Brexit: The Barnier Cliff

Seasoned negotiators will confess that at a certain point in deal-making, the intermediaries for the two sides often wind up shifting their loyalties and start working for the deal more than their principals. One tell is when the representatives start grumbling informally about the clients or their positions.

So it’s not surprising that EU member states are getting edgy that Barnier might be giving up too much to seal an agreement, particularly given how pig-headed the UK side has been and continues to be, as we’ll get to shortly, along with the fact that time really is running out. The Financial Times said that there was hope of Boris Johnson meeting with EU Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen over the weekend to settle the open points….but that sort of session was supposed to have happened weeks ago.

The proximate cause for EU worries was a Barnier largely-non-progress report last Friday. Per the Guardian:

Michel Barnier will be told on Wednesday that the EU capitals want full sight of any deal with the UK before it is agreed, amid concerns the bloc’s chief Brexit negotiator may concede too much ground in the final days of negotiation.

The member states have called on Barnier, who is in London, to address their representatives in Brussels in an early morning video conference to provide a full account of the latest developments.

A senior EU diplomat said they had confidence in Barnier as a negotiator but added there was some nervousness following his briefing on Friday where he had told the ambassadors of his “flexibility” over aspects of customs and border controls.

Barnier counselled that the British negotiators led by David Frost were yet to reciprocate by agreeing a robust system of dispute settlement, which he admitted could give “rise to concerns about cherrypicking”.

France continues to be the self-appointed heavy; recall that Barnier also had to have a chat with the fishing states, and it wasn’t clear if he got anywhere in trying to soften them up. Macron has long been the most vocal about protecting EU and member state interests, but the EU members recognize they have to live with each other, and Macron has yet to live up to any threat to throw France’s weight around. However, France by virtue of geography is understood to have even more at stake in Brexit than other EU nations, so his position might carry a bit more weight than it has until now. On Tuesday, the Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo joined Macron in a press conference to show EU resolve.

Despite Barnier having made noises last week about forward movement, it seems to be inches relative to the size of the gulf. The EU offered to give up 15% to 18% of its fishing rights in UK waters; the UK wanted to keep 80% of the fish, and it’s lowered its ask to 60%.

The wee problem, as we’ve mentioned before, that a considerable majority of seafood from UK waters goes to the EU. The famed British fish and chips use Norwegian cod. And no deal means tariffs, rotten fish, and fisherman going bust. From the Financial Times:

“If the tariff was only 5 per cent we would be killed,” said Mr [Ian] Perkes, the founder of a £5m-a-year fish exporting company. In fact, if trade talks collapse, the EU will soon be levying tariffs of 20 per cent on key catches like scallops.

The Guardian shows that the UK bargaining investment in fish is disproportionate. Repeat after me, 0.1% of GDP:

So what happened at the meeting with EU diplomats yesterday? The message was not just “no more compromises” but “take ground back,” which is simply na ga happen at this juncture. While Barnier has gotten ahead of his principals before and been reined in, to do so at this late hour would be fatal to the talks, unless that was the intent. From the Financial Times:

Mr Barnier on Wednesday was warned by nations including France, the Netherlands and Denmark that too much ground was being ceded to the UK, and they insisted it would be better to allow negotiations to drag on longer than to give in to the temptation of a quick deal this week….

According to participants at the Wednesday meetings, Mr Barnier emphasised that there was still significant work to do both on fishing and the level playing field.

Mr Barnier confirmed the EU and UK were discussing a transitional period for fishing rights and a broader review clause for the trade deal, sparking warnings from some of the bloc’s member states that they did not want to be stuck in a continual renegotiation with Britain…

On the level playing field, EU diplomats said Mr Barnier confirmed there was still disagreement over whether the UK would have a domestic subsidies regulator with “ex ante” powers to pass judgment on any state aid before it was given out….

Two EU diplomats briefed on the talks said if Mr Barnier cut a deal without this, then there would need to be sufficiently robust compensatory mechanisms to enable the bloc to strike back at the UK in other areas.

