The UK’s #Brexit politics is so bust that it even makes the #Dáil look good

This column appeared first on Broadsheet.ie

If you ever start to despair while watching Dáil Éireann live – stop, take a deep breath and think… well, at least it’s not as bad as the House of Commons.

While this may not offer a huge amount of comfort and certainly does not ease the frustration of seeing the current Dáil initiating some decent pieces of legislation, only for them to disappear into a black hole of money messages and other governmental devices designed to stifle debate, it is still something to bear in mind.

For decades I have been listening to some folks opining on how the UK political and legislative system works better than here. While some of this may have been driven by an element of cultural cringe, it was also informed by the idea that politics in the UK is more policy driven and based on ideas.

Irish politics, they argue, is just too tribal, too based around the centre. We do not have the benefits of the big policy debates and arguments between left and right as happens in the UK.

Continue reading “The UK’s #Brexit politics is so bust that it even makes the #Dáil look good”

Time to Revoke #Article50 and avoid a Johnson with an extension #Brexit

Boris Haircut

Boris Johnson – new haircut, new role?

Winston Churchill famously said that the United States always does the right thing – but only after exhausting all other options. If only the UK were somewhere near that point.

But it is not, it is still fumbling through just a few of the worst possible option while closing its eyes to the only right option now, revoking Article 50.

Theresa May’s speech last night was a disgrace. She appeared before the public with all the trappings of office, but with none of its authority. She tried to act like an authoritarian, an unpopular populist telling a divided public that it’s you and me against the others… against all those MPs stopping us from doing what we must do.

It was like a very bad live re-enactment of the disgraceful Daily Mail November 2016 front page that branded those judges who ruled that Parliament must be consulted on Brexit as: Enemies of the People.

It was a shocking performance and it is to be hoped that it is the one of the last acts of a British Prime Minister who may still be well intentioned, but whose continuance in office remains a blockage to any progress.

Continue reading “Time to Revoke #Article50 and avoid a Johnson with an extension #Brexit”

As she heads towards the political exit, @theresa_may is leaderless to the end #Brexit

My take on the various Brexit votes in the House of Commons this week. This appeared on Broadsheet earlier today (March 13, 2019)

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Over the past few weeks we have seen a parade of British pro-Brexit talking-heads confidently telling us that the EU/UK Brexit negotiations “will go down to the wire” and that Brussels will do, what they claim it always does, and make a deal at the very last minute.

David Davis was at it before he became Brexit Secretary and has continued at it since quitting the job. Ian Paisley Jr MP was at it on Newsnight last night, asserting that the EU “…are the kings of the last-minute fudge.”

How I wish that trite political phrases such as “going down to the wire” could be expunged from every politician’s lexicon.

It is an empty, meaningless phrase. It is on a par with someone watching you looking for your lost keys or credit cards and declaring: “it’ll be in the last place you look”. D’uh, yeah. It obviously will be in the last place you look… you are hardly going to keep looking after you find it, are you?

So it is with negotiations. They end when they end. It is hardly surprising that most negotiations go right on to the deadline you set. It is called a deadline for a reason, both sides knew it was the time framework they work within it.

There is even less depth to the phrase when it comes out of the mouths of Brexiteers because it only confirms that they haven’t (i.) realised that Brexit is not a negotiation and (ii.) bothered to find out how Article 50 works.

Continue reading “As she heads towards the political exit, @theresa_may is leaderless to the end #Brexit”

Ferreting for a #Brexit that travels…

This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Sept 25th 2018 

uk ferretJust when you thought Brexit could not get worse… guess what happens… it gets worse.

I am not talking about the last week’s Salzburg debacle (though I will later), rather I am referring to the news coming from the UK’s Brexit ministry yesterday that post Brexit an English person will not be able to travel to the EU with their ferret.

Was it for this that Margaret Thatcher hand-bagged Mitterrand and Kohl?

According to the latest guidance from Her Majesty’s Government on what might happen if there is a no-deal Brexit, British pet owners who want to take their dogs, cats or ferrets on holidays with them to the EU post Brexit will have to prepare for travel “at least four months ahead in advance of the date they wish to travel”.

No longer will they be able to just pop a ferret down their trousers and head away for a day trip to Bruges. It gives an entirely new meaning to the phrase compo-culture (apologies for that appallingly belaboured Last of the Summer Wine gag. Watching all those repeats on UK Gold has melted my brain).

Continue reading “Ferreting for a #Brexit that travels…”

Dean Acheson, Brex-iteers and Theresa May or…. Britain still looking for a role? #Brexit

This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on May 8th 2018 under the title: There is no Future in England’s Dreaming 

ACHESON

I opened my third Broadsheet column with a 1962 quote from the former US Secretary of State, Dean Acheson:

 “Great Britain has lost an empire and has not yet found a role”.

When that column appeared at the end of May 2016 the U.K. Brexit referendum vote was still three weeks away. We still had hope.

