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Blaming others for England's isolation [Update]

by Frank Schnittger Thu Dec 31st, 2020 at 01:59:44 PM EST

Denis McShane (born Josef Denis Matyjaszek, 21 May 1948) is a British former politician, author and commentator who served as Member of Parliament (MP) for Rotherham from 1994 to his resignation in 2012. A former member of the Labour Party, he was Minister of State for Europe from 2002 until 2005. He was convicted in 2012 of submitting false invoices for expenses and was sentenced to 6 Months in Prison. He was a supporter of the Iraq war and has been accused of dishonest behaviour on a number of other occasions.

Without noting this background, the Irish Times has given him space to expound his views on how British Irish relations should develop post Brexit, He is the latest in a long line of columnists in Irish papers warning Ireland to stay close to mother England in case those perfidious continentals should take advantage of us. Apparently he has detected a rise in Schadenfreude and Anglo-phobia amongst his Irish friends. I have responded in a draft letter to the Editor below and [Update] an edited version has been published here:

Read more... (51 comments, 810 words in story)

Referendum in Ireland on EU UK Trade deal?

by Frank Schnittger Sun Dec 27th, 2020 at 02:16:07 PM EST

Draft Letter to the Editor

I'm sure most people breathed a sigh of relief that an EU UK Trade agreement was finally concluded just before Christmas, and everyone appears to assume it will be approved by the EU Parliament and ratified by governments on all sides within a matter of a few days or weeks.

But will there need to be a referendum in Ireland to approve the deal?

The Irish people gave up their territorial claim to Northern Ireland when Articles 2 and 3 were removed from our constitution by a 94% vote of the people in 1998 as part of the deal to ratify the Good Friday Agreement.

The peace process has survived for so long because the Good Friday agreement guaranteed "equality of esteem" for those who aspired to Irish unity and those who aspired to union with Britain. It was conceived in the context of both Ireland and Britain being members of the EU and of national borders and differences becoming ever less significant in the context of "an ever closer union" amongst the member states of the EU. There was no Article 50 procedure for any member state to leave the EU when the GFA was signed.

Under the Good Friday Agreement, there was to be no change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland without approval by a majority by referendum there. In was in that context that 56% of the people of N. Ireland voted to remain in the EU in 2016.

Instead, with Brexit, Northern Ireland is out of the EU and all its people now have is a free trade deal on goods, some regulatory alignment, and a customs union with the EU. There is no agreement on trade in services, no Fundamental Charter on Human rights, no recourse to the European Court Justice. The Erasmus programme is gone too unless N. Ireland citizens opt for Irish citizenship and apply through the Irish scheme.

As the UK and EU diverge in the future, so too will Northern Ireland and Ireland - no doubt to the satisfaction of some unionists. But this is a far cry from the "equality of esteem" promised in the Good Friday agreement. Instead, a unionist minority got the Brexit they demanded, and the overwhelming majority who voted to remain in a Union with Ireland and the EU got little more than free trade in goods.

Surely this changes the relationship between Ireland and Northern Ireland in quite fundamental ways and requires that the people of Ireland have the opportunity to have their say as to whether the EU UK trade deal should be ratified and become the law of the land in this state?

If it took a referendum in this state to enact the changes required by the Good Friday Agreement, surely it will take another referendum to validate a situation where Northern Ireland is no longer part of a Union with this state and other member states of the EU?

The whole basis on which the people of this state gave up their territorial claim to Northern Ireland in 1998 has been fundamentally altered. The Government should not ratify the EU UK trade deal unless it is formally approved by a referendum of the Irish people.

Read more... (18 comments, 1237 words in story)

And now for some good news...

by Frank Schnittger Mon Dec 21st, 2020 at 03:01:38 PM EST

Covid-19 is still creating chaos on the island of Ireland with a third wave gathering momentum and the death rate in Northern Ireland particularly severe. Hospitals there are full to capacity and patients have had to be treated in ambulances as they queue outside hospitals.