“Without a profound change in the British position, I would say a deal by the weekend is impossible,” said one EU diplomat.

Bloomberg’s account presented sharper disagreements between the EU hardliners and Barnier:

France warned it could veto a trade deal between the U.K. and the European Union if it doesn’t like the terms, piling pressure on the EU negotiating team not to make further concessions as talks build to a climax.

At a meeting of the bloc’s 27 ambassadors on Wednesday, the French envoy warned chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier of how bad it would look if he brokered a deal only to see it vetoed by EU leaders, according to a diplomatic note of the meeting seen by Bloomberg. Barnier swerved a request from ambassadors to see key parts of the text before it’s finished, with some of those present voicing concerns he might be giving too much away and leaving them with too little time to scrutinize any agreement.

While the article said some diplomats argued that they could live with not getting a deal done, since the UK would come back to the table in 2021, a source said that the views of France and its allies weren’t widely shared and that Barnier’s talk was to calm France down.

However, as Barnier was having to do cat-herding on his side, the UK was again demonstrating that it is a bad faith actor. From Tony Connelly at RTE:

European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has said that the future relationship negotiations would be in crisis if the UK introduced fresh legislation next week which breached the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Mr Barnier told EU ambassadors this morning that if the proposed Finance Bill contained clauses which “breached international law” there would be a complete breakdown in trust between both sides…

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney ruled-out any extension of the transition period for the UK leaving the European Union.

Addressing the Seanad Committee on Brexit, he said bluntly: “There will be no extra time. From 1 January, UK will be outside the Single Market and the Customs Union. This means new controls and procedures must be applied to any goods moving to, from or through Great Britain.”…

Diplomats said Mr Barnier thought the outcome of the eight months of talks would be decided in the next few days, possibly late on Thursday or Friday….

A diplomat from a country with concerns that Mr Barnier might give too much ground, said: “I am not sure what Barnier said managed to assuage concerns. Bridging the divide would require too big a leap.”

Richard North set forth the substance of the latest UK eye-poking:

The [Taxation] Bill is to set out procedures for customs and VAT after the end of the transition period which, if implemented, will override parts of the Irish Protocol to the Withdrawal Agreement, in much the same manner that we saw with the UK Internal Market Bill.

To make matters worse, this comes as Downing Street has pledged to overrule the House of Lords amendments on the IMB and reinsert the removed clauses, despite ministers having acknowledged that, in overriding the Irish Protocol, they breach international law.

With the UK having already ignored the Commission’s deadline to respond to its initiation of infringement proceedings – this latest move is seen as the “ultimate provocation” which could trigger a total collapse of the “future relationship” talks.

And from the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg:

Two well-placed EU sources were clear in conversation today that if the government pressed ahead with the controversial clauses in those bits of legislation before a deal had been done, it would kill the chances stone dead.

Several sources, recently the BBC and Politico, have discussed how close to the wire the talks could go given the need for Parliamentary approval. Mid next week appears to be the very latest conceivable time, and even that could effectively mean end of the weekend given the need to agree text to be sent on to each side’s principals.

But despite the UK’s continuing bad behavior, there’s a final factor favoring a deal that I must confess I had forgotten about. From Bloomberg:

Barnier pointed out that his role in the process is set to end this year. If talks were shelved until 2021, a new team would have to take up the baton and the EU would have to give it a new negotiating framework while at the same time grappling with the disruption of a no-deal outcome, according to the note.

That means if the talks fall apart and all sorts of things go haywire in early January, even if a chastened UK came back to the table in the next few month, restarting the negotiations would be have a lot of grinding of gears, starting with the EU having to come up with new marching orders for a new negotiating team. Plus there’s a human tendency to want to rethink and improve the work of others, even if it was good to begin with. And the EU, having been subjected to what it could reasonably regard as unnecessary disruption due to shambolic UK conduct, and knowing the UK was now in distress, would take many of the former agreed positions off the table, since nothing was settled.

In other words, if the two sides don’t come to an agreement now, it will be a new and ugly slog in 2021.