Almost two years later and Acheson’s quote seems truer than ever. Over the past few weeks we have seen increasing evidence that the UK Cabinet is incapable of agreeing a common and unified position on the Customs Union and the Single Market.

On one side you have the beleaguered Prime Minister and Tory leader arguing for a “customs partnership” that would see the UK just outside the existing EU Customs Union but remaining so aligned with it and EU standards as to render borders unnecessary.

Continue reading “Dean Acheson, Brex-iteers and Theresa May or…. Britain still looking for a role? #Brexit”

A way to stop the return of a post #brexit #border across Ireland, make the North a UK Special Economic Zone

(FILES) File picture of  British Prime M

Tom Hayes and I have just published a document entitled: NI Special Economic Zone Proposal outlining our ‘modest proposal’ for how the U.K. government can still avoid having its pursual of the worst possible Brexit policy causing a return of the border across Ireland.

To be clear, this proposal is not our preferred outcome. We would far prefer to see the U.K. remain fully in the EU and continue to be a strong partner and ally of Ireland as part of the EU-28.

We would prefer to see the U.K. remain within both the Single Market and Customs Union and minismise the disruption and damage that exiting the institutions of the EU that Brexit will bring. Continue reading “A way to stop the return of a post #brexit #border across Ireland, make the North a UK Special Economic Zone”

Might the Irish/Irish border be the issue that derails #Brexit?  

This is a Brexit analysis piece I wrote for the weekly BEERG newsletter on Nov 9th, 2017

(FILES) File picture of  British Prime M

During the course of a debate on “Brexit and the Bar” held at the annual Bar conference in London earlier this week, senior British and Irish legal figures raised questions over the compatibility of Brexit with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement (also called the Belfast Agreement), warning that the landmark peace agreement may even have to be renegotiated if Britain leaves the customs union as a result of Brexit.

Paul McGarry, SC, chairman of the Bar Council of Ireland, said that the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union and likely exit from the customs union was “incompatible” with the provisions of the deal on issues such as citizenship and the free movement of people, saying:

“A hard Brexit presupposes no membership of the customs union and no membership of the single market. If you start off from that premise, you are automatically looking at some form of border and that’s incompatible with a whole variety of things, [including] the concept of citizenship for everyone born on the island in the Good Friday agreement… It’s incompatible with the common travel area, which is not part of the Good Friday agreement but predates the EU.”

Liam McCollum, QC, chairman of the Bar of Northern Ireland, echoed this analysis saying that Brexit. “[It] is as an insoluble an issue as you could possibly imagine,” and would “undermine the Good Friday agreement”. 

Continue reading “Might the Irish/Irish border be the issue that derails #Brexit?  “

What Britain wants from #Brexit: a new EU of just 2 – it and the #EU27

This is my Broadsheet.ie column from August 28th, 2017 – the original appears online here

Britain's SoS for Exiting the EU Davis and EU's chief Brexit negotiator Barnier talk to the media ahead of Brexit talks in BrusselsAt around 4pm (Irish time) today (Mon Aug 28), British and EU negotiators will meet again in Brussels for the latest round of Brexit talks. The first item on this week’s agenda, we are told, will be Britain’s exit bill, with the Brits expected to set out their thinking behind how they will for calculating how much is owed to the EU when Britain leaves. The teams with then go on, over the following days, to discuss the two other key issues which need to be resolved during this first phase of talks: citizens’ rights and ensuring the Northern Ireland peace process is not jeopardised.

While the EU (by which I mean “we”) set out its position on the British financial settlement back in May, British ministers have been extremely reluctant to attempt to put a figure on it. While some, like Boris Johnson have huffed and puffed about making the EU go whistle for it, the UK’s Brexit Minister, David Davis, has sufficient political nous to see that putting a realistic figure on the divorce settlement will just throw raw meat to the Tory right, who imagine they can use their debt as a bargaining chip for better terms for the future relationship.

Continue reading “What Britain wants from #Brexit: a new EU of just 2 – it and the #EU27”

The perks of abstinence…?

This Broadsheet column first appeared online on June 12th 2017. In it, I explore the ramifications of the 2017 Westminster election result on politics in Northern Ireland, and suggest – borrowing heavily from an Irish Times article by Denis Bradley – that politics on the nationalist/republican side may be set for a major change over the coming year… www.broadsheet.ie/the-perks-of-abstinence/

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BBC NI

The results page from the BBC NI website – www.bbc.com/results/northern_ireland

While the outcome of the Westminster election was far from conclusive in England and Wales, the same cannot be said for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Only for the resurgence of the Scottish Tories under Ruth Davidson, Theresa May would be moving furniture rather than clinging to office by her fingertips. While the same Scottish result has, sadly, delayed the prospect of an Indy2 referendum, as the SNP Westminster representation collapsed from 56 seats to just 35 thanks to a 13% drop in support.

Continue reading “The perks of abstinence…?”

