Tag Archives: Brexit

Ireland and Brexit, four ways forward

In December last year, I started writing a post on Ireland and Brexit, which I never published because it seemed to have been overtaken by events: on 8th December, just barely in time for the EU mid-December summit, Theresa May agreed to preserve the Good Friday Agreement and the transparent border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. She had no choice: Donald Tusk had made clear in early December that EU-27 would be standing together and would collectively support the Irish government’s defence of Irish interests in preserving peace and a transparent border.

On 28th February, the EU Commissioners produced a draft agreement based on the outline Theresa May had agreed to in December. The UK did not produce its own draft agreement. Theresa May simply rejected it, claiming that no UK Prime Minister could possibly agree to the deal she had in fact agreed to in December.

But: if there’s going to be a deal for the UK at all before Brexit, it has to be set down in a form 27 EU governments can vote on and agree to, by 30th September this year. And that’s cutting it very, very fine and assuming that the agreement is something all 27 EU countries can vote Yes to.

And yesterday, Donald Tusk reaffirmed the EU position: the UK must provide a solution which includes a transparent border between the Republic and Northern Ireland, or EU talks will not continue.

As I see it, the UK government has four choices ahead of it:
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Ireland and Brexit

EU's chief Brexit negotiator Barnier and Britain's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union Davis attend a meeting in BrusselsThe UK’s Brexit negotiation team has been so fecklessly incompetent that their EU-27 counterparts thought this was a pretence and must be a trap.

The July photograph of the British team (on the right) sitting at the negotiation table without any briefing papers in front of them, while the EU team (on the left) all have a stack of paperwork, looks emblematic of the UK government’s lack of preparation. (According to British diplomats, David Davis’s papers were still in his bag at the time the photo was taken.)

The recent confirmation that the UK government will be paying the EU fifty billion or so, pretty much what the EU initially said the UK would have to pay to finalise the UK’s liabilities before Brexit, had Brexiteers Iain Duncan Smith and Nigel Farage squealing loudly that this was too much, that Theresa May and David Davis should have taken a harder line and refused to pay anything.

But with regard to the fifty billion bill, the only difference between a competent team of Brexit negotiators and the current crowd, is that a competent team would have realised last year that the UK had no choice about discharging our liabilities to the EU if the Brexit date was set before the end of the 2014-2020 budget period: would have taken that into consideration when deciding just when to invoke Article 50: and would have come to the table in Brussels prepared to dicker over exact amounts, not wasting time arguing that nothing at all should be paid. As far as we can tell, Theresa May and David Davis did none of these things.

Of course, a competent Prime Minister with a solid if small majority, wouldn’t have called a General Election after invoking Article 50, thus wasting three months of negotiation time – and losing her majority to be dependent on the DUP.

As a reminder: after June 2017, the Tories have 315 seats and are the largest single party: because Sinn Féin (7 seats) don’t sit in the Commons, and the Speaker doesn’t vote, an effective majority for the government is 322 and a formal majority is 325: the DUP have 10 seats. If all MPs of all other parties vote together, they muster 311 votes. So the DUP, the unionist and Brexiteer party in Northern Ireland, literally hold the balance of power in Parliament.

The issue about paying the EU billions to discharge the UK’s budget liabilities wasn’t even worth arguing about: the UK’s only leverage was to refuse to pay it and suffer hard Brexit, which would be catastrophic for the UK but only moderately damaging for EU-27.

Hugh Orde, former Chief Constable of Northern Ireland, on the Irish Border and BrexitThough some news reports described the problem of the Irish border as “unexpected”, the Irish border and the end of the Good Friday Agreement, was always going to be hugely difficult, and with the DUP in a confidence-and-supply arrangement to prop up the Tories, has probably become unresolvable by the current government.

I had initially here written a few hundred words summarising the history of Ireland in relationship to Britain, but Waterford Whispers points out that the UK public would most likely only believe it if it was written on the side of a bus. That’s probably true.

So, while it’s tempting to outline how the government of Confederate Ireland (1642-1649) was bloodily smashed by Oliver Cromwell and estates owned by Irish Catholics were then confiscated and redistributed to Protestant incomers, how the Penal Laws, enacted by the Protestant-dominated Parliament of Ireland that resulted from the land confiscations, ensured that Irish Catholics should become poor, be uneducated, banned from public office, and denied the right to serve in the army (a potential career path for even the poorest/most uneducated of men), and how “Irish jokes” which portray Irish people as stupid and ignorant, arise from the need of the English and the Irish Protestants to believe that it was okay to keep Irish Catholics poor and uneducated because they were naturally stupid: how after the Parliaments of Ireland and Britain were merged in 1801, while people in Ireland were starving during the Great Famine (1845-1852) in Westminster MPs debated on whether it would be right to provide food to the starving. But that would make this a very long blog post.

