Tag Archives: Republic

Selling us a pup: Theresa May’s non-deal with the EU on Brexit

Theresa May meets Jean-Claude Juncker for their early-morning meeting. She’s smiling because she thinks she’s found a way to hoodwink us all into believing she has achieved something solid when all she has done is kick the Brexit can down the road.

Am I wrong? Let’s consider.

Here’s what Theresa May and the Tories want you to think has just happened:

And here’s what analysts are saying.

On the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the announcement today states: “In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South co-operation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement.”

This means Theresa May and her EU counterparts have sidestepped the competing demands facing them – not to have a ‘hard’ border, and for Northern Ireland not to enjoy separate rules from the rest of the United Kingdom. And:

The BBC states: “It’s not entirely clear how full alignment could be maintained without Northern Ireland staying in the single market and the customs union, especially as there is no such thing as partial membership.”

The Daily Mirror is more scathing: “Everyone’s kicked the can down the road… The UK wants to secure Northern Ireland’s status without any special treatment through an overall EU-UK deal later in the process.”

There will be no hard border, but Northern Ireland will get unfettered access to the internal UK market – even though the UK is leaving the EU’s single market and customs union.

Even if an overall UK-EU deal does not secure NI’s status without special treatment, the plan now offers NI “full alignment” with some current EU rules it shares with the Republic – possibly including some aspects of the Customs Union as mentioned above.

The Mirror continues: “The words “regulatory alignment” – which enraged the DUP so much they called Mrs May midway through a lunch to scupper a previous deal – have been dropped from the agreement. Instead the Northern Ireland government will get a veto on any new “regulatory barriers” between Northern Ireland and the UK.”

Won’t this simply scupper talks further down the line?

“Meanwhile, the UK and Ireland can continue to sort out between them people’s rights to move across the border under the Common Travel Area. This will not affect Ireland’s obligations under EU law.”

And what about NI’s obligations under UK law?

“And Irish Premier Leo Varadkar said Northern Ireland citizens can continue to “exercise his or her right” to EU citizenship” – further complicating matters as not every NI citizen is going to do that.

On the financial settlement – often known as the ‘divorce bill’, Theresa May wants you to think she has beaten back the EU, and the UK will not pay any more than it must, meaning more cash for domestic concerns like “housing, schools and the NHS”.

But she won’t be devoting £350 million a week to those concerns, as Leave campaigners offered in the run-up to the referendum, so UK citizens should rightly feel short-changed.

And the wording of the financial settlement is opaque to the point of impenetrability. It states: “The second phase of the negotiations will address the practical modalities for implementing the agreed methodology and the schedule of payments.” In other words, everyone’s kicked the can down the road.

The BBC says: “A method for calculating the bill has been agreed, but the calculation of an exact UK share will depend on exchange rates, on interest rates, on the number of financial commitments that never turn into payments, and more. The question of how and when payments will be made still needs to resolved, but it will be a schedule lasting for many years to come, and it is highly unlikely that anyone will ever be able to give an exact figure for the size of the divorce bill. UK sources say it will be up to £40bn, but some EU sources expect it to be higher than that. No-one can say for sure, and both sides want to keep it that way.”

The Mirror adds a few details that Mrs May would probably prefer you didn’t know:

  • “The financial settlement itself will be drawn up and paid in Euros – meaning Britain will lose out because the pound plummeted on referendum night.
  • “Britain will have to pay its share of budget commitments “outstanding at 31 December 2020”.
  • “It will take 12 YEARS [for the UK] to be repaid the huge pot Britain has in the European Investment Bank. The sums will be repaid in instalments of 300 million Euros a year.
  • “Britain will honour commitments it made before 2019 for refugees in Turkey.
  • “It will also continue to pay into the European Development Fund in full until the current round ends in 2020.”

Is this really a good financial deal? It looks like a fudge to This Writer.

All right, then – what about citizens’ rights?

It seems that Mrs May has given in to the EU on most of the details – although the announcement that this is a reciprocal deal, meaning everything that applies to the UK will also apply to EU citizens, is a bit of a breakthrough for the minority prime minister.

Brextremists will hate the agreement that, although the European Court of Justice will not have direct jurisdiction over citizenship cases, UK courts must continue to give “due regard” to its decisions – indefinitely. Not only that, but UK courts will have to refer questions of interpretation (of the rules) to the ECJ for no less than eight years after Brexit.

