Category Archives: This Union

The DUP prioritised The Union. Unionists do that.

 

 

 

 

 

The whole point of the DUP is to safeguard Northern Ireland’s position within the UK. As unionists, they believe in the nation state and see the UK as the rock on which our prosperity, security and identity is built.

It is unsurprising that these views have lead them into a strongly pro-Brexit stance, though even then there is a pragmatism to their politics that is sometimes missed. The government would have known what the DUP’s red lines were before the latest round of talks hit the buffers.

The Irish government denies the charge that it asked that Monday’s Brexit paper be kept from the DUP, but the reality is that the DUP had received only an emollient verbal briefing and had been asking for days to see a paper. It was passed to them only as Theresa May was going to lunch in Brussels; the frantic phone calls that followed stopped the deal in its tracks.

The issue of the Irish border is important, but not as challenging as the Irish government has made it.

Irish ministers say they were offended by the lack of attention to their concerns during the referendum, but later accepted that the UK government was taking steps to make the border as light as humanly possible. They also knew that the DUP wanted much the same as them, in terms of its practical functioning.

There isn’t anyone in Northern Ireland wants to be stopped at the border on their way to catch a plane in Dublin for Marbella.

Inside the EU, both Ireland and Northern Ireland are part of the single market and customs union so share the same regulations and standards, allowing a soft or invisible border between the two.

Britain’s exit from the EU – taking Northern Ireland with it – risks a return to a hard or policed border. The only way to avoid this post-Brexit is for regulations on both sides to remain more or less the same in key areas including food, animal welfare, medicines and product safety.

Early drafts of the agreement Britain hoped to get signed off on Monday said there would be “no divergence” from EU rules that “support north-south cooperation”, later changed to “continued alignment” in a formulation that appeared to allow for subtle divergences.

But it raised new questions about who would oversee it and how disputes might be resolved, and wording being publicized on Monday last was clearly a step too far for the DUP.

Until last June the Irish prime minister, Enda Kenny, had fully cooperated with the authorities in Northern Ireland. Quiet meetings on Brexit took place between civil servants in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Constructive work took place in preparation for an electronic border.

When the new Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar took over in June all of this stopped, and a harder line emerged from Dublin.

Brexit was viewed as the UK’s responsibility, and Ireland would play no part in agreeing any border, no matter how light.

The Irish government even appears to have entertained the notion that it could nudge the UK, or at least Northern Ireland, into remaining within the single market and customs union, and was prepared to veto a move to Brexit trade talks to achieve this aim.

The DUP is a party of seasoned negotiators and they react calmly and logically to such difficulties. If they sometimes seem over-sensitive about maintaining the UK union it is because they feel that the Irish government will undercut their position at every opportunity.

Only last week the Irish deputy prime minister, Simon Coveney, stated that he wanted to achieve a united Ireland in his political lifetime.

The DUP’s weakness, however, is that it fails to give priority to explaining itself to a wider UK and EU public opinion. As a result, the weak Irish arguments that Brexit somehow endangers the peace process or undermines the Good Friday agreement have been allowed to take hold.

Neither argument bears much examination, but importantly they have received minimal examination – and have been repeated unthinkingly in the British media.

The UK government’s position paper in August laid out practical ways to make the border virtually invisible. No one is talking about stopping individuals at the border. Nor is it necessary to stop lorries since customs clearing by computer and electronic number plate-recognition technology are all available.

The Irish are not interested in any of this because the issue, much as it is to the DUP, is to them one of national identity. A Northern Ireland outside the EU makes it feel more detached from Ireland. To the Irish government this is unacceptable. End of story.

Strangely, the Irish government is not talking about border tariffs, and perhaps it expects a UK-EU free trade deal to be agreed later. They demand instead that EU regulations be preserved in Northern Ireland.

This demand was met on Monday by a British offer to “align” regulations, mainly in agriculture and energy. Since Northern Ireland’s important food producers need to meet EU regulations to export into Ireland and the rest of the EU, it is easy to imagine that such regulation is possible.

Standards are already world class and will not be dropped. Such proposals need, though, to be much more carefully thought through than was the case on Monday.

The bottom line is that the DUP could not countenance any change that would involve border checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

As the UK has become a looser union, it has permitted such things as differing tax rates in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but internal border controls are, to coin a phrase, the final frontier.

As it stands, the agreement needed to move to stage 2 of UK/EU discussions on trade has been finessed, without the DUP threatening to bring down the government, something they would prefer to avoid at all costs.

The lesson of the past week for the UK government is that much better communication is needed, internally and externally – communication planning is a crucial part of negotiation too.

 

Graham Gudgin is chief economic adviser at Policy Exchange

A version of this article appeared in the Guardian, before the announcement that there was an agreement to be able to move negotiations forward to stage 2.

Graham Gudgin and former Irish diplomat Ray Bassett offer “Perspectives on the Irish Border and Brexit negotiations”  

 

The UK is trading just fine, together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a brief response to Ed Conway “The UK is becoming a disunited Kingdom”writing in The Times (£) on 8th December. 

Mr Conway – Sky News Economics Editor – argues that the various UK regions do not constitute an “optimal currency area” and should not be sharing a single UK market and common currency.

Normally questions of single markets and currency areas would be the stuff of arcane economics – the sort of thing I’d be teaching to second and third year university students. However, it is pretty clear how commentary like Mr Conway’s could play into some current debates.

An intuitive presentation of what an optimal currency area might go something like this- because Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Newcastle-under-Lyme and Newcastle County Down do a lot of trade together it makes most sense that they share a currency: the pound sterling.

But imagine a town called Neuburg in Germany, the flow of trade between Germany and any of the UK Newcastles would be much smaller. Also, many other economic conditions would vary between the UK and Germany. Therefore, it makes sense for the UK to use the pound and Germany to use a different currency (the Euro, at the moment).

