DUP Humiliates May, Extends Freeze on Talks as Hard Core Brexiters Fume

Theresa May has made such a hash of the Brexit negotiations that she has achieved the difficult task of making Jean-Claude Junkcer look statesmanlike. In a multi-party negotiation, she has managed to alienate, perhaps fatally, the DUP and the hard-core Brexit wing of her own party.

But May’s flailing about may simply reflect that it’s become impossible to pretend that the Government can deliver on Brexit fantasies of a glorious Brexit, or even one where the UK gets to reclaim its vaunted national sovereignity at a very high economic cost. As we’ve said repeatedly, the UK is a small open economy. That means it has to trade. The UK runs a large trade deficit and is at risk of a serious fall in the pound, which translates into a worse standard of living for its citizens via higher import costs, unless it can improve its level of exports. That means that large swathes of the UK economy will still have to adhere to EU regulations. The idea that the UK was going to escape Brussels rule-making was always a fantasy.

Even so, May’s performance has been disastrous. Brexit negotiations collapsed yesterday when the Tories’ coalition partner, the DUP, was outraged to learn that draft language intended to finesse the need for a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland had been approved by the Republic but never reviewed with the DUP. Even worse, the key phrase was that the UK would preserve “regulatory alignment” between Northern Ireland and the Republic in several economic sectors, such as agriculture and transport. This would be unacceptable to the DUP, since the party insists on a strong “unionist” position with the UK, that Northern Ireland’s legal and regulatory regime is to remain the same as the rest of the UK.

The DUP was duly ripshit about the Republic and the EU being treated as insiders while the DUP was excluded from consultation about the language to be presented to the EU for review by the European Council next week. At least as bad was that the leaked terms sounded as if they were utterly at odds with the DUP’s firm position on staying joined at the hip with the rest of the UK.

A DUP MP stated yesterday that the party would reject the draft language. Theresa May called party leader Arlene Foster who according to some press reports, effectively said she’d bring the government down if May persisted with the leaked language.

May, with her tail between her legs, was forced to cancel the talks in Brussels. She ran back to London to try to reassure the DUP, and planned to return to the Continent Wednesday to resume the talks.

That has gone off the rails. Foster has not only refused to speak to May, she’s refused even to give a time when she will allow May to ‘splain herself. The Brexit negotiations are shut down and will not resume until the DUP is back on board. Foster looks to be deliberately running out the clock so as to assure that no proposal on Ireland (or for that matter, any of the three issues where adequate progress needs to be shown before the talks can move to the next stage) can be presented to the European Council next week. That dashes the UK’s desperate hope of being allowed to start to discuss trade.

One might regard the DUP as being hopelessly petty and vindictive. That may very well be true. But they may know exactly what they are doing.

Despite the DUP being fully within its rights to be apoplectic for having been treated so shabbily from a procedural standpoint, May no doubt hope they could be assuaged when they understood the substance of her scheme. David Davis today in Parliament confirmed that the plan was not to move NI into a special regulatory zone, but to have all of the UK follow the same “alignment”. As far as I can tell, only the Daily Mail reported that correctly yesterday.

From the Independent:

Mr Davis surprised MPs by insisting any regulatory alignment with the EU would apply across the UK, rather than see Northern Ireland treated differently…

Asked about keeping regulations in step with Brussels, Mr Davis said: “The presumption of the discussion was that everything we talked about applied to the whole United Kingdom.”

Now shouldn’t that appease the DUP? Why is the DUP insisting, as the Independent surmises, that the DUP won’t even deign to talk to May until she makes “major changes” to the border proposal?

As we have been saying, there is no way not to have a hard border somewhere with a Brexit. All of this talk about “alignment” is a big con that at least the EU’s lead negotiator and Jean-Claude Juncker appear willing to entertain for now to keep the talks moving. The only choices are whether to have a hard border between the Republic and NI or “at sea,” meaning at ports, which would require integration of Ireland at least as far as regulations related to good-production are concerned. In the case of Brexit, NI will lose advantaged access to at least one of its markets, the Republic or the UK. With that, it is also likely to see lower economic subsidies from that current trade partner as well.

Richard North confirms this reading by going longer-from through David Davis’ tap-dancing:

No doubt European Commission officials who watched the “urgent questions ” on Monday’s abortive Brexit negotiations will have come away confused and perplexed. For, if Mr Davis’s definition of “regulatory alignment” is one on which Her Majesty’s Government now intends to rely, there is no basis of an EU-UK agreement on cross-border trade, much less any rapprochement on the Irish question.

For the purposes of settling a form of words that could form the basis of a commitment to the Irish Government on the border arrangements with Northern Ireland, the phrase “regulatory alignment” has considerable merit, particularly in terms of providing for the “creative ambiguity” that Mrs May sought in creating a text that meant all things to all people…

A particular merit of this approach is that, in its most severe construction, “regulatory alignment” can mean rigorous harmonisation not only of rules and regulations, but also of the entire regulatory regime. That will necessarily include surveillance and enforcement and all the other trappings which would go with a system which seeks to emulate the structure and extent of the Single Market.

On the other hand, used in looser environments, the same term can mean merely an approximation of laws and systems, sufficiently close to allow for different regulatory authorities to rely on mutual recognition. It would not require systems to be irrevocably harmonised…

Then, having already told Antoinette Sandbach and others that regulatory alignment applies to the whole United Kingdom, Davis was confronted by Stephen Timms, who challenged him to confirm this.

Said Davis, “I have explained to the House that regulatory alignment is not harmonisation. It is a question of ensuring similar outcomes in areas where we want to have trade relationships and free and frictionless trade. Anything we agree for Northern Ireland in that respect, if we get our free trade area, will apply to the whole country”.

So, the cat is out of the bag and there is no going back. Essentially, the UK is aiming for what it has always aimed, more or less from the start of the May administration. It wants “a comprehensive free trade agreement, a customs agreement and all the associated regulatory alignment”, the latter meaning either mutual recognition or what amounts to regulatory equivalence.

North and this blog have stressed that this sort of loosey-goosey arrangement will never never be approved by the EU member states. He speculates that the EU is indulging the UK’s refusal to abandon its fantasy that it can get some sort of special deal with the EU and not become a normal “third country” with all the hassle and disadvantages that go with that because “the EU collectively has decided that it is too early for them [the talks] to fail.”

Why might the DUP’s hardball tactics to prevent what it would see as an unacceptable defeat be accidentally inspired?

Ireland is the biggest loser in a Brexit, and NI loses even more than the Republic. In either a hard Brexit or a disorderly Brexit, there will be a hard border between the Republic and NI. That is the default scenario and the odds greatly favor that being the end result.

So Ireland’s best hope is to blow up Brexit. And the DUP is doing that (so far) by being completely loyal to its election stance of backing Brexit and sticking to “unionist” principles. But the Government and the Republic (and the EU backing the Republic) all want to avoid a hard land border, which is the inevitable outcome of the other boundary conditions the UK has set.

Sending the Brexit talks off the rails sooner rather than later is the best hope of increasing the now extremely remote odds of reversing Brexit. Mind you, it also increased the odds of the crazypants wing of the Tories assuming leadership of the Government.

The odds of the long-threatened leadership shakeup look higher than ever. May not only failed to consult closely enough with the DUP, she also froze out Boris Johnson. Yet even though the ultras are outraged at the idea of “alignment”, they are also loath to blow May up. Rising antipathy for Brexit is translating into more votes for Labour. Despite their fetishization of doctrinal purity, the hard-core Brexiters appear willing to sacrifice that rather than risk Jeremy Corbyn as PM. From Politico:

Theresa May faces a fierce backlash from Brexit-supporting Conservative MPs over what they see as concessions made to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland….

One former Brexit minister, David Jones, said there would be “huge concern” among backbenchers if the government does accept, in its phase one agreement with the EU, that there must be U.K.-wide regulatory alignment with the EU in order to avoid checks on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland…

“There will be huge concern among backbenchers,” he said. “Obviously we want to be in a position to conclude [Free Trade Agreements] and if agriculture is one of those areas of so-called alignment, it makes it difficult to see how we could conclude those FTAs.”

Jones is correct. In particular, the US dictates terms in its trade deals, and is particularly insistent that trade partners accept our low regulatory standards for agriculture so as to facilitate US exports. But as the story concludes:

It’s not clear, however, what the Brexiteers’ options are. The MP, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that a delegation of colleagues had made their views known to No. 10 and the prime minister.

