Article 50, Brexit, British Government, Irish border, Northern Ireland

#Brexit and the Politics of Hard Numbers

This blog was written on Aug 26, 2018.

Commons voteIn the end, democratic politics comes down to the brutality of numbers… of hard numbers. Either you have the votes to get measures through parliament or you don’t.

Politics is about being able to count. Ask the Australian politician Peter Dutton about hard numbers. Last Monday he believed he had the votes to oust the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and take the top job himself. He had the votes, as they say in Australia to ‘spill’ Turnbull but lost to Scott Morrison when it came to the decision as to who would replace Turnbull. Dutton counted the wrong numbers.

For a great part of the past 100 years parliamentary majorities and party discipline generally gave UK governments the numbers they needed in the House of Commons.

But not when it comes to Brexit.

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Article 50, Brexit, British Government, Irish border, Northern Ireland, Theresa May

There is Only One #Brexit Question: The Irish Question

May FosterBrexit, all comes down to this: The Irish Question.

As on so many other occasions over the past 200 years, the English, and it is mainly the English, do not know to handle the existential problems that Ireland creates for UK politics.

As we have done previously in this Briefing, it is well to remind ourselves that the UK voted to leave the EU. It was not pushed out, expelled or asked to leave. It decided to leave, and UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, determined, fairly much on her own it seems, that leaving meant leaving the single market, the customs union, the jurisdiction of the European Court and ending the free movement of people. The problems of Brexit are entirely of the UK’s making.

The EU didn’t start the fire.

Despite initial shock and deep disappointment, the EU has never sought to challenge the decision of the UK to leave. It accepted the decision and told the UK that its departure would have to be dealt with in accordance with Article 50 (A50) of the Lisbon Treaty. The key language in A50 reads:

In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. Continue reading

Brexit, British Government, Conservative Party, Negotiating, Northern Ireland

Dick Barton Word Games Don’t Work on #Brexit

This blog was written on May 21 2018

dick-barton1Between 1946 and 1951, BBC radio aired a popular thriller, Dick Barton – Special Agent. The serial followed the adventures of ex-Commando Captain Richard Barton who, with his mates Jock Anderson and Snowy White, solved all sorts of crimes, escaped from dangerous situations, and saved Britain from disaster time and again.

It gave rise to a popular catchphrase of the late 1940s “With one bound Dick was free!” No matter how dangerous the cliffhanging situation Dick found himself in at the end of each episode, he would always escape by the easiest and most completely implausible method, ready to face danger yet again.

It seems that the UK government believes that it has found a “Dick Barton” escape from the troubles by which it is beset on all sides by Brexit.

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Article 50, Brexit, British Government, Conservative Party, Irish border, Northern Ireland, Theresa May

They Paved Paradise and Put Up a Parking Lot #Brexit #BrexitShambles

This week’s blog was written on May 8, 2018
borisAs of today, May 8th, the day after a long, hot, holiday weekend, it is difficult to see Brexit ending well.

It is difficult to see how it even makes it to March 29th, 2019, the date on which the UK is due to leave the EU, with, it hopes, a signed Withdrawal Agreement providing for an orderly exit.

The fault for this state of affairs lies not with the EU but with the UK itself and particularly with the UK government.

Close to two years after the June 2016 referendum, thirteen months after informing the EU that it planned to leave, and with just over 10 months before it actually does leave, the UK cabinet is still debating the nature of the future trading relationship it wants with the EU.

Debating is too kind a word. Hand-to-hand, combat to the death between different factions more correctly describes it.

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Brexit, British Government, Irish border, Northern Ireland, Theresa May

#Brexit – Charging on…

Written on Monday April 9th 2018

LightThere is an old Chinese saying that you should always give your enemy a “golden bridge over which to retreat”. After the battle, you may need to negotiate terms with the other party and a bruised, battered and bitter enemy can makes for a bad negotiating partner.

Over many years involved in labour negotiations, I have also found that it is a wise negotiator who ensures that a golden bridge is available in case their initial plan does not work. This is known as having a Plan B. A necessary precaution for, to paraphrase Mick Tyson, “Everyone has a plan A until they get punched in the face”.

Sometimes, however, you can be faced with another party who seems determined to burn all bridges behind them or, at the very least, to pack them with enough explosives that they can be detonated at any time. For such parties, Plan A must be the only plan for if there is no way back, no Plan B, all they can do is to stand and fight, or push forward.

Call this the Charge of the Light Brigade stratagem and it usually results in disaster.

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Brexit, British Government, Irish border, Northern Ireland

A Proposal for a Northern Ireland Special Economic Zone – a way to stop #Brexit bringing back a border

By Tom Hayes & Derek Mooney  – Download this proposal as a PDF : NI Special Economic Zone Proposal

Introduction:

irishborder

We believe that Brexit is mistake, but we recognise that it was backed by a majority of voters in 2016 and that there is no serious move, at this time, to retest public opinion.