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  1. John A

    In the meantime Tory MPs are crowing that Britain approving the Pfizer vaccine first would not have been possible if still in the EU. This, by all knowledgeable accounts is a flat out lie. Another to add to the long list.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Thanks for mentioning that. I had wanted to work it into the post but ran out of steam. Trying to wrest a positive spin out of Brexit and the Covid train wreck. I gather specifically that the UK used some sort of existing EU medicines authority and the EU is going more slowly because they are cautious about safety.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        It was reported yesterday that the German government is delaying any approval of vaccines until 2021 primarily because they want the time to build up public approval of the process. While they may have an ulterior motive (i.e. delay a little to see if there is a good European alternative), this seems entirely sensible to me – there is a very significant chance I think of a public backlash against an over-hasty vaccine approval.

      2. DJG

        Yves Smith and PlutoniumKun: Yes, the Italian papers La Stampa and La Repubblica were reporting the same yesterday–the EMU (EU version of the FDA) is taking more time to ascertain that the vaccine is indeed safe. There were hints that the Pfizer approval in the U.K. is more P.R. than good medical practice.

        1. Ignacio

          Indeed. It is premature for a vaccine that will supposedly be deployed massively. Independently on whether there is early approval or not, I have personally taken the decision to wait until there is enough data gathered about 8-9 months after vaccination the soonest. I won’t bother to take a shot If I have no guarantee I have some protection after AT LEAST 6 months. Other decision making applies for people that consider themselves at high contagion risk.

          1. Harry

            Quite! I have started toying with a Sci Fi plot in my head.

            “In a dystopian future, the global population has crashed, following a pandemic. Ironically it was not the pandemic which caused the collapse in the population, but the vaccine, which resulted in an unforeseen massive reduction in human fertility when administered before puberty. The situation was disastrous, but the recriminations caused has even more severe consequences as it catalyzed the collapse of many governments in the post crisis world….”


            1. Robert Dudek

              I think it’s crazy for almost anyone under 25 to take this thing in the next few years, given that the risks of Covid to them are very very small.

  2. PlutoniumKun

    Yes, it’s been very obvious that various member States are getting worried about reports coming out of the negotiations. It’s inevitable I think that with everything going on in the world some leaders are taking their eye off the ball and getting an unpleasant shock when Barnier updates them. As you note, there is no way that Barnier or the Commission would want the embarrassment of agreeing a deal in principle, and then having someone veto it. It’s much harder to avoid this than appears at first glance (my guess is that Spain is more likely than France to take a hard line in the end).

    Another problem for the deal is that the closer we get to January 1st, the smaller the difference there is between the impacts of a deal or a no-deal (either will be very disruptive), so there is less of an incentive for any EU member to think that a walk out is necessarily disastrous.

    I also think that the overall calculus for many European members is shifting. It must be more and more tempting for them to see a UK induced ‘no deal’ as putting the EU in a much stronger position if and when the UK inevitably comes back after a few months asking for a trade deal.

    I don’t really know what London is playing at with the Finance Bill. I can only thing this is a residue of Cummings thinking, that by playing ultra hard ball they can use it to put pressure on the EU. But in reality, it has the opposite effect. Nobody in the EU is impressed by it, and it has deepened the genuine disgust among EU governments at the bad faith of London – and its been noticed in Northern Ireland that they are increasingly being used as a football by London. Unionists in Northern Ireland are noticing somewhat belatedly that nobody in London cares about them. Whether or not it is just a technical move (as claimed by London), the reality is that it is seen as a breach of good faith, and at this stage of the negotiations this is a very bad look. And it doesn’t seem to have sunk in with London that a Biden administration really will take Northern Ireland peace very seriously.

    It does seem clear that the EU has decided that it will not unilaterally stop the negotiations. They will go on until 11.59pm on the last day of November if necessary. In the meanwhile, Ireland, France and the Netherlands have been preparing for a no-deal for many months (this doesn’t mean everything is in place, but they are certainly far ahead of the UK). The EU will try to force the UK to either sign, or walk out.