But the nuclear option — a leadership challenge to May — remains unlikely as Tory MPs still calculate that a move against May risks an election, which the opposition Labour party are currently in a strong position to win.

As Fintan O’Toole pointed out in a Guardian op-ed yesterday:

The climbdown we are seeing on all three of the preliminary negotiating issues surely ends the illusions of all but the most deluded fanatics about Britain’s real position in the Brexit process. It is not in a position to make demands – certainly not demands that the EU destroy its whole raison d’etre by allowing a member state to leave the single market but still enjoy all its advantages..

Having done so, they might now ask themselves: if, for the first time in 800 years, Ireland is proving to be in a much stronger political position than Britain, what does that say about what Brexit is doing to Britain’s strength? It is being forced to accept what it claimed to be unacceptable, not because Ireland has suddenly become a global superpower but because it has the unflinching support of EU member states, the European parliament, and the EU negotiating team. There might be a lesson in there somewhere for a country facing a future without the allies it has long taken for granted.

If the DUP’s Foster continues to ignore May, she will be doing everyone a favor, whether by accident or design, by bringing an inevitable crisis forward in time.

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  1. Andrew Dodds

    I think that the only option the extreme brexiteers have is to derail everything and try and get a cliff edge brexit, then immediately hand over the keys to Labour – just after the cliff edge but before we hit the rocks at the bottom.

    It would, of course, be a complete disaster for the country as a whole, but that doesn’t seem to enter into the calculations.

    It’s also fun to see how well the DUP are playing the whole coalition government game. The Lib Dems should be talking furious notes..

    1. makedoanmend

      Yes, it’s rather fun to see a party who garnered 300k votes in the UK’s last election wagging the dog that got 13.5 million votes.

  2. makedoanmend

    “If the DUP’s Foster continues to ignore May, she will be doing everyone a favour, whether by accident or design, by bringing an inevitable crisis forward in time.”

    Excellent summary of events. The last sentence (cited) then sums the current state of play in a nutshell.

    Forget about the positioning by Irish political parties, the negotiating choreography or the deepest desires we have to wish into existence a suitable agreements. There are too many goals on each side that are diametrically in opposition.

    There will be a border when the UK leaves the customs union (the operative word union). There cannot not and will not be a so-called soft border within Ireland*. (The “soft border” terminology used up by the DUP yesterday is just a diversionary term to deflect from the hard reality.) Any slight thoughts I had that a solutions could be found, turned to dust. Given my years, I now wonder what hopium I was taking.

    The options, as I once again see them:

    1. Hard internal border in Ireland (99.99%)
    2. Hard internal border on Irish Sea (can’t see this happening given this week’s events – sequence of events often set precedents)
    3. “Alignment” on all regulatory procedures created by EU law and acceptance of ECJ rulings as an enforcement mechanism. (this would negate the raison d’etre of Brexit)
    4. Blimps, drones, surveillance cameras (feeding info directly into MI5), fairies at streams and unicorns patrolling the country side make a hard border unnecessary. Smugglers paradise ensues. Smugglers corner the market on unicorns.

    *I’m not going to even ponder what a hard border does to the society of the six counties – it’s too horrible to contemplate.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Well put. Just a point on no.2.

      There were a few articles yesterday in the ‘Slugger O’Toole’ Blog which indicated that the DUP might be making a political miscalculation on the impact of vetoeing option 2. They suggest that business interests (which of course are primarily Unionist) in Belfast are actually very interested in the notion of option 2. The notion of being a sort of entrepot for EU trade to the UK appeals very much. As one example, Belfast could then promote itself as an alternative to moving to Continental Europe for banks. Its easy to see the appeal for many UK businesses to have a single foot in both camps, so to speak by investing in NI.

      So this could potentially be a wedge issue between Unionists. I could also well see rising concern among those stout DUP farmers on the border over who is going to buy their milk and beef in 2019. I wonder if the Official Unionists or Alliance (or whats left of them) might start piping up on this point.

      1. makedoanmend

        Interesting, but I would put this at .01% possibility at best. I ain’t holding out hope – really I’m not – stop tempting me….

        I also note that the SDLP out-polled the UUP during the last Westminster elections. So, one really has to wonder what sway they have left? Or is this their opportunity?…no, no, no…stop tempting me…the future is the rending of clothe and gnashing of teeth.

        Really, things seems pretty bleak right now…and not just in the “dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone”.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          I’m not a deep follower of NI politics, but the UUP seem to be pretty much dead as a force, their only hope is if the DUP self immolate over some issue. The Alliance are very weak, but they may find themselves with a political opportunity as a ‘soft Brexit’ Unionist voice. But that would have to wait until the next elections, which is too late.

          There may though, be the possibility of the business community piping up and saying ‘whoah there, you haven’t really thought this through’., and so putting pressure on the DUP. A business led NI campaign to stay in the Customs Union/Single Market could have traction, but I suspect its too late.

          1. Darn

            Any form of Brexit is going to be a negative shock to the economy of the whole UK, including NI, and the DUP campaigned for it. I expect they will lose seats to the UUP as a result.

      2. Darn

        Disagree about the farmers, though ideally the DUP could be made to drop Brexit entirely, if the EU will accept the withdrawal of the Article 50 notification. From the Irish Times’s Europe editor (sorry I dunno how to indent the text):

        The North exports three and a half times more agri-foods across the Irish Sea than it sends south across the Border (£2 billion to £625 million in 2015). That said, the nature of the North-South trade does involve far more integrated supply chains – a quarter of milk produced in the North is processed in the South, while 42 per cent of its sheep and lambs are also processed here.

        But that broader commercial reality makes it inconceivable that Northern farmers and food businesses, or business generally, would be willing, even at the price of preserving a frictionless North-South border, agree to tariffs and phytosanitary controls – a border – in the Irish Sea.

        “Three and a half times more agri-foods… inconceivable”

        1. PlutoniumKun

          But that broader commercial reality makes it inconceivable that Northern farmers and food businesses, or business generally, would be willing, even at the price of preserving a frictionless North-South border, agree to tariffs and phytosanitary controls – a border – in the Irish Sea.

          Whoever wrote that doesn’t know how tariffs or phytosanitary regulations work. There would be no tarrifs on NI products across the Irish Sea to Britain, there would be a simple customs check, no different from any standard random internal checkpoint for customs purposes. There would only be sanitary controls if the British government decided that NI goods required a separate level of phytosanitary or other health/environmental checks. That would be entirely a national devolved decision and would likely only apply in the event of a disease outbreak.

          The issue of an Irish Sea border does not present an ‘either/or’ decision to NI. If NI stays within the EU Regulatory boundary NI beef, chicken and dairy can trade to Britain, the rest of the EU, and everyone else the EU has a trade agreement with. If a hard border goes up, it is restricted to the UK only, and whoever the UK agrees an export deal with (good luck with that).

    2. Darn

      For your perusal re point 4. If there is a long transition period it’s doable. There would have to be one anyway for a sea border to work instead due to the customs controls that would suddenly need in the space of 1 year. https://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/border-can-be-invisible-but-cameras-needed-swiss-customs-advise-mps-1.3276960

      Also (and this contains the text of the draft Irish Revenue report showing the difficulty of a land border) https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/revenue-says-post-brexit-border-will-need-eight-customs-checkpoints-1.3256447

      When ppl talk of the effect on society, often people say “on the Good Friday Agreement”, peace process etc I wish they’d back it up. We can speculate about terrorist groups, but the still-active ones are unpopular and have only a few dozen kills in 20 years. The GFA arrangements will continue to exist and the parties can’t walk away from them. But the negative impact of a land border (bad) and a sea border (catastrophic) are not speculative.

      There’s a zeroth option. 0. Persuade the DUP or sufficient number of GB MPs to vote to cancel Brexit. Will take a lot of persuasion after a year of Remainers calling Brexit voters stupid, insane etc and calling the DUP terrorists. (“How could anyone vote for Trump!!”) But doable, and better than Brexit.

      1. makedoanmend

        “…When ppl talk of the effect on society, often people say “on the Good Friday Agreement”, peace process etc I wish they’d back it up…”

        Does the last 35 years before the GFA ring a bell?

        It has been recognised by large swathes of the Irish population, through hard and terrible lessons, that we do need to persuade others – not confront them with ultimatums.

