolic" the last Northern Executive was.

When he reflected on "how unionism has been dragged into the gutter by the DUP" he felt angry.

"It's grim that the DUP have created a situation where Sinn Féin of all people are able to call for `integrity in government' and gifted them the opportunity to pull down the institutions," he added.



Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Oct 25th, 2018 at 04:40:56 PM EST
An amusing footnote to the Brexit negotiations is the sight of the UK considering giving the EU a "concession" by agreeing to consider an extension to the transition/implementation period.

The EU originally made the offer to the UK as a means of overcoming UK disquiet that the 21 Month transition period might not be sufficient to negotiate a comprehensive trade deal and thus overcome UK concerns that the "political declaration" to accompany the Brexit Agreement might not mean very much in practice if a trade deal couldn't be agreed in time.

Now Theresa May claims she is considering it as a concession to the EU - much to the chagrin of Brexiteers and Remainers alike! She is even considering it as an alternative to her previously agreed "Backstop" proposal on the Irish border. Apparently a guarantee that there will be no hard Irish border for a few years is supposed to be as good as a guarantee there will never be one.

Thanks but no thanks Theresa. You don't have to take the offer of an extended transition period if you don't want it, and its duration has nothing to do with the backstop.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Oct 25th, 2018 at 04:52:56 PM EST
For once, I disagree with Fintan.  The Brexiteers' exploitation of The Troubles is not clever.  Cruel, yes.  Megalomaniacal, yes.  Ultimately self-defeating, almost certainly.  But clever, no.
by rifek on Thu Oct 25th, 2018 at 10:32:52 PM EST
What happened to Brexit? There is not agreement to speak of, and probably no longer enough time for a ratification ahead of the 29th of March. And yet, the subject has largely disappeared from the British media. Is it denial or resignation?

You might find me At The Edge Of Time.
by Luis de Sousa (luis[dot]a[dot]de[dot]sousa[at]gmail[dot]com) on Fri Oct 26th, 2018 at 07:36:57 AM EST
What do you mean, disappeared? From today's front page in The Independent (Young people to lose up to £108,000 in earnings if there is a no-deal Brexit, new research warns), The Guardian (Difference between soft Brexit and no deal worth £30bn - analysis) or The Torygraph (Argentina will exploit a no-deal Brexit to 'enhance' its claims to Falklands, says its foreign minister - mercifully behind a paywall).
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Fri Oct 26th, 2018 at 07:48:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Brexit has been getting saturation coverage in the media, although I am told it isn't mentioned in polite society any more. It's no longer a case of "don't mention the war" in the presence of Germans, and more a case of "don't mention Brexit" to people you don't know well. Too many friends and family have fallen out over it.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Oct 26th, 2018 at 11:25:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I had no problem mentioning it to the owner of the B&B I stayed at in Scotland this summer. Of course, the fact that he had a flagpole with a saltire flying on it gave me a pretty good idea of his politics....
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Fri Oct 26th, 2018 at 11:35:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Oct 26th, 2018 at 03:30:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Has Eurointelligence become optimistic again?

Behold the rising superpower: post-catholic Ireland's European miracle

President Michael Higgins, a left-wing poet, was re-elected for another seven years. The crime of blasphemy was expunged from the constitution by a powerful majority of the electorate. Yesterday, a seemingly serene Ireland has voted overwhelmingly for stability and further liberation from past catholic Christian strictures, its politics apparently unaffected by the looming shock of Brexit or the populist rage that is stalking much of the continent. On the face of it, such stability is pretty astonishing. Even a benign Brexit will hit Ireland harder than any other of the 27, and a hard Brexit with all its dire consequences for Ireland, and for Northern Ireland in particular, is widely seen as an entirely possible scenario.
by Bernard on Tue Oct 30th, 2018 at 03:02:37 PM EST
Nah, they see this as a bad thing.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Oct 30th, 2018 at 10:56:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
FT moves deck chairs again, Irish press takes bait

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.
by Cat on Thu Nov 1st, 2018 at 10:21:54 PM EST
The story may be based on FT reporting, but it does seem to reflect EU attempts to make the backstop more palatable to the UK side without altering the fundamental principle that there can be no customs border within Ireland.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Nov 2nd, 2018 at 10:15:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Problem is that May is trying to get a plan that its acceptable to fundamentalist free-market disaster capitalists and fundamentalist loonies in her coalition. Not going to happen.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Nov 2nd, 2018 at 10:33:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Nov 2nd, 2018 at 01:04:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"Dublin has always believed Brits have never really understood Ireland or cared about it," said a [...] senior U.K. adviser [....] who has advised Cabinet ministers on Northern Ireland [..] "Brexit just proves to them what they have long suspected."

With the advent of the British Irish Intergovernmental conference today in Dublin, Politico has a useful discussion on the souring of the British-Irish relationship over the last few years and not just because of Brexit.

by oldremainmer48 on Fri Nov 2nd, 2018 at 08:02:26 AM EST
A good article - written last February - and things have not improved since.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Nov 2nd, 2018 at 10:13:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"written last February" - ??

11/2/18 is an American date format. It appeared today AFAIK.

by oldremainmer48 on Fri Nov 2nd, 2018 at 12:00:52 PM EST
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Nov 2nd, 2018 at 01:03:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
no wonder I thought it prescient...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Nov 2nd, 2018 at 01:05:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I note for future reference that, although I am in the US, I use the day-month-year format.
by rifek on Wed Nov 7th, 2018 at 05:50:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I believe there is an agreed international standard of "Most Significant First" ie yyyy-MM-dd which does get used in a few places.

In my pedantic moments I use it in dating signed documents.

signed 2018-11-07

by oldremainmer48 on Wed Nov 7th, 2018 at 02:30:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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