    The reality is now that if a deal is signed, it is irrelevant as to what is in the document. It’s entirely down to No.10’s political calculation. In other words, which option will keep the Tory Party together, and Johnson in his seat (assuming he still wants to be PM, it’s not clear he does). My guess at this time (and it changes every day), is that No.10 will decide that a suitably dramatic walk out and no-deal will be the better option politically, the economy be damned. I think the Tories have talked themselves into believing that the damage won’t be too bad, and can be hidden under Covid.

    1. Biologist

      >I don’t really know what London is playing at with the Finance Bill.

      Speculating: Johnson et al. want to push the EU to walk away, and blame no-deal on them. It’s very stupid but it might seem clever to them. I’m also guessing that they don’t really think no-deal is that bad.

      I don’t think I agree with Yves that Barnier ending his term means a deal is more likely. Even if Barnier would stay in his seat, his mandate would have to be re-written as there’s essentially a new negotiation with a third country. A lot of the no-deal damage has then already been done, and EU member states would have no reason to not unpick everything of the ‘almost-ready-deal’ from before January 1st.

      On the other hand, Barnier himself might not want to go down the history books with ‘no-deal’ next to his name, so to the extent he has room to maneuver independent from the member states, he will push for a deal.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        I didn’t suggest that the loss of Barnier would be a make or break issue, but at the margin it could sway some EU countries to accept compromises, particularly since they are also sick of Brexit talks and would need to do a reset if the UK leaves with no deal.

        But as the rest of the post indicated, the gap between the two sides is very large and if the UK does not retreat on the Taxation Bill, it’s game over.

    2. David

      Yes, agree with pretty much all of that. As a number of us have been saying, the situation is such that the difference between “a deal” and “no deal” is going to be vanishingly small, simply because almost nothing has actually been agreed yet, and time is almost up. In the end, there will be “a deal” if both sides think it’s politically desirable to have something to sign, irrespective of the contents. My fear is that we’re getting into some weird kind of staring competition, where each side is hoping the other will publicly break off the negotiations, but neither is prepared to actually do so.

      What this means by extension, of course, is that negotiations are far from finished, irrespective of what happens over the next few days and weeks. Indeed, as long as there are practical problems resulting from Brexit that haven’t been addressed, this is politically inevitable. Some of the Europeans may just be waking up now to the realisation that negotiations, in some format or other, may be dragging on for years to come. And remember this isn’t just the UK coming and asking for things, it’s the urgent need to sort out practical, unresolved, problems that are going to cause headaches for various EU countries, in ways that for the moment we can’t even be sure of.

      On the French position, well, Macron played an unhelpful role last year, and that hasn’t been forgotten. His touch has in general been unsure, and I’m not confident he’s well advised either. Apparently, he recently read a book on De Gaulle, and decided to model himself after the General, so he may think that being tough with the Anglo-Saxons is good politics. But this is a very superficial understanding of De Gaulle’s strategy. More to the point, Macron has been having a hard few years, even if his ratings have crept up recently after his firm handling of the Islamist killings. But it’s not so much gaining political points he’s concerned about, but rather not losing them. Fishing is a good example. Most fishing communities in France are, for obvious reasons, based around small coastal towns, in regions where the people are traditional, family-oriented, churchgoing, and so vote overwhelmingly for parties of the traditional Right. It’s in this pool of voters that Macron has to fish, as it were, for enough votes to get him into the second round against Le Pen in 2022, and, perhaps more importantly, to give him a majority in parliament. This is not the time to sink the French fishing industry, already under severe strain.

      On Yves’s point, it’s true in my experience that negotiators develop a professional weakness with consists in assuming that agreement on anything is better than agreement on nothing. This is particularly the case towards the end of negotiations, when most people become sick of the whole process, and just want it to be over. Barnier is leaving soon, and he wouldn’t be human if he wasn’t trying to find the maximum wriggle room in his position, both to leave with something to show for all his hard work, and to avoid leaving too much of a mess for his successor. But given the way the EU works, that flexibility is going to be very small.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Thanks, yes (and sorry for the incoherence and errors of my post, I was in a rush and didn’t edit it).

