A Cordon Sanitaire between the EU and UK…

aerial photography of forest

Recent discussions about the Protocol in Northern Ireland have focused on the problems it poses for the DUP. But from an EU perspective it seeks to solve a far larger problem for the EU as a whole. Much of the analysis of Brexit has been in terms of it being an English nationalist project. What has been missed is the extent to which it is also a political libertarian project. Much of the driving force behind Brexiteer ideology has been …

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Rather than keep slagging off the DUP over the Protocol, let’s recognise their better points

Nerves on all sides are stretched like skins on a drum waiting to see what emerges from the forthcoming Protocol negotiations.  Every cautious word is parsed and construed for signs of progress or the lack of it. Make no mistake a big push is on for a positive outcome on two fronts; to end the deadlock in the relations between the UK and EU and to come up with enough to restore the DUP to the Assembly. Never mind the …

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The Protocol and the Founding Principles of the EU…

glass walled building during daytime

Treaties can be as dry as dust and as boring as old rope, which is why lawyers have to be paid to read them. But sometimes it is worthwhile to scan their more important provisions. This is how the 1957 Founding Treaty of Rome (official text not available in English), later consolidated and incorporated into The Treaty on the Functioning of The European Union describes its purpose on its very first page: PREAMBLE HIS MAJESTY THE KING OF THE BELGIANS, …

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EU Membership has been the making of Ireland…

yellow and black star illustration

New Year’s Day marked the 50th. Anniversary of Ireland’s accession to the EU (then EEC), the single most transformative event in our 100 years of independence. Indeed, our post-independence history could be neatly divided into two periods, pre- and post-EU, although many would trace the origins of Ireland as a modern advanced economy to the Lemass reforms associated with Dr TK Whitaker’s seminal 1958 study, “Economic Development.” There aren’t any soldiers marching or trumpets blaring to mark the event, but …

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The British and Irish governments mustn’t mess about. Time for Direct Rule by whatever name with Dublin support to tackle the cost of living crisis and move on to Assembly reform

We are teetering on a cliff edge of absurdity about calling an Assembly election “ nobody wants. ” From the DUP viewpoint Peter Robinson brilliantly  describes the contradictions in every party’s position except his own. He might have added that it was Chris Heaton Harris and his cronies in the ERG  who more than any other faction  got us into this trouble in the first place by championing a Withdrawal Agreement with the Protocol attached  under frankly false pretences. The …

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The political class will have to work hard to prevent Northern Ireland coming off worse in the UK government meltdown

As we treasure long memories in this distinguished forum, I offer 1973-4 as  the nearest parallel  to the  meltdown in government  we face today. In the UK as a whole the miner’s strike in 1973 produced power cuts and a three day working week.  Four months into ’74. Northern Ireland suffered its own exclusive version of power cuts all over again in the UWC strike, a loyalist revolt against the first fragile power sharing Executive that had been set up …

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The pennies are dropping: the UK government are starting to face reality over their mini Budget and restoring the Executive

By far the most important immediate question  for Northern Ireland is how to prevent the constitutional question dominating politics even more than before, at the expense of delivering government for  the people.  Apart from  threatening an Assembly election that would only increase instability, the British government has largely disqualified itself from influencing events in favour of a standoff over the Protocol, a problem they had exclusively had created.  Beyond formal courtesies the vital essential relationship  with the Republic went into  …

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Houses of sand: Unionism has a problem with younger voters. A huge one.

Whither the union. I find myself becoming weary as I write this. Articles about the demise of the union, about unionist malaise and mistakes, are so common these days that they all sound the same. I stopped writing them at one point because I had nothing new to add. Even now, people write these pieces with a weird air of arrogance. They want you to know that they and they alone have figured out that unionism is in a difficult …

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After the funeral of the age, back to the reality of today

The greatest public obsequies in history are over. The hangover begins now. The death of the Queen allowed millions to think of the nation as a big family which could unite at such a time.  Every nation or a distinct component of it needs an identity to survive.  For a large majority, the Queen was at the heart of it. Whether the unity survives both for the nation and- come to think of it- even the royal family- are quite …

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An example of leadership to follow

Electricity  bills set to soar to £500  a month in October, in my own area West London the electricity grid has hit capacity  and a ban on building new homes is in prospect  to 2035, rail  strikes with no end in sight, with nurses and teachers to follow and the possibility of a general strike to come…  Health and social care services in England face “the greatest workforce crisis in their history” and the government has no credible strategy to make the situation …

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The voice of sanity over the Protocol is drowned in Tory leadership Brexit frenzy

  Although by instinct I prefer to hunt for the substance behind political attitudes however perverse they seem, I’m reduced to calling the latest on the Protocol –   bonkers, plain and not so simple. The Tory leadership fight has tipped it into the surreal. First in a dash to complete his legacy, Johnson rushed to complete the Protocol Bill’s early Commons stages on the last full day on Thursday. Then it’s over to Lords in September and a new government. …

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On one thing MPs are agreed: the EU need to show greater flexibility. So is the Protocol Bill only “displacement activity?”

