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Will Sinn Fein Bail Boris Out?

by Frank Schnittger Wed Jun 15th, 2022 at 07:23:17 PM EST

The UK government, including Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Attorney General Suella Braverman have justified the anti-Protocol Bill on the grounds that it is necessary to protect the Good Friday Agreement and to pre-empt loyalist violence. It will do this, apparently, by coaxing the DUP into the assembly which was only elected weeks ago.

However, there is no suggestion it will persuade the DUP to actually allow the formation of an executive, which would entail it losing the First Minister post and another Ministry under the d'Hondt formula because of the seats it lost in the election. According to Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, this is dependent on the legislation actually being passed, something which could take well over a year, assuming all intervening parliamentary hurdles can be cleared.


So, the Northern Ireland electorate is being held hostage over a matter which is actually contained in an EU UK Treaty and thus not normally within the purview of the devolved administration.  Indeed, the Protocol's provision for regular votes in the Assembly on its continuance actually extends the powers of the Assembly to a foreign policy area over which it has previously had no powers.

Strangely, the anti-Protocol Bill seeks to end this power by removing it from the Assembly's remit and replacing it by a toothless power to approve (but not change) the government's own Bill. Could it be that the 56% of voters who voted against Brexit and for Protocol supporting parties giving it a resounding majority in the Assembly voted the wrong way as far as this government is concerned, and must therefore be quashed?

But the government's strategy to rewrite the Withdrawal Treaty using the N. Ireland peace process as an excuse is subject to another hostage to fortune. What if Sinn Fein decided not to allow the election of a speaker unless the DUP agreed to the formation of an executive?

Sinn Féin could plausibly argue that:

1.    Not appointing an executive frustrates the democratic decision of the N. Ireland people
2.    An Assembly without an Executive to propose and implement legislation and execute decisions is just a talking shop
3.    The will of the pro-protocol majority in N. Ireland must be respected.
4.    Sinn Fein does not wish to be complicit in or facilitate a deal to break the Withdrawal Treaty and international law.
5.    The GFA requires the UK government to give equality of esteem to both traditions in N. Ireland and yet it has shameless conspired with the DUP in preventing the appointment of a Sinn Fein First Minister.

In support of that case, Sinn Fein could argue that the Belfast High Court found the DUP broke the law by refusing to operate the north south institutions of the GFA (strand 2) and that the Johnson Administration itself has effectively mothballed the East West institutions (strand 3 of the GFA) and thrashed bi-lateral relations with Ireland.

Stripping the Johnson administration of the "we must protect the peace process" justification for the anti-Protocol Bill reduces it to just another Brexiteer attempt to re-write the Withdrawal Agreement despite it having been signed by Boris Johnson, ratified by Parliament, and endorsed by the British electorate as Boris Johnson's famous oven ready deal.

Why should Sinn Fein allow Boris Johnson to present their participation in the Assembly as a justification for the Anti-protocol Bill and a victory for the DUP?

To be sure, Sinn Fein would jump at the chance of participating in the Assembly if it meant the formation of an Executive and the election of Michelle O'Neill as the first non-unionist First Minister in the history of N. Ireland. But that is not what is on offer and operating the GFA in good faith, in all its dimensions, means operating not just an Assembly, but the Executive and Strands 2 and 3 of the Agreement as well.

Sinn Fein critics can rightly point to the fact that Sinn Fein, themselves, have crashed the executive in the past, and so their reasons for doing so now might be taken with a pinch of salt. However, one of the features in this conflict has been the brazen volte faces performed by all sides. Boris Johnson is busily dismantling his own “oven ready” deal. The DUP are posing as the defenders of the Good Friday Agreement, having opposed it for much of their political lives. Back in the 1970’s, Sinn Fein opposed Ireland’s application for EU membership. Their defence of an EU Treaty now might be treated as ironic by some.

However, Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. ("Self-Reliance", Essays: First Series, 1841)

John Maynard Keynes is also reputed to have sad: “When the facts change, I change my mind – what do you do?”

So perhaps we are just seeing key players adjust their positions in response to changed circumstances. But it is those changed circumstances that are the key. Sinn Fein are now the largest party in Ireland, seeking to become the government of Ireland. The DUP are adjusting to a life in opposition. But it is perhaps Boris’ Britain which is having to make the greatest adjustment of all: From “Britannia rules the waves” to “Britannia waives the rules” as it seeks to preserve internal stability and carve out a new role for itself not just outside the EU, but in opposition to it and a world order based on the adherence to Treaties.