        At this stage, I don’t think any of the coastal European countries, apart of course from Ireland, would see annoying their fishermen as being worth whatever a deal is worth now. Even here in Ireland I don’t really get a sense of desperation about the negotiations, there is more a sense of resignation that January is going to be tough and a deal only makes it a little easier to get through. When it comes down to it, December is a terrible month for a deadline, especially after such a tough year, I suspect that even the most seasoned of negotiators and politicians just want shot of the whole business.

      2. Yves Smith Post author

        The other issue is the negotiators are spending more time with each other than with their principals, so they do develop personal relationships, unless they are irredeemable jerks.

    3. vlade

      I agree with PK and David, especially with David’s point that the difference between a deal and no-deal will be largely fictional.

      But, in some ways, fiction is important, as for example pound will tank (at least temporarily) in no-deal scenario, and rise (again, temporarily) in a deal one.

      That said, in either deal or no-deal scenario, the rubber starts meeting the road (“you’re a self-responsible adult now”), and given the current Tory shambles, it’s unlikely to end well. To a non-trivial extent because the last Tory intake are ideologists who, as their cousins down below say, would not be able to organise a p-up in a brewery when it comes to anything practical.

      1. Harry

        The pound is slightly outperforming the Euro in this weak dollar trade. (ISK won the race this month, closely followed by BRL!). It makes me think that those who pay to be well informed already know there will be a “deal”. The “deal” may well be terrible, barely more than bones and functionally equivalent to a “no deal”. But it will be branded a “deal” and it will take weeks before we figure out that Kent is now a lorry park, and Felixstowe wont be paying Trinity Cantab rent for quite some time (or did they sell it?).

        We live in a post-truth world.

  3. c_heale

    To my eyes the whole transition period (I’m not talking about extensions to the Article 50 time period) was a massive mistake by both sides. It has led both sides to kick the can down the road and UK citizens to believe (and be misled by the Brexiteers), that few changes would happen. It’s nearly a year now and the UK public are only just realising how bad it will be.

    1. vlade

      TBH, I’m not sure they really started realisng what it will mean, as most of the signal was lost in the CV debacle.

      The problem is that the CV debacle hit most different industried that Brexit will. i.e. EU people would travel to the UK even after Brexit (although it’s entirely possible that fewer stag/hen parties would trave to the EU for cheep booze weekends). But things like car manufacturer, services etc. were far less hit by CV and will be far much hit by Brexit.

      So it’s like being slapped from both sides. While, if Europe gets some of the business that’s now done in the UK, it may help mitigate CV job losses.

    2. 3man

      To be honest with you, most people in the UK are more exercised about seeing family over Christmas, England’s Tier system, getting back into football stadiums and getting an hour extra in the pub.

      You also have to remember that we were here during May’s tenure when she threatened to jump off the cliff, so I think there’s an element of crying wolf in the response of people to this.

      I suppose it makes our job easier when we go to stock up at the weekend – less queues.

  4. kk

    No deal is bad, deal is bad, delay is bad, renegotiate next year is bad. So from the UK government’s point of view it is which bad is less bad?

    1. PlutoniumKun

      The bad that is less bad to them is the one that keeps the Tory party together and the current bunch of Ministers in their seats – i..e the one that they can blame on someone else. I don’t think they’ve worked out which option this is yet, but that will be the primary driver of any decision.

    2. David

      I think it’s any option that makes the government look good, or at least less bad than for any of the others. Content, I think, is largely irrelevant. TBH I’m not even sure that keeping the Tory Party together is much of an objective anymore, partly because it’s increasingly difficult to do and may soon become impossible. The objective may just be to make off its the biggest chunk of it.

  5. The Rev Kev

    Michel Barnier has a lifetime as a serving politician and was already in his mid-60s when he took the job of Chief Negotiator. Could it be that he took on the job because he wanted one last spectacular coup to cap his career with and fix his place in the history books? Hard to know the motivations of another human being of course but if he wanted this desperately, it might have made him more willing to give concessions to the UK side in order to get some sort of deal over the line, much to the disapproval of the EU nations-

  6. LowellHighlander

    Does anyone know what the sides (i.e. political camps) in Northern Ireland are saying about all this?