The Conservative government wants us to believe the agreement is entirely voluntary and will only apply to two or three cases a year. We’ll see.

There are multiple blows for people who wanted Brexit to mean the UK will be able to control the number of people moving here from EU states:

EU citizens will be able to move here at any time up to the date of Brexit (March 29, 2019), and their rights will be protected under today’s agreement.

According to the Mirror: “If an EU citizen is living legally in Britain before March 2019, a huge range of relatives will all have the right to move to Britain – for the lifetime of the person already living here. That includes their spouses, registered partners, children and grandchildren (“direct descendants”) under 21 – even if they’re not born yet – and spouses’ dependent direct relatives.”

The Mirror goes on to provide a long list of other conditions that will have made Brextremists choke on their breakfast today:

  • “Mrs May’s plan to force EU citizens to apply for “settled status” appears to be intact – she wanted to let people apply after they’ve been in Britain for five years. But the arrangements must be “transparent, smooth and streamlined”, the deal says.
  • “People who’ve settled in Britain can now leave for up to five years without losing their settlement rights. Theresa May wanted it to be just two years.
  • “Residence documents must be issued either free of charge, or no more expensive than similar documents would be for UK nationals. A “proportionate approach” will be taken to those who “miss the deadline with good reason”.
  • “People who already have UK residence documents issued under EU law must have them converted to the new status free of charge – with only a security and background check.
  • “Benefits and healthcare arrangements will continue as they are now for people living in a country under the agreement before 29 March 2019.
  • “But in a blow for expats, there’s no deal on whether UK citizens settled in the EU will be able to move to other EU countries freely, or will be fixed in the country they’re in now.”

Is that really “securing” everybody’s “rights”? Or is it simply doing as we’re told by the EU negotiators?

Let’s all remember the following, from the agreement document: “Under the caveat that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, the joint commitments set out… in this joint report shall be reflected in the Withdrawal Agreement in full detail.”

This means nothing has been delivered at all.

Everything that has been agreed so far could be thrown away if future stages of Brexit negotiations run into difficulty or unravel altogether.

And commentators in the social media have already sniffed out the devils in the details:

And supporters of the deal are being hammered:

To This Writer, it seems we’re being sold a pup.

The details of the Irish border agreement have been delayed, as has the final agreement on the financial settlement, despite the fact that we were all told these must be finalised before negotiations move on to trading deals.

And the deal on citizens’ rights seems to be everything the EU could want it to be, while ‘Leave’ voters will feel that they have been left out in the cold.

But all the negotiating parties seem happy to let this non-deal stand.

I wonder what Parliament will do with it, let alone what the representatives of the EU’s 27 remaining states will think, when they discuss it on December 14.


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Theresa May torpedoed her own Brexit deal – by forgetting to tell her DUP partners the details

Oops: Theresa May probably looked as shell-shocked as this image after she took her call from Arlene Foster and realised her career is on the brink of disaster.

Is this the stupidest mistake ever made by a United Kingdom prime minister?

Theresa May seemed to be at the verge of signing an agreement with the EU27 on the vexed issue of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland – meaning she would have met the deadline for Brexit talks to have made enough progress to move onto trading conditions. Here’s an excited Donald Tusk:

And an equally-excited Laura Kuenssberg believed it was a done deal too:

But what exactly was the deal? Here’s Robert Rea to explain:

Wait. What? The deal means a different regulatory framework for Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK? But the DUP won’t agree, because it wants Northern Ireland to function on the same terms as the rest of the UK? Isn’t that a big problem?

And we’d also need ECJ jurisdiction to make it work. In other words, we might as well remain in the EU, it seems – unless we’re really desperate for worse trading conditions with the EU27 than we currently enjoy.

Of course it didn’t come to that in the end. As Mrs May was settling down to her working lunch with Jean-Claude Juncker, DUP leader Arlene Foster convened a press conference in the UK.

She said: “We have been very clear. Northern Ireland must leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of the United Kingdom. We will not accept any form of regulatory divergence which separates Northern Ireland economically or politically from the rest of the United Kingdom. The economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom will not be compromised in any way.