        Tell me what a hard border looks like to nationalists in the North who aspire to belong to the Republic or at least be given the choice in the counties and parishes in which they were born and live. Persuasion?

        1. Darn

          That isn’t backing anything up, since the conflict was due to nationalists being frozen out of devolved government, the discrimination, mistreatment by the security forces etc. Unequal treatment *within* NI. Definitely not over the practicalities of the border itself or even the aspiration for a united Ireland, an aspiration which existed in peace before and after those 35 yrs.

          There is no symmetry here about who needs to be persuaded. Ppl seem to think I am making a unionist or Brexiter argument when I make it. I am talking about how to stop Brexit. I want it to be stopped.

          Nationalists and the RoI can’t stop it. Only the House of Commons can do that (if the EU agrees!) Therefore it is the DUP and other MPs you have to persuade. Arguments like “what will nationalists think?” are wasting valuable time for the Remain side.

          1. makedoanmend

            Good on yee for opposing Brexit, though I hasten to add that I do understand the objectives of those who want to leave the EU as well.

            It might just be that many nationalists see things differently regarding the border. Brexit and subsequent statements about leaving the custom’s border changes the dynamic irrevocably from a certain viewpoint.

            Yeah, the initial challenges that nationalists bore to Unionism might have been addressed to a certain extent (and lets admit it, had to be imposed) but times change and people have greater expectations these days that have derived from a frictionless border and greater economic cooperation. They take for granted their freedom of movement without constant, intrusive surveillance or border stops.

            And they have enough recollection that things were terrible when they were totally separated from any other mitigating influence other than that of Unionism within the UK. They trust the Tories not a jot. They see the EU, for all it warts and short comings, as the mechanism that ensures frictionless borders and a peaceful maintenance beyond the GFA. They are worried. and some are becoming rightly angry. Not all of the angry ones, I might add, are nationalists.

    3. CharlesV

      Don’t we now know that the suggestion from both Mrs May, DD and the EU is that it will be a version of 3, dressed up as a bit of version 3 for good measure and served up with a large dollop of fudge sauce for everyone?

      Ultimately the DUP and the Ultras will have to enjoy the sickly sweet mess as the alternative is worse for them: cancel the whole thing now or a Labour led government taking us to a full blown Norway option inside single market and customs union which would probably lead to us rejoining the EU on worse terms within a decade.

      Appreciate this site and others are down on Mrs May but she has a horribly difficult domestic hand to play and after the car crash of the election this was always the case. To have any chance of agreement she was always going to have to play a game of brinkmanship with the Ultras and DUP.

      Personally I hope that the bluff of the Ultras and DUP is fully called very shortly. She should go back to Brussels with the same text as used on Monday and get approval for movement to stage 2. This should then be put to a commons vote. If she loses then we have an election or a coalition of national unity to conduct the negotiations, either way the Ultras and DUP stop having a veto.

  3. Frenchguy

    The bit about Ireland being in a stronger political position than the UK in the Guardian article is important.

    I think there was a comment in yesterday’s post speculating whether the EU might abandon Ireland and force it to accept a bad deal. I really don’t think it is going to happen. A journalist commented on twitter a few days ago (haven’t kept the link sorry…) that the feeling in Brussels was that Brexit was foremost a betrayal of an alliance and not just leaving a trade bloc. I would bet the feeling is shared in most European capitals. UK politicians can expect no sympahy from the EU. While they are right that a hard stance from the EU would not be the most economically rational, it would definitely be the most rational politically…

    1. vlade

      The main difference being that the EU can cope with the economic hit of hard or even chaotic Brexit, the UK can’t – even if in the absolute numbers the EU economic hit _might_ (and I have my doubts on it, as much of it depends on how the businesses will deal with the whole debacle) be worse.

      There is little downside for EU right now, especially since the UK pols are making it bloody obvious (even to the UK electorate lately) who’s the incompetent here. A lot of Brussels hard ball can be hidden behind Tories incompetence very easily – hey, it may even be that EU very believably comes out of all this as “we really tried, but the UK kept screwing up”

      1. Frenchguy

        You’re right of course on the economic hit but my point is that if the EU was only an economic union, it would not play such hardball tactics. Yes a lot of Brexiteers have unrealistic goals but the whole “there will be a deal since everyone would benefit” is not that stupid I think. Where they do go wrong is that the EU is actually as much a political union as an economic one and that’s why the Irish border is in Phase I even though it isn’t that big an issue from the point of view of the whole Union.

      2. Matthew Cunningham-Cook

        Hard Brexit will be a disaster under a Tory government–under Labour, not so much IMO. The economic costs of a hard Brexit are significantly less than the economic costs of the housing bubble and privatization.

        1. vlade

          No. UK needs to trade to survive. MMT or similar policy would only drive down sterling exchange rate, which was shown not to have any beneficial impact due to how the economy looks in general. I wrote long-form on it, so am not going to repeat myself, but thinking that nationalisation and industry/manufacturing support w/o managing external trade would work is dreaming.

    2. makedoanmend

      As of c. 45 mins ago…will not stop hard Brexiteers from trying:

      “Brexit: Boris Johnson Calls for Immediate Go-ahead for Second Phase of Talks”


      This was BJ’s comment and position went he went to Dublin only a few weeks ago, and it hasn’t changed. As far as he is concerned, and there may be some sympathy within the EU, Ireland is an economic and political minnow. Ireland should not be allowed to stop the much larger economic UK from pursuing their ideal Brexit terms once they are presented them to the EU. His position, taken from an Irish point of view, is that the concerns of Ireland become fringe topics during phase II talks, and furthermore demote the economic border issue to being one that is a minor bargaining chip during the later stages of negotiation. Ireland’s concerns over the border:

      1. know that the hard border will hurt them economically
      2. know that the short term economic damage will be significant
      3. need to focus our European partner’s attention to the economic harm that is right around the corner for Ireland
      4. watch in dismay as the Good Friday Agreement looks likely to end in tatters as scrap on the floor if failed local history and the consequences of these failures

      Ireland (and I wish I had the grapsh source to hand) will suffer the most economic damage as a result of Brexit – with an anticipated 50k job losses. Ireland, as stated so often before, either needs to maintain an open border (can’t happen when the UK leaves the customs union) or get some form of emollient from the EU to transition to a new economic equilibrium of sorts. (The political situation in Ireland is another matter.)

      1. PlutoniumKun

        In terms of loss of trade, there is a useful ESRI paper here.

        Its conclusions:

        This paper digs into the detail beneath a WTO scenario for post-Brexit UK-EU trade. While the aggregate economic impact of such a scenario have been investigated the wide variation in tariff rates, and hence heterogeneity in sectoral and country-level impacts, has not been previously studied. Taking the 5200 products listed in the EU external tariff schedule and applying them symmetrically to EU-UK trade shows effective tariff rates ranging from 2% to 11% by country. Across sectors, the variation is more dramatic, ranging from 0% to 50% reflecting the differences in products traded. Combining these tariff-induced price increases with elasticity response estimates, we calculate the total effect on trade by country. The EU’s exports to the UK would fall by 30% representing a 2% reduction in its total world trade. Ireland and Belgium would be the most exposed, losing 4% and 3.1% of their total exports respectively, whereas some countries such as Estonia and Finland would see reductions in their total trade of less than 0.3%. The UK’s exports to the EU would fall by 22% but as these reductions apply to 27 trading partners, the aggregate effect islarger than that of the EU with the UK facing a fall in its total trade of 9.8%. Trade in some specific sectors, such as food and textiles would be close to wiped out while others would be almost unaffected. The severity of the impact is therefore driven critically by the product structure of current trade flows between the UK and each individual EU member.

        The paper, btw, assumes that the UK is falling out of the Common Market, not the Customs Union.

      2. Darn

        The Good Friday Agreement doesn’t depend on EU membership, as the UK Supreme Court ruled and the Irish Govt accepts since they wanted Article 50 to be triggered as fast as possible after the referendum. Sinn Féin can’t afford for the IRA to come back and anybody who resents customs checks enough to join a (small, weak, unpopular) dissident republican terrorist group will already be a member because they resent police stations.

        1. makedoanmend

          The Good Friday Agreement was made viable, in practicable terms, by all members being inside the EU. The border is virtually invisible and economic cooperation between all parts of Ireland was, if not flourishing, certainly in a more healthy state because of the agreement.