Similarly, though we think that the U.K. can still leave the EU while remaining in the Single Market and (‘a’, if not ‘the’) Customs Union and we sense that there is a cross party majority in the House of Commons for this position: it increasingly appears to us that this is an unlikely outcome as the leadership of both main parties seem determined not to pursue this sensible avenue.

In this context of the U.K. leaving the institutions of the EU while also exiting the Single Market and the Customs Union we are concerned with the public debate around the future of a hard border across the island of Ireland.

We are further perturbed by suggestions from pro-Brexiteers that technology is the answer and that the hard land border consequence of a resolutely pro-Brexit policy can be magically softened by “automatic number plate recognition” and “trusted traveller programmes”.

We believe that a possible solution to the border issue in Ireland may lie in Northern Ireland (NI) becoming a Special Economic Zone within the UK and, as such, remaining aligned with the EU Single Market and Customs Union.

We do not believe because a region has a different set of economic rules from the rest of the state that implies any form of constitutional divergence. Were NI to be both in the UK and in the EU’s integrated, internal market, this could act as a magnet for inward investment giving a major boost to the NI economy.
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Article 50, Brexit, British Government, Negotiating, Northern Ireland, Theresa May

Opting-Out and Opting-In on #BREXIT

This blog was written on March 9th 2018

Tusk IrlIn the Roman republic in the 2nd century BCE prior to the Third Punic War against Carthage, the Roman senator Cato the Elder is said to have concluded all of his speeches, no matter what the topic, with the words “Carthage must be destroyed”.

It seems to us that we should begin every piece we write on Brexit with the somewhat longer phrase: “The UK is not being expelled from the EU. It wasn’t even asked to leave. It freely decided to leave.”

Remarks yesterday by the UK’s International Trade Secretary Dr Liam Fox underscore the need to keep reminding ourselves of this basic fact. Dr. Fox said that “… the idea of (the EU) punishing Britain to me is not the language of a club, it’s the language of a gang.”

Apart from the gratuitous insult in referring to EU representatives as gangsters, Dr. Fox also fails to grasp the point that the UK is leaving the club and leavers do not get treated the same as remainers. “We want to partner with our fellow Member States”, he said. But that’s the point. They are no longer your fellow Member States. You decided that.

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Article 50, Brexit, British Government, Irish border, Northern Ireland, Theresa May

May: I Am Where I Am Because I Put Me Where I Am #Brexit

This Blogpost was written on Sat March 3rd, 2018

may snowIn the cold light of a snowy Saturday morning, UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s Mansion House speech yesterday can be read as an anguished plea to the European Union to help her out of the impossible position she has put herself in.

She knows the road she has chosen will result in the UK being economically less well off than it otherwise would have been, not to mention the loss of European and wider geopolitical influence.  But she is trapped.

Where Mrs. May finds herself is the consequence of decisions she herself has made. No one else. She now asks the EU to help her evade the consequences of those decisions by tearing up its own rules and laws, asking it to agree that the UK can be, at the same time in and out of the single market and the customs union, allowing it to pick the bits its likes and reject the bits it doesn’t.

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Article 50, Brexit, British Government, Irish border, Northern Ireland, Theresa May

That #Brexit Winding Road may be a Cul-de-Sac

This post was written on Monday Dec 4th, 2017.

may-tusk-junckerThere was a time, before the Internet and social media, when politicians could say very different things to very different audiences and get away with it. Not so today. To coin a phrase, what you say in Brussels is known in Belfast before you finish your sentence.

As I write this, at 18:30 Paris time, reports of what actually happened in Brussels today are still somewhat unclear. But it does appear that all parties thought a deal was done until the UK said no at the last minute. Speaking to Irish radio, the Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister), Leo Varadkar said:

“The U.K. had agreed a text on the border that met our concerns … I was then contacted by [Juncker and Tusk] and confirmed Ireland agreement to that text… I am surprised and disappointed that the U.K. Govt is not in a position to agree to what was approved today”

Reports suggest that the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) said it could not support the agreed text as it appeared to split Northern Ireland economically from the rest of the UK as Northern Ireland would, to all extents and purposes, still be in the EU’s single market and customs union while the rest of the UK would not.

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Article 50, Brexit, British Government, Brussels, Divorce, Northern Ireland

#Brexit: A Moment of Truth Fast Approaching

Written on Sunday Nov 26th.

Brexit4After we wrote our weekly Brexit Briefing last Friday, the news broke that the European Union (EU) had given the UK until Monday, December 4, to table revised and meaningful proposals on the three Article 50 issues, the rights of citizens, the “Irish question” and meeting financial obligations if it wishes the EU27 to agree at their December summit to move the talks to discussing the future relationship between the two parties. As Politico noted:

European Council President Donald Tusk set an “absolute deadline” of December 4 for the U.K. to submit a revised offer on the Brexit bill and a credible solution for the Irish border, telling U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday that otherwise it would not be possible to move on to the second phase of talks, a senior EU official said.

The official said May had accepted the timeframe, and that Tusk warned her if London misses the deadline, the European Council would not be able to declare “sufficient progress” at its December summit.

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