“Her Majesty’s Government understands the DUP position. The Prime Minister has told the House of Commons that there will be no border in the Irish Sea. The Prime Minister has been clear that the UK is leaving the European Union as a whole and the territorial and economic integrity of the United Kingdom will be protected.

“We want to see a sensible Brexit where the Common Travel Area is continued, we meet our financial obligations, have a strictly time-limited implementation period and where the contribution of EU migrants to our economy is recognised in a practical manner.”

The Guardian tells us: “May was forced to pause discussions to take a call from Arlene Foster. The unionist leader, whose party currently provides the Tories with a working majority in the Commons, told the British prime minister that she could not support Downing Street’s planned commitment to keep Northern Ireland aligned with EU laws.”

The Guardian added: “In London, Tory Brexiters, including Iain Duncan Smith and Jacob Rees-Mogg, told the Brexit minister Steve Baker, and the prime minister’s chief of staff, Gavin Barwell, that they were also rallying behind the DUP’s stance.”

Here’s the bombshell:

This appears to be correct. The Guardian again: “The DUP’s fury had prompted by a leak early on Monday of a draft 15-page joint statement from the European commission and the UK which suggested Britain had bowed to the Republic of Ireland’s demands by accepting that ‘in the absence of agreed solutions the UK will ensure that there continues to be continued regulatory alignment’ with the internal market and customs union.”

The irony is that Mrs May had to ally with the DUP after losing her Parliamentary majority in a general election she called in order to solidify support for her version of – you guessed it – Brexit. To retain her role as prime minister, she made it impossible to achieve the stated aim of the election.

So Jeremy Corbyn was right on the button when he tweeted the following:

And so was Paul Lewis:

What next? Well, Mrs May won’t be giving the “major statement” she had planned to offer to the House of Commons tomorrow:

The Independent has speculated that her failure to reach an agreement over the Irish border could bring Mrs May’s premiership to a crashing end (and not a moment too soon, in This Writer’s opinion):

“In history, some British Prime Ministers have had their premierships wrecked by the “Irish Question”. Others, in more recent times, have been destroyed by Europe. Theresa May is unique in managing to combine both famously intractable and insoluble issues into one lethal cocktail. And so, it seems she is about to swallow the poison.

“The Government is perfectly happy to concede ‘special status’ for Northern Ireland/Ireland in the Brexit talks – anathema to the Ulster Unionists. This is because the Government desperately needs to get onto the second phase of the process – the trade talks for the whole UK – and MPs, without being too crude about it, are happy to sign whatever the EU sticks under their nose and worry about the consequences later.

“In the end, they will risk their support from the DUP to get moving on Brexit. Jobs (Tory MPs’ included) are at stake. After all, ministers such as David Davis always say that “nothing’s agreed until everything’s agreed”, so having now ratted on the Democratic Unionists, they can, in due course, re-rat on the Irish and the EU, after a trade deal is sorted out.

“With a bit of luck, some creative ambiguity and some more bribes and false promises for the DUP, Theresa May might just pull it off. Perfidious Albion would have foxed the Unionists in the wider national (i.e. Tory) interest.

“For such an unlucky Prime Minister, it would be a bit of a turnaround – but, as in horse-racing and football, the form book does count for something; the litany of May’s calamities suggest she won’t, in fact, get away with it.

“The DUP could quite conceivably get so angry that they’d scrap their agreement with the Tory-minority Government and resolve to get rid of them. Then May would have to appeal to the Opposition parties, especially Labour, to rescue her in the Commons.

“Fat chance. If Corbyn wants, he could find any number of grounds for voting May out of office, but failure of Brexit is a pretty good one. He could then either cobble together a new Frankenstein coalition or, more realistically, follow the provisions of the Fixed Term Parliament Act to secure a fresh general election. With an eight-point poll lead over the Conservatives, wouldn’t you?

“Of course that would mean the DUP would let in the “Sinn Fein-loving Corbyn” (as they might see it), so they’d have a tough choice, but they might have sufficient fear about what their constituents in Ulster would do to them if they kept the treacherous Tories in power that they’d feel they have nothing to lose.

“In which case we’d have an election in, say, February.

“The incoming government would ask, if it was sensible, to put Brexit on pause while it changes policy, and the EU would happily oblige if there was a chance of reversing Brexit – via, say, a second referendum. Or Corbyn and Keir Starmer could just agree to stay in the single market and some version of the customs union. Arlene Foster might in fact be able to live with that.