Meanwhile the Republic, in common with some other European countries, has instituted a travel ban with the UK, as concern rises about an even more infectious strain of Covid-19 spreading in south east England. The land-bridge through Britain is closed with France no longer accepting goods traffic from Britain, so plans for increased direct sea routes from Ireland to mainland Europe have been fast-tracked.

In some ways the situation now is so severe that if a no-deal Brexit were to happen on January 1st. people would hardly notice. So where is the good news, I hear you ask?

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Our very own Brexit Christmas Pantomime

by Frank Schnittger Thu Dec 17th, 2020 at 03:56:51 PM EST

Pantomimes are best enjoyed after some celebratory cheer and in the presence of children who will uncover whole levels of meaning that can pass mere adults by. In the participatory tradition of Pantomime, and in the spirit of Christmas I thought we could compose our own socially distanced Pantomime with a cast of characters drawn from that other Pantomime known as Brexit. Villains abound, and heroes may be hard to find but large dollops of pixy dust and magical thinking can make even the most surreal scenarios believable. Please include your favourite Brexit quotes and characters is the comments below.

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by Frank Schnittger Wed Dec 16th, 2020 at 10:32:54 PM EST

The Canada-Europe Trade Agreement (CETA) ratification process in the Irish Senate has been delayed following a split in the Green Party on the issue. Michael McDowell is a prominent barrister, senator, former deputy prime minister, ex-leader of the now defunct Progressive Democrats party and long term advocate for neo-liberal policies in Ireland.

He has excoriated the Irish government for trying to railroad the ratification process through parliament with only 55 minutes of debating time particularly as it contains controversial clauses allowing global corporations to sue sovereign states if their policies have adverse effects on their profitability.

The Irish Times has published a letter to the editor I have written in response:

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No Deal?

by Frank Schnittger Sat Dec 12th, 2020 at 05:27:34 PM EST

This week-end is supposed to mark the final deadline for coming up with a post Brexit FTA between the EU and the UK. Brexiteers have always maintained they are relaxed about the prospect of no deal - if only to try and  bolster their negotiating position vis a via the EU. Boris Johnson has taken to calling it the "Australia Option" - in succession to the Norway, Swiss and Canadian options - despite the fact that ex-Australian Premier, Malcolm Turnbull has warned that Australians see their trading relationship with the EU as anything but satisfactory and are busily trying to negotiate a better one.

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The changing dynamic of the N. Ireland economy

by Frank Schnittger Fri Dec 11th, 2020 at 03:10:47 PM EST

Despite the likelihood of a "No Deal" in the main EU/UK trade talks, the Northern Ireland Protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement will come into force on January 1st. The working party on its implementation, chaired by European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič and the UK Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Rt Hon Michael Gove have agreed the details of its implementation, which includes a grace period to allow supermarkets to adapt to the new customs and quality controls that will apply.

While it was hoped the agreement would build some momentum towards a broader Free Trade Agreement, its more immediate effect is to provide the UK government with some cover to withdraw clauses 44, 45 and 47 of the UK Internal Market Bill, and not introduce any similar provisions in the Taxation Bill which were in breach of international law and threatened to de-rail relations with the incoming Biden administration in the USA.

Newton Emerson has a piece up on the Irish Times (subscriber only) discussing the DUP's confusion as to how to respond to the Protocol's creation of "a border down the Irish sea" which they had so bitterly opposed. I have drafted a letter to the Editor in response:

Read more... (11 comments, 1335 words in story)

Daisy, the Brexit Cow

by Frank Schnittger Sun Dec 6th, 2020 at 01:27:36 PM EST

This is the story of Daisy, the Brexit Cow. She lives on a farm in Monaghan but her milk is transported for processing to Fermanagh, from where it is transported to consumers in England via the Belfast Liverpool ferry. So far she has been unaffected by any proposed Brexit changes because her produce is regarded as British and will not be subject to any tariffs or border quality checks.

