by Frank Schnittger
Fri Mar 30th, 2018 at 02:15:05 AM EST
Theresa May has long been offering to construct an innovative and imaginative solution to the problems raised by Brexit in return for a good Brexit deal for Britain with the EU. So far details of what precisely this might entail have been scanty, especially when it comes to defining how the "Irish Border" might continue to be invisible and friction free. However details have started to emerge in the fine print of the draft Brexit deal much to the consternation of Northern Ireland Unionists. Unionists have just discovered that the proposed text promises to expand the 12 areas of joint cooperation between North and South to 18.
Worse still, in terms of the integrity of the Belfast Agreement, two new oversight bodies are created. A Joint Committee of London and Brussels will keep North-South co-operation under "constant review" and set up a Specialised Committee to make recommendations for further areas of co-operation.
With the North-South Ministerial Council suspended due to the lack of Stormont ministers, these committees could be the only show in town.
With the devolved institutions created by the Good Friday Agreement (referred to by Unionists as the Belfast Agreement) effectively moribund following the failure of the DUP and Sinn Fein to overcome their differences, the draft Brexit agreement promises to effectively replace them with a new "Joint Committee of London and Brussels" which will "make recommendations for further areas of co-operation".
London has also promised to eliminate any other areas of divergence between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic by introducing marriage equality legislation for Northern Ireland on the lines of the legislation already passed in the Republic, and is awaiting the results of the Referendum on abortion in the Republic before introducing similar legislation for the North. Both measures are absolutely opposed by the DUP who are said to be livid at these developments. However they have been assured that any divergence between Northern Ireland and Great Britain on these social issues could be seen as a precedent for divergence on other matters and so have reluctantly gone along with the proposals.
The political difficulty posed for Theresa May's government by having to make ongoing payments to the EU budget post Brexit will be fudged by the EU effectively underwriting certain costs the UK would otherwise have incurred in Northern Ireland. Chief amongst these will be the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal involving DUP Leader, Arlene Foster, the "cash for ash" scheme which would otherwise have cost the British Exchequer £500 Million and which led to the collapse of the devolved institutions in Stormont (Belfast). DUP opposition has been bought off to date by promises that DUP members and their families can continue to benefit from the scheme.
The Brexit transition deal will also include provisions to make the transition to a United Ireland more palatable for both Northern Ireland Unionists and for southern Nationalists who have baulked at the prospect of taking on a contingent liability of the £10 Billion p.a. cost of Northern Ireland to the British exchequer. Effectively Britain will continue to make substantial contributions to the EU budget for "Single market access" but these will be significantly offset by savings on the British Exchequer subvention to Northern Ireland.
Formal transfer of Sovereignty over N. Ireland to the Republic will not be included in the Brexit Agreement at this stage - beyond a somewhat vaguely worded political commitment to "explore all avenues" in the Brexit Agreement to allay immediate Unionist concerns and retain their support for Theresa May's government for the lifetime of this parliament. However it is envisaged that this will be included in the "future trading relationship" to be negotiated in detail between the EU and UK during the transition period ending no later than 1st. Jan 2021.
Theresa May has already stated that "We are absolutely committed to ensuring there is no hard border' which is current governmental code for conceding that Northern Ireland will have to be jettisoned as part of the price for getting a good Brexit deal. She visited a Northern Ireland Unionist farm yesterday as part of a day long public relations tour of all five parts of the United Kingdom (N. Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales and London) in order to distract attention from this fundamental shift in government policy and stated that "visiting the border is not a priority" as there won't be one in the future.
The Irish Government, for its part, has agreed to avoid highlighting the significance of the texts agreed to date in order not to alarm Unionists unnecessarily - mindful of the mistakes made at the end of the first phase of the Brexit negotiations, when the Irish government's welcome of the draft text (and jubilation in some nationalist quarters) first alerted Unionists to what the agreement actually contained. As a general rule of thumb politics in N. Ireland is a zero sum game: If Nationalists are too obviously happy at some proposal this will automatically trigger Unionist opposition on the assumption that it must be at their expense.
Fortunately, for the most part, Unionists have not actually read any of the draft Brexit agreement being prepared by the Commission so far, as they have been assured by their fellow Brexiteer British Ministers that they need not "worry their heads" about it. David Davis has assured them that he takes more or less the same approach, leaving the technical details to "the little people" who are "very well paid" to look after details just like that. In fact Davis has spent almost no time in Brussels for the negotiations so far, preferring to travel to European Capitals to hear how sad European leaders are to see that Britain is really intent on leaving, and how important Britain is to their thinking about the world's future.
Meanwhile, the European Commission is busily writing up the fine print of what the Brexit agreement will contain subject to final approval by the British government. The formal Brexit agreement itself will contain only the most general political (and legally non-binding) commitments to a "deep, wide, and close" future trading relationship, and no border within Ireland. The actual agreement, when it comes, in a last minute deal at the end of the transition period, will make these commitment explicit and legally binding: a Canada Plus, plus, plus style Free Trade Agreement where the plus plus plus refers to the handover of N. Ireland, Gibraltar, and military bases on Cyprus to the Irish, Spanish and Cypriot Sovereignty respectively.
By that stage Theresa May's government will have all but served its full term and DUP support will no longer be required. Arlene Foster will be made a Lord of the Realm and DUP MP's will be offered knighthoods for "services rendered to her majesty's Government". Most spend very little time in N. Ireland in any case and are much more comfortable in the "Westminster Bubble" where they can quaff British Champagne with their fellow Brexiteer club members and make strident speeches about making Britain Great again. Northern Ireland will also be allowed to remain within the Commonwealth with the Queen as titular Head of State. July 12th., celebrating the victory of Protestants over Catholics at the Battle of the Boyne (1690), will become a national holiday on the same basis as St. Patrick's day as there is some dispute over whether St. Patrick was really a Catholic or a Protestant.
Cambridge Analytica have been retained to ensure that the right result is obtained in the Irish referendums, North and South, which will be required to give the formal seal of approval to Irish re-unification and there will be general relief, in Westminster, that the UK has been able to off-load N. Ireland as part of the Brexit process - and no little Schadenfreude that they have managed to dump Ireland and the EU with the problems that will ensue. We have "taken back control" over the £10 Billion p.a. which our EU overlords have forced us to pump into the black hole that is N. Ireland, newly elected Prime Minister Boris Johnson will say as he leads Britain into a glorious global future free of the petty constraints of the Brussels bureaucracy - and Northern Ireland.