    1. Halcyon (formerly AnonyMouse)

      They had Nigel Dodds, unionist (formerly of the DUP who helped prop up Theresa May’s gov’t) on Newsnight the other day (since no one from the government could be bothered to show up and talk about their Brexit policy at all; they essentially want to pretend it’s not happening.)

      Tbh it seems to me like they are in a truly impossible position. They have to support a deal because it might allow for slightly less friction at the border, which anyone who claims to want the best for Northern Ireland must also want. Yet they also have to back the Internal Market Bill which threatens to wreck the deal negotiations in the hope that there will be some way to ensure there are fewer trade barriers between NI and GB. It comes down to the fact that they’re in the middle of this impossible triad; you don’t want any kind of hard border between NI and ROI or NI and GB and this circle has not been squared successfully by anyone. Neither a deal or a no deal is going to make this problem go away, and the fudge we have at the moment has left them sunk.

      Naturally the DUP now realises that given that their handful of MPs are no longer relevant in Parliament any more, the Tories don’t even have to pretend to give a shit about what they want, and have therefore thrown them almost entirely under the bus. We know from opinion polling that many Conservative voters would happily ditch Northern Ireland if it meant Brexit could happen.

      Meanwhile I haven’t seen as much from Sinn Fein but I imagine that they are essentially playing it safe for now. Bide your time for a bit, allow the disaster to continue to unfold, whatever happens will be dreadful for Northern Ireland, and it will surely increase sentiment towards at least the idea of having a border poll, which has always been an option within the GFA. While the (Irish) nationalists gained in the recent UK General election and are an increasingly influential force in Ireland itself, it still seems a little bit “criticise, lay the groundwork, but wait and see”

      You wouldn’t want to really push for that until you were sure you could win. That would be the hell-breaking-loose and UK-breaking-apart moment.

      Some more polling info on that:

      1. PlutoniumKun

        That’s a good take on it so far as I know – I can’t say I’ve been following NI politics much lately (it generally requires a stronger stomach than I possess).

        You can generally tell that Unionists are confused and divided when they are unusually quiet – and they have been recently. The DUP have been talking off a standard populist right wing playbook over Brexit and Covid, but they’ve not done it with any conviction and the recent surge in Covid cases there has made them look weak and foolish. A hard line element is talking of taking to the gun if it looks like a London government is going to jettison them.

        ‘Moderate’ Unionism is in a real conundrum. The business classes know a hard Brexit is a disaster for them, and a deal which keeps them with one foot in the EU and one in the UK is the best of a lot of bad options. Its not gone unnoticed in the Republic that numerous Unionists have been exercising their right to get Irish passports. They won’t support a United Ireland, but there is a significant rump of traditional Unionism that doesn’t see it as the end of the world, especially if they can keep a foot in both camps (i.e. keep UK and Irish passports). Its this weakening of the spine that really scares the DUP. In terms of political dynamics, while ‘moderate’ centrist Unionists are relatively small in number, they do represent the Belfast business and administrative establishment. If they decide that looking to Dublin/Brussels instead of London is in their interests, it completely flips the balance of NI politics.

        Sinn Fein are biding their time. They know that the worst thing to do would be a premature border poll. They only want one when political circumstances and demographics are firmly in their favor. So they are content to do all they can to keep a lid on things and wait for an opportunity. One such could be the next Irish elections – Sinn Fein are flying high at the moment in the polls both north and south. So they have no interest in doing anything but playing the ‘respectable’ card politically. They would never admit it openly, but Brexit is the best thing that has happened to Sinn Fein in decades, and a no-deal would be even better. The only thing they fear is border chaos leading to a revival of the various republican splinter groups that still exist. Sinn Fein are determined to show that they are the one and only voice of nationalists in Northern Ireland. With Biden in the White House, this is particularly important, this guarantees them a very prominent seat at the table when the worlds media starts paying attention.