However next year Daisy will have a calf which may be processed for beef in either North or south Ireland. She may be fattened for a few weeks on a farm in N. Ireland prior to slaughter, so does this make her a N. Ireland calf, and will it matter whether she is processed in the North or south of Ireland and then sold on the British market?

Northern Ireland has insufficient meat and dairy processing plants to meet the demands of the British market - or will those demands be met by beef from Brazil or Argentina instead? 50% WTO tariffs on beef mean that meat prices in the UK will go up dramatically unless they have free trade agreements with at least some meat exporting countries.

Read more... (49 comments, 1266 words in story)

Making the UK Great Again

by Frank Schnittger Thu Dec 3rd, 2020 at 03:20:56 PM EST

The United Kingdom is getting a coronavirus vaccine first because it is a "much better country" than France, Belgium and the United States, a British cabinet minister has declared.

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, praised the work done by the medical regulator to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for use.

Mr Williamson said the United Kingdom's status as the first country to approve a vaccine is due to its superior experts.

"I just reckon we've got the very best people in this country and we've obviously got the best medical regulator, much better than the French have, much better than the Belgians have, much better than the Americans have," he told LBC Radio.

"That doesn't surprise me at because we're a much better country than every single one of them."

Read more... (26 comments, 369 words in story)

Rabies Brexplained

by Frank Schnittger Wed Dec 2nd, 2020 at 12:18:02 PM EST

British readying for Brexit: They never saw it coming, mate

Sometimes our vocabulary has to expand to encompass new realities. Covid, for example, has added "lockdown", "social distancing" and "flattening the curve" to our daily lexicon. Likewise, the UK's departure from the European Union has already given us words such as "Remainers", "Leavers" and "cake-ism" as well as, of course, the word "Brexit" itself. Phrases about "unicorns" and "cherry-picking" have been given a new resonance.

But Brexit, set to take full effect on January 1st, now requires the urgent invention of another word to capture the simple reality that the self-harm inflicted on the British people, across so many areas of their lives, is the direct effect of Brexit itself and of the hard version of it pursued by the Johnson government. Many people, of course, understand this well both in Britain and around Europe. But if this elementary reality has to be explained every time that British tabloids express astonishment at the latest materialisation of the bleeding obvious, we may lose the will to live.

Read more... (78 comments, 1390 words in story)

I don't like lawyers

by Frank Schnittger Mon Nov 30th, 2020 at 11:41:14 AM EST

Well, really I do, except I have to admit that none of my best friends are lawyers. My problems with the legal profession in Ireland are four fold:

  1. They are incentivised by the reward structure to mythologise, over-complicate and drag out any work they are given to do, because they are essentially private contractors paid by the hour for the amount of work they claim to have done, and much of what they do is not strictly legal work, or work for which a legal qualification should be required.

  2. They are an almost entirely self-regulated profession, resisting all attempts at public accountability, have a near monopoly of professional legal training, and are often nepotistic in character, with legal practices handed down through family members and dependent on networks of contacts rather than any extraordinary expertise in a particular field.

  3. Despite having many members of the utmost integrity and probity, I would also argue the profession is structurally corrupt, with many civil cases settled out of court for fear of ruinous legal fees, beyond the means of most litigants or defendants, who are therefore forced to settle for an agreement with little reference to the facts or the merits of a case. The lawyers in such cases are essentially acting as deal brokers, not lawyers, and virtually always extract a hefty proportion of any financial settlement for themselves.

  4. The "legal industry" as I call it, has a vested interest in self-enrichment through frivolous or exaggerated litigation, with the judges who decide cases from the same tight social circle as the lawyers representing both sides, who are incentivised to maximise the damages (for one side) and prolong the litigation and the fees accruing to both. Why throw out a case your best buddy and golfing partner stands to make a lot of money from?