          To suggest that nationalists in the North will somehow be copacetic with their integration into the UK given recent history and their desires expressed explicitly in the Good Friday Agreement doesn’t jive. They overwhelming voted to remain in the EU because the Good Friday Agremment depends so much on existing structures. They don’t believe in the good will of the Tories, and they aren’t in the mood for petty politics that have plagued their entire lives.

          Simply stating that Sinn Fein, nationalists and the Irish government will not or cannot do anything about current events will not change mindsets. I suspect they will harden all around. This is the tragedy of Ireland. It never seems to go away.

          Could peace, depending on such a fragile thing as people being able to view a border differently, be allowed to persist? No, seems to be the answer. Some people can’t leave well enough alone.

          1. Darn

            Would the GFA become unviable? Since I have to live here, I resent this baseless speculation I have seen which seems to stem from what Remain columnists (and I am a Remainer) and nationalists have put about to try and stop Brexit or get a better deal out of it.

            The significance of the EU at the time was as stated in the preamble to the GFA, that the UK and RoI both happen to be in it. It isn’t about the practicalities of the border. It’s that the two governments are not enemies and have a history of decades of cooperation including on EU matters.

            Nationalists have accepted via the GFA that a united Ireland cannot happen without a referendum. Brexit cannot change this, and it is a treaty obligation of the two governments. They can certainly harden their mindsets, but that doesn’t win a referendum.

            Leaving well enough alone can just as equally mean not putting a sea border within the UK! Unless nationalist discontent matters and unionist discontent does not, which is taking sides. Nobody has been promised anything on economic policy or EU membership, it is unrelated to the peace process. Politics will be more acrimonious as Brexit bites, but it bites NI harder with a sea border.

            1. makedoanmend

              “Would the GFA become unviable? Since I have to live here, I resent this baseless speculation I have seen which seems to stem from what Remain columnists (and I am a Remainer) and nationalists have put about to try and stop Brexit or get a better deal out of it.”

              You are perfectly entitled to resentment as am I. I am from the North and have many friends and acquaintances in all communities. The troubles with Stormont were mounting before Brexit and just deteriorated afterwards. For those of us whom the Tories and many members of the DUP are not reliable guarantors of the future, the GFA along with EU institutions have given us some succour.

              When did it become unviable:

              1. Stormont no longer sits – one of the key features of power sharing
              2. The North-South council hasn’t been called in years
              3. The budget is now set in Westminster

              In short, the GFA exists. At best, it seems to be on life support and at worst in terminal decline. Some have called it dead, and so it seems. Given the sequence of events from Brexit negotiations, and especially the stated position of leaving the customs union, there is an existential threat to the GFA beyond the impasses and neglect it already suffers.

              If you believe that the open customs border and political structures had absolutely no impact on the GFA, I’m sure your entitled to that viewpoint and nothing I will write will change that. So be it.

        2. PlutoniumKun

          Thats not quite what the Supreme Court ruled. It ruled that the Article 50 declaration specifically was not a devolved power – i.e. Parliament could impose it, whatever the Assembly voted or wished, and that it did not breach the GFA. Its an open question as to whether subsequent laws (the Great Repeal Bill) which must follow any agreement (or no agreement) are likewise devolved. It seems likely that any subsequent changes which impact on existing devolved powers would have to go through the Assembly. If the Assembly is still not operating, then the BIIGC has to be re-established to make the decisions.

          The GFA has several references to the EU and EU structures through it and these will have to be changed, especially with regard to cross-border institutions such as the SEUBP which administers cross-border structural funding. Only the London and Dublin parliaments can change the wording of the agreement. The ultimate arbiter is the UN, via the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

          1. makedoanmend

            Damn PK, what are you? An encyclopedia *?

            (*and I hope to cover my own ignorance, once again, of my fact knowing short-comings)

            1. PlutoniumKun

              I have the power of google and too much time on my hands (temporarily postponed work project). ;-)

              1. makedoanmend

                :-) and I am wasting time when I have a dead line tomorrow for submitting my paper on DNA electrophoresis analysis (and trying to cover my derriere on being such a complete dunce sometimes ;-0 or maybe always!)

                  1. JBird

                    It is customary to waste time until the last moment. How else are we going get that little frisson of terror from bloodless and boring textbooks and papers?

                    1. makedoanmend

                      How close to dead line do I have to get in order feel the utmost frisson of terror? And waste a little more time? :-) I willing to go to the limit.

  4. PlutoniumKun

    Spot on as always. May displayed appalling ineptmess in her negotiations. The lesson from the painstaking NI peace deal was that all parties – all of them – have to be in lockstep all the way. If you keep one party out, and they have a veto, they will use it. The DUP used theirs. (Having said that, I think May could have called their bluff, which is why I suspect that the DUP were actually talking on behalf of a wider hard Brexit group in government).

    One interesting point though raised yesterday by Janan Ganesh in the FT is that what this has revealed is that the ‘hard’ Brexiters have actually moved an enormous amount in the last month or so. They have now accepted the need to pay to exit, and to hear David Davis yesterday talk about regulatory allignment was actually an enormous shift from what he was saying just a few weeks ago. Hard Brexiters are now arguing for what were soft Brexiter talking points. I can only assume this is because the enormity of what they are advocating is now slowly sinking in to some particularly slow brains.

    Ireland is the biggest loser in a Brexit, and NI loses even more than the Republic. In either a hard Brexit or a disorderly Brexit, there will be a hard border between the Republic and NI. That is the default scenario and the odds greatly favor that being the end result.

    So Ireland’s best hope is to blow up Brexit. And the DUP is doing that (so far) by being completely loyal to its election stance of backing Brexit and sticking to “unionist” principles. But the Government and the Republic (and the EU backing the Republic) all want to avoid a hard land border, which is the inevitable outcome of the other boundary conditions the UK has set.

    By ‘Ireland’ in this context, I assume you mean the Republic. In this I agree. I’ve not heard it suggested out loud anywhere here yet, but I think its an obvious, but unstated point that the Irish government has every motive to blow Brexit out of the water. Its not just a case of vetoeing the current negotiation. They can potentially veto every single attempt by the UK to make post Brexit agreements. I strongly suspect that its not in the nature of the current government to do this – they are incrementalists and deal makers to the core – but it must sometime have occurred to them that as a ‘Plan B’ to a failure to make the British government see sense, then it is in the national interest to do everything possible to sabotage the process.

    But in the meanwhile, I suspect that the DUP will not shift and the negotiations are highly unlikely to succeed, but it is not in the interest of anyone yet to say the last rites. Its a political blame game now, and the DUP have made themselves a suitable fall guy. They may pay a heavy price for this in the long term, as will Northern Ireland.

  5. vlade

    Some additions to this:
    The latest Survation poll shows that Labour is 8% higher than Tories. (Survation was the only polling agency in the UK to get the last elections close). http://survation.com/labour-extends-polling-lead-8-points-conservatives/
    Their poll also shows that 50% of electorate want a new referendum, on the Brexit terms. http://survation.com/half-voters-now-want-referendum-terms-brexit/ The interesting bit on this is that not only majority of the remainers support the new referendum, but also a significant part of those how did not vote in the last one. Also, the opposition to the new referendum has dropped significantly from 46% at the top to about 34%. In the detailed surveys, it also looks like about 2% net switch from Leave to remain (i.e leavers who would now vote remain vs remainers who would now vote leave), but a very significant switch of ‘did not vote’ to ‘would vote remain’ (60% vs. 27% who would vote leave).

    There are also some numbers on Labour vs Tory, where >60% of current Labour supporters would vote Remain vs. 60% of Tories voting to leave (it’s an interesting – the Labour vs Tories are pretty much mirror images, with 2/3rds of voters going one way, and 1/3rd the other).

    1. PlutoniumKun

      That does show that May could have stood up to the DUP. She could have said ‘Fine, bring down the government, good luck with your negotiations with Gerry Adams best mate, Jeremy Corbyn’.

      1. Matthew Cunningham-Cook

        yeah but it’s likely Foster is more responding to her supporters on the ground rather than realpolitik. The DUP’s base makes Roy Moore look like a Unitarian.