Even dealing with the 20th century only, there is the rebellion put down in 1916, two wars immediately after WWI ended and Sinn Féin won the general election in Ireland by a landslide and proclaimed the Irish Declaration of Independence in January 1919: the treaty accepted by the majority of the Dáil for the Partition of Ireland: and the formation of the Irish Free State, later the Republic of Ireland, and the separation of the six counties of Northern Ireland, which in 1922 and thereafter is part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Although the Troubles are dated in British history as beginning 5th October 1968, the cause was systematic gerrymandering for decades to ensure that Catholics in Northern Ireland were cooped ip in slums so that in local authority areas where Catholics were numerically in the majority, Protestants had a majority on the local government councils.

Thank you for your attention: let us move on to the present day.
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Capital City of Culture 2023

Glasgow 1990 - Cultural Capital of EuropeIn 1990, I remember posters that appeared on Edinburgh billboards. The posters announced that the Cultural Capital of Europe was to be found forty miles THAT way – arrow pointing to Glasgow.

Edinburgh and Glasgow have long had that kind of feud: Edinburgh, capital city of Scotland, city of the International Festival and the Fringe, the city that named its main train station after a series of novels by Walter Scott, the city that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which hosts the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery and the National Library of Scotland, the city that was known as the Athens of the North: but in 1990, Glasgow was the capital of culture in Europe, and Glasgow had no intention of letting that be overlooked in Edinburgh.
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Forty billion for EU

Before December, Theresa May’s Cabinet is going to have to agree to pay the EU around forty billion pounds – amount negotiable, but the UK government’s resistance to paying anything has meant they’re almost out of time to negotiate the amount.

Banoffee pieRobert Halfon, Tory MP for Harlow since 2010, Chair of the Education Committee and former government minister under both David Cameron and Theresa May, says of this payment

with austerity on the agenda ahead of Wednesday’s Budget, “if we start saying that we’re going to give £40 to £50bn to the EU, I think the public will go bananas, absolutely spare”.
Mr Halfon said he had backed Remain in the EU referendum, but added “we voted to leave, the public want to leave, and I cannot believe that the public would accept such a huge amount when we need money for our schools, our hospitals, our housing, and many other things”.

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Brexit, the four directions: nadir

The EUref results map

EU Referendum Results Map

Last week, I wrote and posted a series about the four possible directions the UK can go from where we are.

From a worm’s-eye perspective, the fourth option is least-worst: but the people most likely to face negative consequences for carrying it out and saving the UK from catastrophe or disaster, are the same MPs who would have to vote for it.

And regardless of how bad it is for us in the lower income bands, MPs are all in the top ten percent by income just from their salary: they have a generous expenses system, heavily subsidised food and drink at work, complete job security until the next general election, and a nice golden parachute even if they lose their seats then: they will not directly suffer from the economic disaster of soft Brexit, and though the catastrophe of hard Brexit might hit them, they’re better insulated against it than most.
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Brexit, the four directions: part 4

Front page of Telegraph 15th November 2017 - The Brexit MutineersThere are four ways the UK can go from here with regard to Brexit, and all of them are bad. We could go hard Brexit, or no deal – that’s catastrophic. We can accept the deal the EU is still prepared to offer us, soft Brexit, which may be only mildly disastrous but which won’t make anyone, Leaver or Remainer, happy: or the third direction, another EU referendum – which will inevitably stir up trouble, potentially very violent trouble, and there is no guarantee that a second referendum would arrive at the desired result; and time is running out.

The fourth, entirely constitutional option, is for the House of Commons to stop Brexit by a majority of MPs voting to revoke the UK’s invocation of Article 50 and remain in the EU.
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15/11/2017 · 12:50 pm

Brexit, the four directions: part 2

Boris Johnson in front of a Take Back Control posterThere are four ways the UK can go from here with regard to Brexit, and all of them are bad. Read the first direction: hard Brexit, or no deal.

Second: soft Brexit, the EU’s deal

Hard Brexit will be unthinkable catastrophe for the UK, and cause some damage to each of the EU-27 countries. EU-27 are prepared and ready to offer a deal to the UK, but as EU-27 are better-prepared to negotiate, have better negotiators, and are in a stronger position (they can survive the damage done by no-deal Brexit; it is uncertain whether the UK can or not) the deal for the UK on leaving the EU will be set in terms that will favour the EU.
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