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The economic realities of a united Ireland

by Frank Schnittger Mon Nov 23rd, 2020 at 03:38:24 AM EST

Newton Emerson is perhaps the leading unionist commentator in Ireland, and has a regular column in the Irish Times, regrettably generally behind a paywall. He provides a valuable insight into unionist thinking in Northern Ireland, which can often be startlingly different from nationalist, liberal or progressive perspectives.

Nevertheless he is no fundamentalist bible thumping bigot, and his political allegiance would lie closer to the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) rather than the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) founded by Ian Paisley.

While appreciating his articulation of often legitimate unionist concerns, I have sometimes taken issue with his conclusions, and in fairness to the Irish Times, they have often published my critiques in response. The letter below is one such critique where I challenge his arguments that a recent Sinn Féin paper misrepresents and underestimates the true costs of re-unifying Ireland:

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Raising public morale

by Frank Schnittger Fri Nov 20th, 2020 at 12:39:22 AM EST

In Ireland, as elsewhere, debate about the most appropriate public response to the pandemic is becoming increasingly fractious. A minority of expert opinion is still advocating for a zero Covid policy while government and various businesses and interest groups are arguing for a "more balanced" approach which seeks to minimise the economic and social damage caused by lockdown measures.

The success of any lock-down is dependent, very largely, on voluntary compliance rather than enforcement measures, and so it is easy for many people to become disheartened in the face of mixed messages and grim infection and death statistics. I have sought to lighten the mood and paint a more hopeful picture in my letter to the editor published by the Irish Times (scroll down the page) and below the fold:

Read more... (20 comments, 417 words in story)

Brexit and Northern Ireland's food supply

by Frank Schnittger Fri Nov 13th, 2020 at 12:34:03 AM EST

Brexit and Northern Ireland's food supply

A chara, - I nearly choked on my Tesco cornflakes while reading Newton Emerson's eloquent plea for Northern Ireland's dominant supermarket chains to be granted a special exemption from EU single market and customs union rules (""EU reveals indifference as it takes its threat to North's food supply to the wire" (behind paywall), Opinion & Analysis, November 12th).

Read more... (43 comments, 356 words in story)

The powers of the President of the USA

by Frank Schnittger Mon Nov 9th, 2020 at 02:16:28 PM EST

Fintan O'Toole has his usual eloquent take (subscriber only) on the limitations of Joe Biden's Presidential victory. However in one respect, Fintan's take is as delusional as the President-elect he criticises. Fintan appears to believe that Joe Biden has the power to change the system if he merely highlights its most notable defects. That is, sadly, far beyond the President's powers, and is not going to change much any time soon. The minority's power and privilege depends on there being no significant change and to imagine they will give that up without a fight is delusional.

What follows is a draft letter to the Editor which I very much doubt will be published, so I submit it here for your edification and elucidation...

Read more... (125 comments, 678 words in story)

Georgia on my mind

by Frank Schnittger Thu Nov 5th, 2020 at 01:40:11 PM EST

With the vote count slowing to a trickle, it is looking increasingly likely that Biden will win Arizona and Nevada, and probably even Pennsylvania and Georgia when all the early mail in votes are tabulated, although he doesn't have to win the latter two to win election.

This is in sharp contrast to Democrats most likely failing to win the Senate, and actually losing seats in the House. With Republicans controlling the SCOTUS and the Senate, it seems unlikely any Biden administration could achieve much of their centrist agenda, never mind progressive legislation.

With the two Georgia Senate elections likely proceeding to a run-off on January 5th., Democrats may get a second bite at that cherry. Trump's reaction to his defeat could still have ramifications for the shape of the next administration. Who would have thought that Georgia would represent the Democrats' best hopes of winning the election?