The mouse didn’t roar as the House of Commons sent the Protocol Bill on its way yesterday. “Only if enacted” said an uncharacteristically strident Jeffrey Donaldson, would the DUP go back to Stormont, advancing the curious argument that the Protocol Bill would “give back to the elected representatives in Northern Ireland the power to take the decisions that they have not been able to take.”(It would give them to Westminster not Stormont). Most MPs including the Conservatives who spoke, were …

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There are great dangers in Northern Ireland’s entanglement in the Tory Brexit mess. They must extricate themselves fast

From his analysis of the Protocol bill, I want to pull out Rafael Behr’s comments on how little Northern Ireland registers  in the wider media as itself, on merit . You can almost hear the groans from TV viewers,” Not Northern Ireland again”  in a situation even more incomprehensible to them than  the Troubles It isn’t every day that former prime ministers set old party enmities aside to deliver a unified message on a matter of national urgency. When John …

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Johnson sends an ultimatum to the DUP : return to the Assembly or we won’t proceed with the Protocol bill. Is the threat credible?

Political gaming  has intensified as the Times and the FT report that the UK government will not proceed with the Protocol Bill unless the DUP promises to return to the Assembly. As the bill will at best take a year to pass Parliament are the DUP being invited to buy a pig in a poke? Can this ultimatum over ride the DUP’s demands for “action not words?.  Is the briefing to the papers credible anyway except as short term pressure …

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How wise is it to play Protocol poker with a weak hand everybody can see?

What do you suppose Boris Johnson is up to with his on the face of it, kamikaze tactics over the Protocol Bill?  By pursuing the most aggressive line he seems determined to court a confrontation with the EU.  Can he be serious, even as a survival strategy? As Peston points out, where Johnson is on shaky ground is that within the Protocol there is explicit provision to suspend it, where there are ‘societal difficulties… liable to persist’ via its Article …

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Update: Tory civil war breaks out over the Protocol as reports say Johnson is backing an even harder line defying the EU

Larne Harbour 

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It’s still worth taking a punt on Boris. This time it’s in his own interest to compromise with the EU

In my last post, I was a lonely outlier when I argued that we had nothing to lose by giving Boris Johnson a chance to see what he can deliver.  I did so in full knowledge of his record and reputation.  I am unrepentant. At least equally irritating as Boris is the solipsism that assumes Northern Ireland is centre of world attention and reduces outsiders like the prime minister to bit players  in what Churchill called “the fearful integrity” of …

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Day light robbery of our democracy: the trap of the Anti-Protocol rhetoric…

Stairs going down.

Has there ever been a more ironically named political party across the UK and Ireland than the Democratic Unionist Party? The party, enabled by our broken political infrastructure, has graduated from padlocking swings in Ballymena on Sundays to effectively padlocking the doors to our democracy. It is currently holding the existence of democracy in Northern Ireland hostage, at the behest of an issue which they themselves have no idea what the issue being resolved looks like. Not only that: its …

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Give Boris Johnson a fresh chance to prove his sincerity and commitment. We have nothing to lose and much to gain

Ahead of his day in Northern Ireland, much media comment is focusing on Boris Johnson’s announcement of draft legislation later this week to unilaterally amend parts of the Protocol. This is both inevitable and regrettable.  Northern Ireland’s welfare is far more important than the abstruse game of higher politics. Boris Johnson’s article in the Belfast Telegraph deserves to be cautiously welcomed. It suggests a new level of engagement in all level of NI affairs even encroaching on  Stormont’s competences. Much …

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Incoherence in Westminster is just as great as chaos in Stormont

To use a well known term from political science, we seem to be in a right bugger’s muddle. Brinkmanship is the order of the day. Wobbling on the cliff edge is Liz Truss the foreign secretary, threatening to bring in legislation to allow business to disregard EU rules on GB-NI trade as early as next week. She argues  that existing  EU concessions would “ make things worse.” It focuses on the fact that grace periods mean the protocol is not …

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