  6. PlutoniumKun

    A useful primer on why the deal probably wouldn’t work within the historic context of the Irish border from economist Kevin O’Rourke in the Irish Times:

    John FitzGerald tells the story of how an Irish delegation to London requested that British goods exported to Ireland be clearly labelled “Made in Britain”, or words to that effect. UK Labour politician Denis Healey asked, with some irritation, whether he was supposed to stamp “Made in Britain” on the balls of every bullock shipped to Ireland, to which former president Paddy Hillery’s retort was that bullocks don’t have balls. The anecdote is pedagogical in many ways, and provides us with an early illustration of a technological solution to border frictions that – with the best will in the world – could never have worked. Free-trade areas always and necessarily involve border checks, to ensure that goods from third countries are not given the preferential treatment enjoyed by countries party to the agreement.


    Getting rid of border controls on trade thus depended on both the European customs union, and the European single market. Norway is a member of the single market but not the customs union, with the result that there are border controls between it and Sweden. The UK and Ireland were members of a customs union before 1993, but not a single market, and the result again was border controls. And unless both Northern Ireland and the Republic retain equivalent regulations regarding both customs duties, and what can be legally bought and sold on their territories, the result will inevitably be border controls.

    The Belfast Agreement was a masterpiece of constructive ambiguity. It worked because that ambiguity influenced how people felt about where they lived and their place in the world. But there is no such thing as a constructively ambiguous customs border: either goods are subject to the same regulations, or they are not.

    Language can soften things. According to this newspaper, the agreed deal that London subsequently walked away from stated that, “in the absence of agreed solutions, the UK will maintain full alignment with the internal market, customs union and protection of the Good Friday agreement.” A lot has been made in the British press of that word “alignment”, as opposed to “no regulatory divergence”, even though Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that both terms effectively mean the same thing. Perhaps “alignment” implies that the UK (or maybe only Northern Ireland?) can choose to align itself with the EU, thus preserving agency of some sort. But this is a distinction about process, not outcomes.

    In a rapidly evolving situation, there have been suggestions that regulatory alignment will only be required in some sectors, and that such sectoral alignment could be extended across the UK. The former assertion seems incorrect. All traded goods will have to be covered if a hard Border is to be avoided. Furthermore, if the UK were to strike such sectoral deals with the EU, both the UK and the EU would be in breach of their obligations to other World Trade Organisation members not to discriminate against their exports. This obligation can only be waived in the context of free trade agreements covering “substantially all” trade.

    If the Irish Times report on the deal is accurate, the British have moved a huge distance, suggesting that they badly need a deal. This week’s drama, on the other hand, will make the EU even more reluctant to consider bespoke negotiations and even more determined to offer only off-the-shelf arrangements


    Its a pretty succinct reminder I think that ‘pick and mix’ type regulatory deals simply won’t work in the context of a land border. Britain either stays in the Common Market and the Customs Union, or it doesn’t. I’m sure the EU negotiators are well aware of this, so to an extent the last few days are theatrics made to either show a willingness to compromise when none actually exists, and (more probably) to force in the longer term a complete climbdown by the UK. If you look closely at what David Davis was saying yesterday, it looks like even the hard Brexiters are starting to stare over the abyss and don’t like what they see.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Another Irish economist, who has done number crunching on the trade issues, expresses similar views in the Irish Economy blog:

      The farce on Monday highlighted Theresa May’s political weakness. It has also, yet again, revealed that many of the Brexiteers (and also many commentators) simply do not understand what is going on.

      Various UK commentators and politicians have called on the EU to compromise. For example the BBC reported that “David Davis has said the EU must be willing to give ground too if further progress in Brexit talks is to be made.” This seems to stem from a belief that the so called phase 1 ‘negotiations’ are conducted in the usual way of political negotiations, where each side gives in a little, and in the end some clever form of words is found whereby each side can claim they got their way. This is simply not the case here.

      The Article 50 process is about establishing what the UK is going to do regarding their financial liabilities, citizens rights (here the UK will also want to establish what the EU intends to do), whether a hard border on the island of Ireland will be necessitated by the future actions of the UK and whether the Good Friday Agreement, an internationally binding agreement can be maintained.

      Determining whether the UK proposals on these Article 50 issues are satisfactory is a technical matter not a political one. Either regulations in the UK (or Northern Ireland) will differ or they won’t, either the UK will end up agreeing to tariffs with third countries that deviate from those in the Customs Union or they don’t. If the UK wants to move in a direction where an open border would undermine the integrity of the EU Single Market and Customs Union, then border controls will be necessary.

      Whatever is agreed will need to stand up to legal challenge, e.g. when the first lorry load of chlorinated chicken or beef that entered the UK at lower tariffs than are due in the EU, rolls across the border – so some clever form of words won’t do. There can be no compromise or a la carte approach here.

      The abstract from the report linked to above states:

      Abstract: The UK exit from the European Union (Brexit) is likely to have a range of impacts, with trade flows likely to be most affected. One possible outcome of Brexit is a situation where WTO tariffs apply to merchandise trade between the UK and the EU. By examining detailed trade flows between the UK and all other EU members, matching over 5200 products to the WTO tariff applicable to external EU trade this paper shows that such an outcome would result in significantly different impacts across countries. Our estimates of exposure at the country level show an extremely wide range with reductions in trade to the UK falling by 5% (Finland) to 43% (Bulgaria) taking into account the new tariffs and the elasticity of the trade response to this price increase. Food and textiles trade are the hardest hit, with trade in these sectors reducing by up to 90%.

      1. jabawocky

        I think this is right. And importantly, this extends through the DUP aswell. Until the DUP realise their ambitions are incoherent nobody can move on. Thus moving on requires that the brexiteers see this, and so far they have shown no sign of awakening from their delusions.

        Arlene Foster has a border constituency herself, so for her this gets very real if a hard border looks on the cards.

  7. makedoanmend

    “…The former assertion seems incorrect. All traded goods will have to be covered if a hard Border is to be avoided. Furthermore, if the UK were to strike such sectoral deals with the EU, both the UK and the EU would be in breach of their obligations to other World Trade Organisation members not to discriminate against their exports…”

    This, I did not know. Bad me. It just gets more complicateder and complicateder.

    There really seems to be no third way. Either in the union or not in in the union with regard to regulations and enforcement.

    [Yesterday I called myself a Unionist to a friend who is an UK Unionist and they asked me if I had changed my stripes. I said no, I was a European Unionist.]

  8. yan

    On top of the whole Ireland issue, if the talks do move forward from stage 1, I think they should take into account that Spain will do its best to get a favourable deal involving Gibraltar. I do not follow brexit very closely but the spanish are ready to pounce on the whole Gibraltar issue. Wouldn’t there be another hard border there?

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Rajoy even visited May yesterday (I doubt she had time for chitchat). He was writing nice things about Britain in the Guardian on Monday, thanking the UK for supporting Madrid over Catalonia. I suspect he’s up to something, but I’ve no idea what exactly.

      1. Clive

        Yes, I wondered about that “thanks for all the help and support with Catalonia” guff was all in aid of.

  9. Barry Fay

    A pet peeve: the idea that writing with lots of acronyms is a sign of intelligence or “with-it-ness”. It´s not. It´s just lazy typing. Any space saved is vanishingly small and the risk of muddled message large. At a MINIMUM, the first reference should include the whole name with the acronym in parentheses for later use. This headline assumes that EVERYBODY reading it will immediately know the acronym for all the political parties in IRELAND! Really?

    1. makedoanmend

      For your perusal (all accent marks omitted, category distribution open to debate)

      SF – Sinn Fein – party both in South and North – nationalist
      DUP – Democractic Unionist Party – North only – unionist
      FG – Fine Gael – South only – Current minority government in South with new’ish leader
      FF – Fianna Fail – South only (pretentions to North) – propping up minority FG govt
      SDLP – Social Democratic Labour Party – North only – mostly nationalist
      UUP – Ulster Unionist Party – North only – unionist party
      ALL – Alliance – North only – Dissenter (don’t ask)

      Other Irish Parties

      Labour – South
      TUV – Traditional Unionist Voice – North – unionist
      PUP – Progressive Unionist Party – North – unionist
      PBP (Alliance) – People Before Profit – North and South – Socialist
      Green Party – South
      SD – Social Democrats – South
      WP – Worker’s Party – South
      Renua – South

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Thanks for that. Just to note that the Green Party is north and south. I think Renua is defunct?