        All sides in NI are keeping a close eye on Scotland. If Scotland goes for a referendum, that will precipitate major moves in NI. NI as part of the UK is clearly untenable if Scotland goes for some form of independence. Bear in mind that most Northern Ireland loyalists are of Scots blood, not English.

        1. David

          I’d be interested to know if you (or anyone else) has an informed estimate of how big the hardline Unionist element in NI is, and whether, for example, they have supporters among the PSNI. I ask this because no UK government in recent times has ever had much sympathy for the Unionists or their cause, and public opinion has always been hostile, when it’s not just indifferent. The only thing that has ever really stopped Ulster going the way of Hong Kong has been fear of the Loyalist backlash that might result (and at the time, of course, no government could be seen to be giving in to the IRA either). Breaking up Loyalist terrorist groups was one thing, but using the Army directly against any kind of Loyalist uprising is just about unthinkable. Not that there’s much of an Army left these days anyway.

          1. PlutoniumKun

            I think a good proxy for ‘hardline’ elements within the Unionist population is that it is somewhere between the low church protestant population (around 22%) and the maximum DUP vote (around 30%). Many recent DUP voters don’t like their overall politics, but see them as a bulwark against Sinn Fein and other Unionist parties as useless, so their core vote is probably significantly less than 30%. The core of the ‘hardline’ vote is of course Scots-Irish Presbyterians and Methodists, while the softer Unionism is the more middle class High Church Protestantism with what used to be called ‘castle catholics’ (i.e. unionist Catholics). The latter are an endangered species as there is increasingly little attraction in the UK of today for establishment middle class catholics who are as likely now to get a good job in Dublin as in London. I’ve noticed with some surprise some in-laws of mine who were proud Castle Catholics but have recently become much more enthusiastic about Dublin (not least because at least one aspires to a job in Brussels). One of the unusual features of post GFA Northern Ireland is the radicalization (in the direction of Republicanism) of middle class Catholics as they’ve climbed the economic rungs. In the meanwhile, high church Protestants have been voting with their feet and Scots Irish have been falling behind economically as they’ve been dragged down by the death of traditional industries.

            Opinion polling is of course notoriously unreliable in Northern Ireland so its hard to know what the ‘soft middle’ really thinks, but I think its fair to say that around 25% of the population identify as Republican, maybe 15% would be ‘moderate’ nationalists (politically conservative/centrist), 25-30% would identify with more hardline loyalist/Unionism, with maybe 15-20% identifying with a soft Unionism (i.e., those that would accept a border poll that went against them). The number of people who refuse to identify with either would probably be well under 10%.

            It should be remembered of course that historically there was a very significant Unionist/loyalist population in the Republic – and not just in border areas – when it became independent – many elements were quite active in the ‘security forces’ at the time, but it never radicalized on independence, despite occasional provocation in the aftermath.

            Its not available online, but the satirical magazine the Phoenix regularly does articles on the rump of Loyalist sympathizers within the PSNI. I’ve no idea how accurate it is, but its generally well informed, albeit from a general angle of being sympathetic to Republicans. But its certainly run quite a few stories of ongoing collusion between the PSNI and Loyalists, and will no doubt have a lot to say about the recent refusal of London to have an inquiry into the killing of Pat Finucane, a solicitor who was shot by Loyalists almost certainly with some collusion with some policemen.

            The big issue with Loyalist terrorism of course is that it mixed viciousness with almost complete tactical incompetence. They were heavily dependent in the early days on members trained in the UDR, not to mention weapons that leaked from that unit. Most have graduated to local thuggery, and they aren’t even particularly good at that. I doubt that they have access to anything better these days, but you can never rule out someone competent and charismatic emerging who could shake things up. But all they could do right now is burn a lot of cars and generally create localized havoc. The PSNI would probably deal with them, although its anyone’s guess as to whether all its members would really crack down hard if things got really nasty.