The danger is that it will end up isolated: estranged from its former partners in the EU, from the USA, and from all those who rely on international law to protect their sovereignty. Almost, nobody owes Boris Johnson or his government anything, least of all Ireland, which is trying to preserve as much as possible of the “ever closer union” it had on the island when both the UK and Ireland were members of the EU. Brexit was as much a sundering of Ireland from N. Ireland as it was a sundering of the UK from the EU. It will be a long time before relationships between Britain and Ireland are on an even keel again.

In the meantime, Sinn Fein must decide: - does it give some measure of legitimacy to Johnson’s claim that by tabling the anti-Protocol Bill in the House of commons he is acting to preserve the Good Friday Agreement – by electing a speaker and allowing the Assembly to sit, even if doing so will be presented as a win by the DUP to be taken into another election, probably in November? What’s in it for Sinn Fein, if they are denied their entitlement to nominate a First Minster?

It really does take two to tango, and unilateralism can only take you so far – as Boris may be about to find out. The next EU Council summit is on 23-24th. June, and their response to Anti-Protocol Bill should be interesting, even if, as I expect, it turns out to be low key. The EU is playing a long game.

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Any idea what Alliance is thinking?
by rifek on Thu Jun 16th, 2022 at 02:13:54 AM EST
Relatively quiet, although they did join with SF and the SDLP i writing to Boris asking him not to proceed with the anti-Protocol Bill.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jun 16th, 2022 at 04:08:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I have added 7 paragraphs to the end of the story in response to criticism elsewhere that it was too pro-SF.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jun 16th, 2022 at 04:09:45 PM EST
And here we go:
by rifek on Thu Jun 16th, 2022 at 04:37:20 PM EST
Can DUP stop the formation of an executive?

It is one thing to grind to the halt the proceedings of the executive, once elected, in particular when you hold the chair. But can they stop the formation and if so how? Will they not put up a candidate for Deputy First Minister? Why can't the assembly then not simply elect the next in line, which would be the candidate of Alliance?

Or would that be a step to far in the fragile politics of Northern Ireland? Is a stalemate preferred?

by fjallstrom on Fri Jun 17th, 2022 at 07:46:47 AM EST
The GFA, as modified by the 2007 St. Andrews Agreement, specifies that the First and Deputy First ministers be nominated by the largest party of any designation (unionist, nationalist, other) followed by the second largest party of another designation. (Basically it was a stitch-up by the DUP and SF to ensure they got the top two posts). For the Alliance party to get the deputy post, it would have to be the second largest party.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Jun 17th, 2022 at 10:52:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ah, so they can refuse to nominate anyone and the process grinds to a halt.
by fjallstrom on Fri Jun 17th, 2022 at 01:42:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You say that like it's a bad thing
Some would say that was the plan all along.
by Bernard (bernard) on Sat Jun 18th, 2022 at 08:34:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The plan was to inveigle the paramilitaries on all sides into the political process. That worked very well on the nationalist side, but less so on the loyalist side, where there are still thousands of armed loyalists linked to various paramilitary groups under the umbrella of the Loyalist Communities Council.

However it has ossified into a situation where a party with 21% of the vote can hold the entire polity to ransom over an issue that polity has no control over. They are even trying to hold the UK government and EU to ransom over the issue, claiming that the Good Friday Agreement, its institutions, and the peace process will collapse if their demands aren't met.

Somehow Boris has bought the line that the peace process is all about keeping hardline loyalists on board, and everyone else doesn't matter. That may not be entirely unrelated to the fact that there are close links between the DUP and ERG, on whom Boris depends for his political survival.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Jun 18th, 2022 at 10:34:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"on the grounds that it is necessary to protect the Good Friday Agreement and to pre-empt loyalist violence"

In other words, straightforward blackmail. Lose election, blow stuff up.

by asdf on Fri Jun 17th, 2022 at 03:45:57 PM EST
Now where else have I heard that?
by rifek on Fri Jun 17th, 2022 at 10:07:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Jun 18th, 2022 at 10:25:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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