        1. makedoanmend

          I keep forgetting about the Greens in the North. In faith, easy done. But I always assumed they were sort of separate. It would be interesting if they are all connected – as in North, South, Scotland, England.

          As for Renua, don’t pollsters still ask about them?

          1. Darn

            The Northern Greens used to be separate and then they merged. Which seemed foolish to me considering the southern Greens got almost wiped out after the coalition with Fianna Fáil.

      2. Clive

        Thanks, this was much-needed for non-UK or NI or Eire nationals; actually, a fair few of them could probably do with a refresher !

        Just to add in the interests of making it totally comprehensive, there is also the Northern Ireland Conservatives which are the UK Conservative Party’s NI local offshoot. Quite why they bother, no-one can entirely work out. I certainly don’t blame anyone forgetting to include them. I often suspect even the Northern Ireland Conservatives forget they exist, too. They are, of course, unionists.

        Yes, NI politics is really something to behold. I blame the parents.

      3. PlutoniumKun

        Incidentally, for anyone who wonders ‘what do they really stand for?’, I’d always recommend looking at who they ally with in the European Parliament (if they have an MEP). I think who a party sits with in the parliament gives the best idea how they seem themselves ideologically.

        For example, Sinn Fein are part of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left while Fine Gael is part of the European Peoples Party (mainstream centre right, including most Christian Democrat parties. The Conservatives (much to the fury of most European centre right parties) set up their own group, mostly made up of various fringe far right parties. The DUP, typically, couldn’t find anyone who agreed with them, so sit by themselves, as they like it.

      4. Grebo

        I would add that in this context ‘unionist’ means in favour of the current separation of Ireland into North and Republic, with the North united with Britain. ‘Nationalist’ means in favour of a united independent Ireland.

    1. Christopher Dale Rogers


      You forgot to mention that a large number of the Labour Parliamentary Party are more or less Conservative, I mean they lack any fundamental philosophical underpinnings, support the neoliberal economic prescriptions pursued by Blair/Brown and, as with the Democrats in the USA, are happy to shrink the welfare state. They also have a huge dislike for the working class and are not disposed to democracy, particularly that within the Party itself.

      Indeed, the rumour mill quite often suggests that the Blairite wing is open to establishing a new Party with a number of Tory Remainers & funding exists for this – again, see funding of the US Democrat Party. In a nutshell, the Elite don’t like the demos, particularly an active demos, hence considerations of this stitch-up to thwart Corbyn and the Left of the Labour Party, i.e., a truly radical & reforming party is anathema to them. And the effects of Brexit, be it soft or hard, really means radical change is necessary if society as a whole is to survive, and hopefully after the initial shock, prosper, much of which can be achieved via wealth redistribution, rather than GDP exponential, infinite growth, which is an oxymoron given resource constraints.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Yes, I suspect that if the Conservatives fell apart we’d see some opportunism by Blairites to try to make a Macron-style centrist neo-liberal pro-EU party. It would actually be refreshing to see voters have a real choice.

        The problem for them of course is the same one the old Liberal – SDP alliance faced. First past the post systems are very hard on minority parties that lack a strong geographic concentration.

  10. Anonymous2

    And now it is being reported that the UK government’s impact assessments, which they boasted about and the Commons demanded to see, ‘do not exist’.

    Might David Davis be held in contempt of Parliament ? Might he be sent to the Tower?
    Can Brexit get any more ridiculous?

    You know it can! Watch for the next instalment of this amazing farce!

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Rafael Behr expresses it nicely:

      Through all the bluster, swagger, faux joviality, arrogance and complacency of the committee’s star witness one sharp truth shines through. A decision was made last summer to define Brexit as a requirement to leave the single market and the customs union – an action that would quite obviously have enormous consequences for the UK’s economy – and the secretary of state notionally responsible for enacting that decision at no point set about the task of rigorously investigating what those consequences might be.

      And whatever half-baked understanding he had of the issues was not one he ever intended to share with MPs or the British people. He still has no intention of sharing it. Whether that is a case of cynical, ideologically-motivated subterfuge, laziness, stupidity or some psychological aversion to the confrontation of difficult things only Davis himself can know for sure.

      1. ChrisPacific

        I’m having trouble thinking of a word to describe this, but I’ll settle for “astonishing.” And here I had been thinking all along that the government was dysfunctional. It turns out I was being kind, and non-functional might have been a better description.

  11. ahimsa

    Just saw short video (Irish Times link) of DUP leader making statement on Monday:

    “We have been very clear: Northern Ireland must leave the European Union on the same terms as the rest of the United Kingdom. We will not accept any form of regulatory divergence which seperates Northern Ireland economically or politically from the rest of the UK…

    Second part is interesting:

    …The Republic of Ireland government claim for their part to be guarantors of the Belfast Agreement, but they are clearly seeking to unilaterally change that Belfast Agreement without our input or our consent. And, unfortunately, we will not stand for that.”

    As already pointed out, they were primarily incensed by not being kept in the loop and actively consulted. For them, it reeked of betrayal for the Republic to be sitting in the front at the negotiating table without them.

    1. ahimsa

      With regard to NI Unionists already accepting divergence of sorts from the rest of the UK (from Simon Jenkins, in the Guardian – Link (my emphasis):

      Fudge is good only if it tastes sweet. Theresa May’s deal with the EU on Irish border trade is apparently too bitter for Ulster’s Democratic Unionist party to stomach. Yesterday they wielded a veto. A British government at an international summit was humiliated by a minority party pursuing a minority point of view. It is why governments should never rely on extremist parties. The DUP has three days to make amends, or a terrible vengeance should be taken on them.

      It does not matter that the DUP is hypocritical. Decades of Westminster indulging its political primitivism have come home to roost. Unionists have demanded separatism on education, trade, corporate taxes, abortion, homosexuality and a host of pet issues, yet they want to call themselves “British”. They are Irish.

      Now the fiendish complexity of detaching the UK from the EU – on which question Northern Ireland voted remain – requires the DUP at least to honour the “all-Ireland economy”, which it accepted in the 1998 Good Friday agreement. The concept of “regulatory alignment” in yesterday’s deal should give it no practical problems, albeit possible administrative headaches. Objection appears to be one of principle: that the DUP wants a frictionless border, but nothing to make it different from a Brexit UK. It wants to square the circle. Like so much of international trade, that was always going to require fudge.

      Like I said above, first and foremost they are pissed at being left out of the negotiations with the Republic of Ireland.

      1. Darn

        Jenkins makes serious errors here.

        Sinn Féin has controlled the education department in NI for 20 years. Neither unionist nor nationalist parties want integrated education. Wouldn’t want wee kids growing up mixing with the other side. But when Jenkins says “separatism on education” does he mean separate from England? It’s always been separate in Ireland, Scotland and in Wales since the Welsh Office was created.

        On homosexuality, despite their homophobic rhetoric the DUP allowed NI to be included in the Alan Turing law, to pardon convicted homosexuals by statute, when it came up for a vote in the NI Assembly. Evangelicals are important to the DUP but they got ex-UUP voters in 2005 and want to keep them. They should legalise gay marriage of course, but bear in mind it was only recently legalised in Britain, and it was done separately in England and Scotland; somehow separatism again if you believe Jenkins.

        The DUP never signed the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, only the St Andrews Agreement years later. It has never accepted an all-Ireland economy, a phrase Jenkins will have seen thrown around by nationalists in recent years. There are North-South bodies on a range of topics, NI’s participation is limited to devolved areas, and not on . They are unimpressive and receive little public attention. Check out the list in the annex to Strand Two. Waterways. Tourism. Not the economy in general, the most important levers can never be devolved. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/136652/agreement.pdf

        The 2017 DUP manifesto only committed them to seek a frictionless border for people, not goods. The language on goods is about getting the best deal possible etc.

        The issue is they will not accept a sea border! The UK is a single market too, and that would fracture it, making Brexit far worse for NI than a land border would be. Jenkins does not even try and deal with this issue.

        Lastly, language like backwoodsmen is exactly the self-defeating stuff I’ve been complaining of in other comments. Remainers antagonising the DUP does not stop Brexit just as Tories antagonising the Republic doesn’t help get a deal.

        1. ahimsa

          Very interesting, thanks for the reply.

          Totally agree about the unhelpful nature of some of the language used!