But, back to Mr Conway.

His argument that the UK-wide single market and currency area is breaking up is rather exaggerated.

He claims, for example:

 “…Northern Ireland is edging closer to its immediate neighbour”

However, the most recent data show that 86% of all of the sales of the Northern Ireland economy stay within the UK – 66% to Northern Ireland itself and the rest to GB – compared to only 5% to the Republic of Ireland.

Other UK regions are also trade dependent on the rest of the UK.

The UK optimal currency area/single market still has a strong economic rationale.

 

Dr Esmond Birnie – Economist

That was the deal that wasn’t.

 

 

 

 

 

What might have been the economic impact on Northern Ireland if the Prime Minister had in fact accepted the deal which was proposed by Brussels on the morning of Monday 4 December? Here are some key points:

  1. In order to ensure regulations continued to be aligned between Northern Ireland and the EU notwithstanding any changes in the rest of the UK, this deal implied a substantial increase in the extent of devolution to Northern Ireland.

That begs several questions. Even if we assume devolution can be restored, would it be sensible to give Stormont extra powers when we’ve seen just how erratic the progress of devolved government has been in its almost 20 years 1999-2017?

  1. If regulatory harmony between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (plus the other 26 EU members) is obtained at the price of opening up a regulatory gap between Northern Ireland and Great Britain that will imply a very large economic cost.

Unionist? Don’t be shy.

 

 

 

 

 

At a recent gathering of representatives of what could be called Unionist ‘middle Ulster’ – middle class, middle ranking, middle politics citizens – one attender made an interesting observation. She had returned to Northern Ireland after a long spell in the US and was struck by the political timidity of those Unionists she encountered.

She thought that both instrumentally – they understand the social and economic importance of the Union for the well-being of people in Northern Ireland – and non-instrumentally – they have strong affinities with what academics might call British ‘values’ – these people are solid in their beliefs and convinced of their identity.

In other words, they do not share that fashionable condition which lazy journalists or convinced nationalists think is gnawing away at them: there is no ‘crisis of identity’ (whatever that may mean); nor do they doubt their allegiance to the United Kingdom (despite being mainly supporters of the Ireland rugby team).

So why is it then, she asked, that one rarely hears these people publicly? How is it, when it comes to civil society, there is a crisis of representation? What is the reason for soft nationalism being apparently the default position of those in positions of authority?

A sensible deal on the Northern Ireland border is very achievable

 

 

 

 

 

Brussels and Dublin should stop playing games.

Hell hath no fury like a Commission scorned.

Since the UK is breaking up the European Commission’s cherished Union, the Commission retaliates by supporting those wishing to break up the UK.

The first attempt was Jean-Claude Juncker’s wooing of Nicola Sturgeon when she visited Brussels to drum up support for Scottish independence. The hugs and kisses to camera signified EU support for her efforts, but it all came to nought as falling oil prices rendered an independent Scotland financially unviable.

The second attempt will be equally futile but could cause trouble along the way. This is the suggestion in a Commission document ‘Dialogue on Ireland/Northern Ireland’, leaked last week, that ‘it is essential that the UK commits to avoiding a hard border by remaining part of the EU customs union, and continues to abide by the rules of the EU single market and customs union’.

Mind your language

 

 

 

 

 

Ever since Irish Republicans realised they had lost their so-called ‘armed conflict’ there was no doubt that culture wars would emerge to take precedence. That became apparent in the development of residents’ groups and the demonization of parading – it was no coincidence that among the first targets were parades relating to Somme Commemoration.

The latest frontier is the Irish language – rather the specific Irish Language Act,  the latest campaign on the front line of Sinn Fein’s culture war; though forays have been taking place for many years locally.

So far the campaign promoting an Irish Language Act in Northern Ireland has been notable by its crude rhetorical bombardment on, and desperate frontal assaults against, logic and common sense.

The sins of memories past?

 

 

 

There is an interesting piece from the Dublin Review of Books entitled: Troubles with Remembering; or, The Seven Sins of Memory Studies.  The piece is actually a review on: Remembering the Troubles: Contesting the Recent Past in Northern Ireland, by Jim Smyth (ed), University of Notre Dame Press, 218 pp, $40, ISBN 978-0268-101749.

The past of course is entirely memory, albeit in the context of events that are fact. The review quickly becomes a wider exploration of the nature of memory, and in particular “Memory Studies”, and more particularly the seven deadly sins thereof: laxity, dualism, crudity, moralism, insularity, myopia, and overlooking forgetting.

Not spooked

 

 

 

 

 

Alex Kane increasingly sounds like the elderly Auntie who is forever telling everyone in the family how what they are doing is not the right way of doing it; and if we have heard it once, we need to hear it over and over again – maybe different words, same message.

Alex’s most recent piece in the News Letter “Why the leaders of Unionism should be well and truly spooked” is a case in point.

Referenda, Majority & Consent

 

 

 

 

 

 

It seems odd that those most vocal within Irish nationalism who challenge the majority outcome from the Brexit referendum are to the fore demanding a Border Poll where frankly fifty percent plus one vote would be acclaimed a victory.

That is evident in the squeals in response to Lord Kilclooney’s recent tweet on the subject 

That tweet was a comment to Leo Varadkar’s wider reflection on the nature/outcome of a border poll. 

We need new arguments not new parties

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

It’s become common to assert that Brexit has changed the contours of British politics forever.

That remains to be seen. After the UK leaves the EU, older loyalties and divisions may re-emerge, as allegiances and rivalries that developed since the referendum become irrelevant.

That hasn’t prevented some fairly animated discussion about the potential for new parties to reflect a ‘realignment’ of politics after Brexit.