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US Elections Live Blog

by Frank Schnittger Tue Nov 3rd, 2020 at 01:44:19 AM EST

Election day is finally upon us and soon we will know the result - by this evening, if President Trump has his way! 98 Million people have already cast an early ballot - 71% of the total 2016 turnout - and a record turnout is expected. Michael McDonald, a Professor at the University of Florida is predicting a total turnout of about 160 Million - up 16% from 138 Million in 2016.

This is despite increasingly desperate attempts by the Republican party to suppress the vote - culminating in yesterdays court proceedings to invalidate 127,000 votes  in Texas because they were cast at temporary drive in centres housed in tents, rather than in a building "structure". President Trump has also said he will send in the lawyers to stop the counting this evening if he is ahead at that stage - as if there is some constitutional requirement to count only as many votes as can be counted within a few hours of polls closing.

It is difficult to envisage a more desperate and defeatist message to send to the electorate than seeking to disenfranchise millions of voters who have cast their ballots in good faith. Democracy be damned. But it also sends a clear message to an electorate which may be less than fully enthused to vote for Joe Biden. A vote now represents an act of defiance against those who would seek to deprive you of that right. It's democracy or fascism, your choice.

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The gathering storm

by Frank Schnittger Thu Oct 29th, 2020 at 09:29:21 PM EST

For a variety of reasons, I have been internet free for the past couple of days, so today has been about playing catchup in an attempt to discover what, if anything, has changed in the US election. As always, there is a danger that you get caught up in a bubble of partisan thinking, and simply don't understand some of the many changes under way.

Certainly there have been some negatives in the data from a European point of view. Biden is said to be doing less well with Latino/Hispanic voters than Clinton did. The addition of Harris to the ticket hasn't made some black voters feel any less taken for granted. Texas still feels slightly out of reach, not helped by Biden's comments about transitioning away from oil in the second Presidential debate.

But the reality is you have to dig pretty hard to find negative data about the prospects of the Democratic party and its candidates at all levels of the election. More and more Senate seats seem to be in play and polls at Congressional district level have been outpacing the national polls for quite some time. Biden's lead has stayed remarkably steady and solid in the 7-11% range for the past few months, and even "lean Republican" states like Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Ohio seem to be trending his way.

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Trump looked like a loser

by Frank Schnittger Fri Oct 23rd, 2020 at 04:09:09 AM EST

The second and final presidential debate was a more "normal" debate with much less interruption and incivility. Republican supporters will breath a sigh of relief that Trump didn't implode again. However the longer the debate went on the more frustrated he became, and started to look more surly, bitter, divisive and angry, especially when Biden was speaking.

Even when invited to say how he would bring people together in his inaugural address he engaged in bitter recrimination, while Biden gave his usual bringing people together speech. When challenged about the 500 children separated from their parents - Trump just said "good".

The debate won't do much to change the trajectory of the campaign, but that must count as a defeat for Trump. He needed Biden to implode, and yet Biden probably gave his strongest performance to date, and was willing to say he would phase out the oil industry over time despite his reliance on winning Pennsylvania.

Read more... (92 comments, 576 words in story)

It's not over yet

by Frank Schnittger Mon Oct 19th, 2020 at 01:46:22 PM EST

It's been almost a fortnight since our last round-up on the US Elections and not a huge amount has changed. Biden got a 3% uplift from +7% to +10% in the opinion polls after the first debate and Trumps subsequent Covid-19 diagnosis, with many Americans disapproving of Trump's performance in the debate and his failure to take adequate precautions against the disease. Post debate bumps in the polls often don't last, but the continued prevalence of the pandemic has kept Trump's performance on the pandemic front and centre of the political stage.

Read more... (123 comments, 1103 words in story)
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News and Views

 April 2021

by Bernard - Apr 4, 49 comments

Your take on this month's news

 March 2021

by Bernard - Mar 1, 167 comments

Your take on this month's news

 March-April Open Thread

by Bernard - Mar 14, 13 comments

Waiting for spring... and for vaccines.

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