    2. makedoanmend

      I suppose from their viewpoint, being part of the UK government, they have just concerns. Frankly, I find it mind boggling that they weren’t, at the very least, consulted by their government “partners”. Maybe it’s just a Tory case of believing that the Irish should be seen but not heard?

      As for the assertion that the Irish government was undermining the GFA, I find that mostly risible. Given that the UK government is also a guarantor to the GFA but needs a signatory to prop up their government suggests a greater divergence from guarantor than that of the Irish government. At the very, very least it is the pot calling the kettle black, as the saying goes. One should also take into account the failure of the DUP, and especially its current leader Ms. Forster, to live up to the spirit of the GFA. As it now remains, it is dead in the water. Brexit, it would seem, will put the final stake into its heart. Not good.

      1. Darn

        Neither the actions of the DUP nor the Irish Govt are undermining the GFA in any way. In particular, none of its terms have been violated.

        1. makedoanmend

          Oh, for God sakes, the DUP’s actions were directly involved in bringing down shared rule in Stormont, a major feature of the GFA. So we’re on firm technical ground, SF technically brought down the assembly by refusing to name a replacement for Martin McGuinness – but – and this a big but – because the of the DUP’s handling of the renewable heat scheme scandal costing £490 million was never addressed and just plain refusing to implement parts of the GFA.

          Another feature, in North-South council hasn’t been called in years, and this reflects directly on the non-actions of governments in the Republic.

          So, yeah, you are technically correct. The GFA still exists and nobody did nothing to it. In fact, nobody is doing anything about it, inside of it or around it. It is, effectively, dead, dead in the water, needing of life support, left this mortal coil, bereft of life, it is (in other words) a dead parrot for all intents and purposes.

  12. Pinhead

    It is hard to see Parliament accepting any “deal” the May government can negotiate. So there is likely to be another General Election before Brexit becomes official. The odds on reversing Brexit than start to shorten, especially if Labour fails to win a majority. Watch this space.

  13. David

    When Brexit happened, several French people asked me for an instant judgment. “Too complicated” I said “Won’t happen.” That was nothing but a gut reaction, based on a lifetime of being around government and negotiation, on the basis that there are things which are very difficult, but there are also things that are effectively impossible, like a million monkeys writing Shakespeare in the lifetime of the universe. That was when Cameron was PM, the Tories had a majority, and nobody had yet twigged that Northern Ireland (let alone Gibraltar) would be problems. I have a feeling that we are approaching a point where what I think scientists call “emergent properties” (see Wikipedia) are starting to be noticed. But I think any chance of negotiating a Brexit agreement of any sort is now effectively gone, as internal and external issues combine in different ways to produce unexpected and unmanageable emergent complications that will make such an agreement impossible; The choice then seems to be between “crashing out” (which still remains to be defined in many details) and some kind of halt and reversal, which, I have to say, is looking more likely by the day. A competent government, of course, would help, but a competent government would never have got itself into this mess in the first place.

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, David.

      A friend, former colleague, head of government affairs at the grocer known as the TEa Supply COmpany and Tory activist is scathing about the year wasted and incompetence. He said that the business community is equally incensed, but dare not say so for fear of getting Corbyn, a bigger threat to them than Brexit. He reckons the clock is running down and sees the UK crashing out without a deal unless Corbyn can win a general election before March 2019 and get a second referendum in place, which he thinks Labour has been inching to over the autumn. My friend is getting Danish nationality from his mum.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      A few weeks ago I would have said Brexit was unstoppable, but I wonder if we are seeing the complete disintegration of the entire process. David Davies was apparently today engaged in gaslighting the House of Commons insisting that they were talking about regulatory alignment right across the UK, not just for NI. I know he’s an idiot, but even at this stage he must know that this means staying within the Common Market and Customs Union if it is mean anything. To quote from a blog I quoted from above:

      Determining whether the UK proposals on these Article 50 issues are satisfactory is a technical matter not a political one. Either regulations in the UK (or Northern Ireland) will differ or they won’t, either the UK will end up agreeing to tariffs with third countries that deviate from those in the Customs Union or they don’t. If the UK wants to move in a direction where an open border would undermine the integrity of the EU Single Market and Customs Union, then border controls will be necessary.

      Just glancing at the Guardian live blog now, it seems that the entire cabinet is in chaos. They are contradicting themselves in the same sitting. Its not just a case where the individual members of the cabinet can’t agree, people like Davis are contradicting themselves one day to next.

      The UK government is like a dying, thrashing animal, just waiting for a vet to come along to put them out of their misery.

  14. Joel

    It was interesting talking with university-aged Irish Republic citizens in the decade or so before Brexit that they were so deeply committed to the idea of Ireland being not only a part of the EU but of some kind of supranational British Isles (which, of course, culturally, it is).

    Many were openly disdainful of the idea that there were still antagonisms with Britain and even adopted the British lie that the whole thing was stirred up by Irish Americans (or “Fake Irish” as they like to say).

    But that attitude required willful blindness to the fact that almost no one in Britain ever gives a second thought to either the Republic or NI. Ireland isn’t even the Canada of Britain, it’s more like the Puerto Rico.

    How are attitudes/feelings/prejudices across Ireland changing now that people are being forced to admit this fundamental fact? I’d bet that the Tories have thrown away one of the most dramatic transformations in attitudes toward Britain in history, not that anyone in Britain proper cares.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I think for many Irish people the last couple of weeks has been an eye-opener. The entire media and political establishment have been playing a game of ‘oh, its all over, history is gone, we’re all friends now’ since the Good Friday Agreement, happily ignoring all sorts of deeper issues.

      I see today Ian Duncan Smith, a former Tory Leader, is still insisting that ‘the Irish objections are just politicking because of the upcoming Presidential election’. He said this before and was corrected – Ireland is a parliamentary system, the president is a purely ceremonial post, and there isn’t an election anyway.

      I think its been a bigger shock for Fine Gael and the Irish right wing establishment, as they’ve always seen the Conservatives as sort of allies (even if they’d never admit it in public). I think Varadkar and Coveney – two very middle of the road conservative politicians (and both who were in their early political careers nicknamed ‘the Tory Boys’) – have been quite shocked at the hostility and patronising attitude from Britain. The fact that senior Unionists have been openly making quasi-racist comments about Varadkar (who is half Indian) without rebuke from the Conservatives has been noted at all levels in particular.

      Its really souring things in many ways. Last week I linked to an article by the Irish Times Finance writer, who is English – he said he had someone say to him ‘F- off back to your country’ for the first time in his 30 years in Ireland. Lots of anecdotes about similar things on the streets of London (and East Europeans have been getting this since the Brexit vote).

      As Col Smithers notes on this thread, the UK has thrashed many decades of reputation building in the past two years. The damage is incalculable.

    2. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you.

      It won’t be the first time that (the) Tories, seeking political advantage, have f’d up over Ireland.

      For the first time, I am hearing openly that the UK should be rid of the Unionists. As a colonial, I am tempted to say why not sell the noisy Orangeade down the river as the UK has plenty of experience of such sales :-).

  15. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you to the NC community for keeping these threads so insightful. I often forward to acquaintances.

    When working on regulatory matters around the world, including Brussels, UK stakeholders often put themselves as pragmatists and empiricists, or were perceived as such.

    Brexit is destroying this reputation. A friend / finance editor at a Springer publication and I recently wondered how UK applicants / candidates for major international positions would fare. We thought that a UK national would never get to head something like the IMF, EBRD et al again. The EU would make sure that one of its nationals would get the position. Even without realpolitik considerations, UK politicians have destroyed the UK civil service and the reputation of UK civil servants.

    My friend added that Raghuram Rajan, “the only one with the chops as the UK may need an IMF bail-out”, has emerged as a dark horse to replace Mark Carney at the Bank of England, possibly the last task left for Hammond. The internal candidates are deputies Ben Broadbent (ex Treasury and Goldman Sachs) and John Cunliffe (ex Treasury and EU). Andy Haldane, sadly, is reckoned to have no chance and suspected of being a closet left winger. I wondered how having an Indian at the Bank would go down with Brexiteers intent on “taking back control” from the EU and “citizens of nowhere”. My dining companion said that the race card would be played to keep opposition at bay.

    1. makedoanmend

      The UK has some very bright spots in their history, and some not so bright spots. Like every other country that has ever existed.

