4 Dec 2017

UK and Ireland close to deal on NI border

Theresa May has just gone in for her lunch with Jean-Claude Juncker at the Berlaymont building in Brussels. Earlier he met with with European Parliament leaders who obligingly shared elements of the draft EU27/UK Article 50 agreement with those of us waiting outside.

Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael government is pleased with a concession wrung out of the UK promising continued regulatory alignment on regulations between Northern Ireland and Ireland. European council president Donald Tusk just came off the phone to Leo Varadkar and said he was “encouraged” though we were “getting closer to sufficient progress” not actually there.

Fine Gael has long been cast by critics in Ireland as “the west Brits” and knew it had a content and communications struggle at this phase of the Brexit talks.

It is hoping it has extracted enough to satisfy the internal market and it will be helped by the DUP MP Sammy Wilson getting his attack in early on the deal.

Mr Wilson, it’s worth noting, is not the entire DUP. He spoke off message last week and didn’t make it back to London for the No. 10 meeting last week with Jeffrey Donaldson and Nigel Dodds. He is said by some in the DUP to “scent blood” over the investigation into the renewable energy saga and think that Arlene Foster’s leadership of the DUP may not be long for this world.

Others though are more sanguine. As I mentioned on Thursday this will focus on areas like agriculture and energy north and south of the border and the U.K. government thinks that is do-able as long as it is generated by a north/south bilateral understanding on converging standards not anything that the DUP might see as a change in constitutional status for Northern Ireland. One senior DUP source I spoke to about this last week sensed that Northern Ireland could be on to a “win win” with this sort of arrangement.

The SNP may also scent blood though as they look at the concessions for Northern Ireland implicit in the draft deal. Concessions certainly seem to have been the order of the day for the UK position so far as you look at a bill that has not, after all, been ripped up but pretty much in principle settled. Concessions seem to be the order of the day on EU Citizens’ Rights, with reports that the European Commission will try to extract one or two last ones from the UK over lunch today. And on Ireland, where Britain thought it wouldn’t have to move much at this phase of the talks it has had to produce words that go beyond “no hard border” and which, potentially, outline a Northern Ireland/Ireland bilateral understanding which means, post Brexit, two parts of the UK moving in different directions. The whole point of Brexit for many Brexiteers was divergence on rules. Northern Ireland, if these words in the draft mean anything, will not be joining the journey.

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2 reader comments

  1. Piercepierce says:
  2. H Statton says:

    Puzzling through a Brexit negotiation is no more fun than playing with a mildew-covered, soggy jigsaw that’s been rotting under the stairs for 10 years. All the pieces are in the box but the putrefied end-game has ruined all hope of seamless unity. And, taking a break to feast with Jean-Claude Juncker on a platter of Irish Seabass and Grimsby haddock will hardly ease the pain. Theresa May must be running out of dinner money by now. A lethargic kid in the backseat of a car constantly whinging, ‘are we there yet?’

    No wonder May is vexed by the Irish border question; Northern Ireland and Ireland even share an anthem. All this chanting about standing tall, being made of steel, meeting destiny with glory, I’m sure she’s yearning for the soothing tones of Val Doonican. Her future as Prime Minster is perilous. Should Brexit implode she’ll be as strong and stable as a squashed Halloween pumpkin pulverised by the wheels of an EU gross-trailer-weighted truck; and as for those meddlesome DUPers…

    Her complicated friend Arlene Foster knows what’s involved in making a ‘power decision’, choosing not to resign over the ill-fated Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme in which she was instrumental in creating; currently predicted to exceed its budget to the tune of £700m.

    Foster who was Minister for Enterprise and Investment at the time pushed ahead with the scheme despite Ofgem (Office of Gas and Electricity Markets) warning of the potential risks. Cost controls had not yet been established in Great Britain, which Northern Ireland was to use as blueprint. More haste and less speed might have been words of wisdom, Britain having only been running the incentive for seven months. Economy Minister Simon Hamilton said the cost to taxpayers is “incredible” and ex-Member of the Legislative Assembly, David McIlveen described the mismanagement as an “omnishambles”.

    One bitter pill to cure May’s sickness is a second referendum. The Remainers would vote remain, and panicked by the government’s breath-taking ineptitude, some Brexiteers would also vote remain. Who knows what the non-voters would do? But this is the United Kingdom, not Shangri-La.

    Social media is already featuring European maps minus England and Northern Ireland. Scotland’s still included, though.

    But all is not lost, there remains a little harmony in the world, ‘Arlene Foster, Sinn Fein’s Orlaithi Flynn, X Factor star Eoghan Quigg and UTV’s Pamela Ballantine have come together to record a special charity version of Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You’ Belfast Telegraph (December 4th 2017). That’s nice.

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