  7. Fazal Majid

    The Dutch and Danes are some of the most anglophile countries in the EU. If even they are concerned about too much being given away, that would indeed suggest it is. That’s odd, though, because of the professionalism shown thus far by Barnier and his deputy Sabine Weyand, compared to the tub-thumping bloody-mindedness of Frost. I wonder if this is just show to make a climb-down more palatable to the British (“my boss is going to fire me for giving you this amazing deal, but…”).

  8. DJG

    I have been thinking a great deal, of necessity, of the failure of discourse (or conversation or whatever it is) in the Anglo-American world. One of my favorite quotes is from a cookery book by the estimable Patience Gray:

    Patience Gray, Honey from a Weed:

    –If Tuscan vegetables are sweet and have an aromatic savour, English vegetables are grown for substance. Italian conversations in the same way are delightful effluvia, which quickly evaporate. In England you get the equivalent of substance—an argument. The nature of the Italians resembles earthy emanations; in England what you have is “character.”

    What you get is wrangling. Endlessly. If culture matters, what we are likely to see, if we aren’t seeing it already, is that the continental Europeans are giving up on the English. (Just as the Scots seem to have given up on the English.)

    Yet response is likely to be: “But what about the smoked haddock?” Anything to dominate the discourse.

    Truly, Twitter is something that could have come only from the Anglo-American world.

    The problem with “character” is that the English in the form of the English government are not revealing the substance that they think that they are revealing.

    As an American, I’m wondering what possible benefit the Special Relationship has for the U S of A besides use of the words “amongst” and “bespoke” among the chattering classes here.

    1. apleb

      The benefit are unsinkable aircraft carriers. Not only Airstrip One but also Diego Garcia and other former colonial leftovers all over e.g. listening stations in Cyprus and elsewhere. Plus the personal connections with many former colonies, then a guaranteed additional UN security council vote, etc.

      Definitely a lot more benefits than the other special relationship which is not even named thus.

      1. c_heale

        The US could just take them over or buy them from the UK! I can’t see how the UK has any real influence over Diego Garcia anyway.

        1. c_heale

          I think there is a good possibility the UK is gonna lose all these other remainders of empire if Scotland and NI go. Isle of Man, Gibralter, The Falklands (Malvinas) etc.

  9. Ignacio

    Though fishing is a small part of income in all EU countries, mismanagement of fisheries has a disproportionate impact in shoreline provinces/regions that depend very much on it, so being fishery-populist might be an easy way to gain minds and votes regionally. Above all, the mismanagement of fisheries has a brutal impact on the all important marine ecology. Cooled blood is in short supply when negotiating fisheries, so appears. Cod is now in big trouble, critical in the North Sea and not as healthy as previously supposed in Norway / Svalbard.

  10. John Jones

    David Henig makes some rather valid points in Prospect Magazine – The obstacles to a Brexit deal are not what you think……

    “We focus on what is happening between the two parties when the discussion within them is what really matters for the outcome. The deal, after all, can only take place in the space between the red lines of the two parties, dictated by their respective visions. So what about when neither side is quite certain what it wants? On the EU side, there is no existing model which it thinks works for the UK. Neighbourhood policy is aimed at smaller and weaker countries. Deep integration is for potential future members (except for states in the European Economic Area, which reject full membership but still follow EU rules). Free-trade agreements are for distant countries, small and large.

    There is an awkward compromise relationship being constructed for the UK, consisting of parts of all of these. It isn’t comfortable, not least as there is a fear of the UK undermining the single market by deregulating, hence the insistence on a level playing field. The fear is that the UK is being given too much, and offering too little, in the absence of an appropriate off-the-shelf model.”

    Truth is what others have said – deal or no deal is going to be hugely disruptive – statesmanship on both sides seems to have been a forgotten characteristic and in the A50 & political declaration protocol there was no self righting mechanism.

    The UK government has played a bad hand badly – the EU completely misunderstanding that to many leavers ,it was never about economics or the money.

    The real problem now is the unintended law of consequences – with Covid 19 more likely to be in mainland EU longer because of the much vaunted precautionary philosophy, the probability of disintegration contagion becomes significantly higher and more dangerous.

    We the people get what we deserve .

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