      It’s bright spots for me have been the NHS (superb); its scientific achievements; its literature (superb); its 70-80s sci-fi (so bad, it was good); its bureaucrats and bureaucracy which seemed to have found the right balance between pragmatism and forwarding, dare I say, a liberalist policy. It’s tolerance, until recently, was unbounded. I hope it succeeds in whatever path it decides to take. It has some commendable legacies upon which it could build a future, if only it can shake itself from the shackles of economic neo-liberalism. But I suppose the last sentence applies to so many countries these days.

      1. makedoanmend

        Oh, and Rumpole of the Bailey.

        Great series, great character and played by an Australian, I believe.

        1. EoH

          Indeed, written by a multi-talented writer and serial womanizer, Englishman John Mortimer, acted by the multi-talented, one-eyed Australian, Leo McKern.

      2. Joel

        YOU think Red Dwarf was bad???? Of course they felt the need to remake it in the 2010s which is just another data point that Britain is in steep decline.

  16. David

    I’ve said before that it’s pretty tough to negotiate without a proper objective and a plan to get you there. I think it’s now clear that there is, and never has been, any “objective” in the technical sense. What May wants is an outcome, any outcome, that will (1) be acceptable to the 27 (2) be acceptable to her cabinet and the DUP (3) be acceptable, or at least sellable, to the Party and (4) keep her in power.
    I think it’s now clear that this is not possible, but also that each of these four criteria remain individually and disruptively powerful. So I think we can now start ruling out a “deal”, which no amount of imaginative diplomacy will be able to conjure up, and start looking at “no deal” scenarios.

  17. EoH

    One might regard the DUP as being hopelessly petty and vindictive. That may very well be true. But they may [also] know exactly what they are doing.

    May and her Brexiteers are living in la la land; the DUP are an extreme right wing party doing its best to push its agenda in a government hapless, incompetent and rife with infighting. Brexit will occupy Britain for the better part of two decades and cost in the neighborhood of a trillion pounds. If you don’t like the choices, rethink the options.

  18. EoH

    “Blowing up May”, tossing her in favor of another leader, would lead to more infighting and more bodies figuratively tossed on the roadside. It would most likely lead to another general election that would usher in Labour, shorn of its Blairite neoliberalism, and a movement to reverse Brexit. The Tories would rather commit seppuku en masse than enable that outcome.

  19. Mickey Hickey

    Both groups in NI hate each other with an intensity that has to be seen and heard to be believed. Each group is quite willing cut off its nose to spite its face. I have had NI employees in my employ in Canada and my brothers have had broad exposure to NI employees on oil and gas production facilities around the world. We agree that NI employees sabotage each other but oddly enough are neutral toward people from the ROI. Theresa May is a fine, upstanding, decent and intelligent person who is being sabotaged by Conservative Party militants. NI is a tar baby and anyone that touches it will unsurprisingly come away soiled. It should be understood that the British Gov’t holds the purse strings and has now determined that the NI Gov’t is dysfunctional and as a result is being governed directly by the British Gov’t. There is no Gov’t in Stormont because the Sinn Fein (Nationalist) and DUP (Unionist) disagree over introduction of the Gaelic Language into NI schools. My opinion of the Gaelic language which was the language of instruction in the Primary and Secondary schools I attended is that it is less useful than Latin or Greek which I also learned. Gaelic reminds me of the Monty Python – Dead Parrot skit, it is beyond resuscitation. But Sinn Fein are demanding that it be made part of the NI school curriculum, DUP refuses. Most people in the ROI support DUP in this particular matter. Northern Irish society as a whole are irrational to the point where Theresa May is correct when she says (as reported in the British Press) that a tsunami like event that sweeps them all into the Atlantic is a probable solution. The ROI Gov’t could be persuaded to rule NI if Britain coughs up far more than the Euro 60 billion that the EU is demanding to facilitate a graceful exit.

    1. doily

      Since 1998 at least, the two opposing communities in NI have got along with a spirit of consideration and accommodation, in life and in the workplace, that has to be seen and heard to be believed. Theresa May is getting exactly what any Tory leader deserves. NI is a vibrant and beautiful place and anyone who touches it will come away surprised and inspired. It should be understood that the British government has no strategic interest in Northern Ireland and as a result no one is at present governing NI. There is no Gov’t in Stormont because all parties are waiting for the Brexit debacle to shake out. One reason for the drastic decline of the Irish language is its exclusion from the education system for centuries. The language is experiencing a modest revival in Belfast, and can be heard on the radio, in pubs, and coffee shops in some neighborhoods. Theresa May’s opinions about Ireland’s relationship to the rest of Europe or the UK have demonstrated themselves in recent days to be entirely worthless. The ROI government will be persuaded to rule NI if and when majorities on both sides of the border say they want it.

      1. Mickey Hickey

        The British Parliament situated in Westminster is the Supreme Legislative body of the United Kingdom. It alone possesses Legislative Supremacy and thereby Ultimate Power over all other political bodies in the United Kingdom. Up to 1922 the people of what is now known as ROI had no doubts whatsoever about what is meant by Supreme Legislative body and Ultimate Power. What it meant on the ground was one of my ancestors was beheaded for trading directly with Spain and Portugal and had his head displayed on a pike in front of Windsor Castle. It also meant that the British Parliament in Westminster relinquished power over the ROI in 1922. Michelle O’Neill and Arlene Foster would be well advised to patch up their differences (impossible perhaps) before they are both hoist by their own petards. Petard is a sixteenth century word which is where both of them are now stuck.

        1. doily

          Thanks it’s good to be reminded about the supremacy of the British parliament, and how that operated vis a vis Ireland before 1922. But what has parliament been doing with that supremacy vis a vis Northern Ireland over the last 30 years? Walking away from it as fast as tactically possible, as far as I can see. In 1985 Margaret Thatcher signed the Anglo Irish Agreement which delegated matters regarding justice, cross border relations, and devolution generally to an intergovernmental conference with the Republic of Ireland. The Agreement also declared that “if in the future a majority of the people of Northern Ireland clearly wish for and formally consent to the establishment of a united Ireland, they will introduce and support in the respective Parliaments legislation to give effect to that wish.” In 1990 the Tory Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Peter Brookes declared that Britain had no “selfish strategic or economic interest” in Northern Ireland and would accept unification, if the people wished it. “It is not the aspiration to a sovereign, united Ireland against which we set our face,” declared Brooke, “but its violent expression.” The Good Friday Agreement (GFA) establishing full devolution followed in 1998. The Unionist politicians who negotiated that agreement were destroyed in subsequent elections, replaced by the DUP which opposed the GFA tooth and nail and obstructed its implementation as best they could. But at St Andrew’s in Scotland in 2006 the DUP signed themselves up to a tweaked GFA and the British government further devolved power to the NI Executive. Since 2006, if a Stormont coalition fails or can’t be formed, fresh elections are to be called. Direct rule can only be implemented by the passage of fresh legislation in Westminster. This is hardly high on Theresa May’s agenda. Thus no one is at present governing NI, and this has been the case for 11 months now, apparently because no one wants to, least of all the present batch of Tories in government.

          People say the GFA is dead. Well, clearly it was never destined to last forever. Unionists never wanted it; nationalists look forward to its supersession. But it’s not dead yet, because there is no alternative yet. And for those who are in the habit of regarding Irish-British relations as a thin skin of civility covering seething 800 year-long animosities waiting to violently erupt, it is a brilliant example of what is possible, as Fintan O’Toole and others recently linked on NC have noted, and well worth a read.

  20. JBird

    Having some of relatives being basically Famine refugees I’ve always had some interest in Irish history. It’s all very interesting, tragic, sad and often depressing but I have never quite understood the apparent bone deep antipathy, or even akin to racism, by some of the English towards the Irish in the past. It seems to just bounce around the history I read.

    1. Anonymous2

      I am afraid (I write as a Scot) the English have long believed themselves superior to all other nationalities. It is a residue of Empire which was ascribed to the natural superiority of the English rather than happy accidents of geography such as being on the Western side of Europe when the Atlantic replaced the Mediterranean as the main route for European commerce, being protected from foreign invasion by the sea once James VI had acceded to the English crown, coal lying around on the ground in the North East of England etc.

      Although the Empire has largely gone, the belief in their superiority sadly remains in all too many.

      And of course the English secretly have a guilty conscience where the Irish are concerned, because of the Famine inter alia. Not that we Scots were without sin.

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