“In which case, by spring, it would all be over for May, Boris, Gove and the old gang, and they could get on with their civil war in earnest.”

While we await that development, we’ve had this one. The Guardian, yet again: “The news was then seized upon by Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who suggested that any promise for Northern Ireland could be replicated for Scotland. That call was followed by similar suggestions from the London mayor, Sadiq Khan.”

Apres nous, le deluge (“after us, the flood”, for those who don’t know their French, or the history of the French Revolution).  Others leapt in to demand the same considerations, leading to the following (semi-)satirical comments:

But is this tweet satirical or not?

Time will tell. Tick tock, Tories…


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What does McGuinness’s resignation mean for Northern Ireland’s future in the UK?

Martin McGuinness said in his resignation statement that the position of the first minister, Arlene Foster, was untenable [Image: Jeff Spicer/PA].

Could Northern Ireland split from the United Kingdom as a result of Martin McGuinness’s resignation?

The province voted very heavily in favour of Remaining in the European Union in the referendum last June, and the Northern Irish peace process depends on adherence to the European Convention on Human Rights – from which the UK would depart when it leaves the EU.

Put those things together with an opportunity to elect a leadership that supports reintegration with the Republic and suddenly it seems the Union may be in more imminent danger than anybody thought – even with the threat of another Scottish independence referendum over ‘hard’ Brexit.

Then again, a huge majority of the population opposes anything that may bring about a resumption of ‘The Troubles’, as they were known, so that possibility must also be taken into consideration.

Mr McGuinness’s resignation appears to be mostly about the “Cash for Ash” scandal, a failed green energy scheme likely to cost the Northern Irish taxpayer around £400 million.

NI First Minister Arlene Foster has refused to step down, even temporarily, to allow an independent inquiry to take place.

So Mr McGuinness resigned, forcing a new NI Assembly election. This means Ms Foster cannot remain as First Minister.

If the balance of power shifts to give Sinn Fein the upper hand, it seems likely that a long period of negotiation will be necessary before a new government may be announced.

Who knows what the result of those negotiations will be?

Martin McGuinness, Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister, has resigned from office in protest over his power-sharing partner’s handling of a bungled green energy scheme.

McGuinness’s resignation means a new Northern Ireland assembly election is inevitable.

Under the complex rules of power-sharing in the region, if either the first minister or the deputy resigns the coalition government between unionists and nationalists falls.

Source: Martin McGuinness resigns as deputy first minister of Northern Ireland | Politics | The Guardian

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‘Recovery in sight’ says BoE. Oh really?

republicOne has to admire the Bank of England for its determined optimism in the face of all the facts. The only organisation that is even more adamant that the UK economy is going to grow is the Office for Budget Irresponsibility, and we all know how rarely that body ever gets anything right.

Today, the soon-to-be ex-governor, Sir Mervyn King, said the economy had “cause for optimism” and there was an “encouraging underlying picture”.

What makes this tragic is the timing. Today, the story appeared on the BBC’s business news web page beneath a revelation that the fashion chain Republic has become the latest High Street name to go into receivership, and an announcement that Blockbuster, which bit the bullet earlier this year, would be closing a further 164 shops – threatening 800 jobs.

Cause for optimism, Sir Mervyn? Really?

Comet has gone, Jessops has gone, HMV is hanging on by its forepaws after closing 66 stores. Now Republic. We understand more than 100 other chains are facing financial ruin.

What, in this situation, is the “encouraging underlying picture”? A resurgence in manufacturing? What good will that do, if everybody is out of work and unable to buy anything? Who will benefit?

It won’t be the people on the street. Republic had 2,500 employees; Blockbuster is likely to lose 800 staff. Those job losses follow the many hundreds in the other chains mentioned. If manufacturing does improve, it will be selling abroad, and the only beneficiaries will be company bosses.

You and I won’t see a penny of it.

One aspect of this that did make me smile was the fact that the administrators from accountancy firm Ernst & Young (itself no stranger to controversy – see the previous Vox Political article about tax avoidance for details) sacked all 150 staff at the fashion firm’s head office. All the managers lost their jobs, and quite right, too!