I hate to admit it, but @JuliaHB1 and other #brexiteers may have a point, just not the one they think

Here is my Broadsheet article from Sept 28th regarding the calls for a second #Brexit referendum vote. I would love to be able to support the call, but I cannot. Experience of re-runs of Irish EU referendums tells me that this is not an option in the UK given the high voter turnout.

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questiontimeI have to confess that my heart sinks a little whenever I hear English Tories or English nationalists, like Nigel Farage, mention Ireland during their rants about the EU. The reference is usually patronising or condescending or – even worse – is given in the form of advice that would have us join them in their march back to a glorious era that never existed.

This is why my heart sank when Julia Hartley Brewer, a British Talk Radio host, Leave campaigner and former political editor, stated on last Thursday’s BBC Question Time that the EU had forced Ireland, and other countries, to vote again on EU referendums.

Her comments came during the course of a discussion on whether Britain might have another referendum on Brexit – a proposal put forward by the failed Corbyn challenger, Owen Smith MP or that the UK might have a separate vote on the final deal hammered out on the conclusion of the Art 50 negotiations, an idea put forward by Tim Farron’s Liberal Democrats.

Though hearing Hartley-Brewer getting it badly wrong on the notion of the EU ‘forcing’ us to vote again made my heart sink a little, it sank even further when I realised that she and her fellow panellist that night Jacob Rees-Mogg MP (who looks like he is being portrayed by Joyce Grenfell) may actually have a point, just not the one they think.

Though I and other Remainers may wish it to be otherwise, the hard fact is that Ireland’s voting again on the Nice and Lisbon treaties is not relevant to the UK’s situation for one simple reason: turnout.

In the first referendum on the Nice Treaty (Nice I) in 2001 the turnout was just under 35% – the result then was 54% No: 46% Yes. At second referendum on the Nice Treaty (Nice II) in Oct 2002 the turnout shot up to just under 50% with Yes getting 63% and No dropping to 37%.

It was a broadly similar situation in the case of the two Lisbon Treaty referendums. In Lisbon I in June 2008 the turnout was 53%. No won by 53%:47%. At Lisbon II the turnout had again increased, this time to 59% with Yes now winning by 63%:37%

In both cases the turnout in the first referendum was low to start with, in the case of Nice I it was exceptionally low, just in the mid-30s, so there was a convincing argument to be made for a second vote, particularly when you felt that a second referendum would have a higher turnout.

This was not the case in the UK’s Brexit referendum. The turnout there was a whopping 72%. This is a substantial turnout. It is much higher that recent UK General Election turnouts, indeed you have to go back to Tony Blair’s 1997 election victory to find a UK general election turnout of over 70%.

The huge political risk you take by having a re-run second Brexit referendum in these circumstances is that you get a lower turnout. It is politically saleable to try to reverse one mandate with a smaller one?

To be clear, turnout alone was not the reason why there were re-runs of the Nice and Lisbon referendums. In both cases post referendum polling and analysis found that the main reason for voting “No” or abstaining was a lack of knowledge of either treaty. Both “Yes” and “No” voters were highly critical of what they viewed as a dearth of clear, accessible information on the treaty’s merits.

While the Remainers can clearly point to a lot of misinformation from the Leave side, not least the claims that leaving would mean £350 million extra per week for the NHS, they cannot yet point to any substantive research or analysis suggesting any changes in opinion.

Noted UK pollster, Prof John Curtice, reckons that there is little evidence of a “significant rethink” three months on from the result with those who voted Remain still convinced that they were right and likewise for the Leavers. Very few minds have been changed, though let us see if that remains the case as the details of the Brexit deal on offer emerge during the course of the next year or so.

The problem with all this abstract discussion on a second referendum is that it takes the focus away from the very real and tangible issues with the first result: most crucially that the Hartley Brewer, Farage and others do not want to honour the clear Remain majorities in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Instead they want to use the votes of English and Welsh people to forcibly drag Northern Ireland and Scotland out of the EU against their declared will.

This is no small issue, yet it is receiving scant attention in the UK and, sadly, here.

Voters in both Northern Ireland and Scotland voted convincingly to stay in the EU, by much bigger margins that the people across the UK voted to leave. Many of those voters in Northern Ireland hold Irish passports and are thus also EU citizens, even if the UK leaves. Can that citizenship – and the guarantees and privileges it offers – simply be snatched away from them on the say so of 50%+ of voters in the south of England?

As people like Michéal Martin and Colum Eastwood have repeatedly said over the past few weeks and months; trying to drag the North out of the EU against its will ignores the layered complexities of the Irish political process.

It is a refutation of the basic principles of the accommodation achieved in the Good Friday Agreement and that is something that concerns all of us on this island.

We should be debating and discussing this now. We should be looking at the significant consequences of Brexit for our economy, for our trade – both North/South and East/West, our education system, out health service.

We should not allow the foot dragging by the British Government on outlining its terms of exit to stop us from forcefully setting out our concerns and our alternatives. We need the speedy establishment of the all-island political/civic forum I called for here at the end of June. I know the Taoiseach and his team messed up their first attempt to get the idea up and running, but they need to go again and get it right this time.