The last four days have been tumultuous in British politics. At the time of writing, we've seen 8 Labour MPs and 3 Conservatives leave their respective parties to form The Independent Group. Most of the analysis I have read so far has implied that it will be much more damaging to the Labour Party in the short and long term.
So far, this has been reflected in the early polls where the core Conservative vote seems to have remained in the high 30s, while Labour have dropped into the 20s. Based on this, any early snap election would result in the Conservatives regaining their majority and Labour suffering seat losses.
As things stand this probably is the case. I believe there are a lot more Labour MPs whose loyalty is wavering and if we see a mass exodus then it could take Labour years to repair. Their issue would then be that all the “moderate” MPs would be replaced by socialist or more left leaning candidates at the next election, whereas the constituency profile of Britain probably requires a broader offering of candidates to win a majority, or to even secure the most seats.
What has struck me so far though is how several of the seriously Corbyn-skeptic Labour MPs who have come out and said they will stay with the party, some examples being Stephen Kinnock, John Mann and Stella Creasy.
There is no doubt that there is a serious disconnect between the Labour leadership and its members on Brexit. Their policy has been vague though, in my opinion, not quite incoherent or contradictory. However, the fact is that isn’t what the majority of its members or voters want as a Brexit outcome. The next 6-9 months will be a very dangerous time for an election as they could lose a massive chunk of their 2017 support if it became a Brexit election.
However, I actually believe the Tories current level of polling stability is a little misleading. They have lost 3 strong, female MPs who were unpopular with a large part of the Conservative membership but who have relatively strong national profiles.
While the number of other potential defectors seems to be in the single digits at the moment, if the trend of dynamic, outspoken MPs continues (examples would include Justine Greening and Johnny Mercer) they will actually serious impact their “electoral brand”.
Simultaneously, the potential emergence of The Brexit Party (which has so far been absent from polling) could also take votes from the right, especially if Brexit is delayed.
What is true is that Brexit voters’ loyalty certainly seems to be to Brexit above all else and they will vote with the party that the believe best serves this purpose (in the last election we saw former UKIP voters move back to the Conservatives as they believed Theresa May would deliver for them.
Now that seems less likely, and if Nigel Farage gets seriously involved, they could start to lose %s in the polls to both The Brexit Party and potential even UKIP again , May may take an even harder line or look more favourably on a No Deal Brexit.
This would almost certainly result in further Conservative defections to The Independent Group. The question is are there really many sensible, slightly right of centre voters who would stop voting Conservatives in large numbers?
If so, Theresa May is doing almost everything possible to drive the very MPs that they would look favourably on as future leaders away. I believe this could ultimately do serious electoral damage to the Conservatives and while there may be a sensible way to avoid it by remaining in the Customs Union and possibly the Single Market, I don’t think Theresa May will take this approach.
So ultimately, I don’t believe Brexit will break the Conservatives like so many political analysts do, but it may be the catalyst for more centre right MPs and centrist voters to realise this isn’t the party that has the policies they want to vote for, and not only on Brexit…
The last forty eight hours have been equally captivating and frustrating for followers of British Politics. Captivating because those watching were constantly reminded that they were watching history being made. This was particularly true in the build up to the Meaningful Vote when the estimates for the margin of the defeat May would suffer were being projected. The frustration came in the gnawing feeling I had that, despite the drama, nothing would fundamentally change and we would have no decisive Brexit resolution.
The Meaningful Vote contributions from the Conservative's backbenches mainly contained watery calls to support the deal but, unsurprisingly, more confessions that it was impossible to get behind it given the backstop and other unpalatable elements. However, even after that, I still did not expect it to be such a large defeat and naively assumed many of Theresa May's own MPs would row back into line for the final vote.
On the Labour side , there were also a lot of contributions calling for a People's Vote . Yes, many did caveat this with "if we can't have a General Election" but most of these felt half hearted and tokenistic.
When the result was called, I genuinely leapt up with anticipation and thought "this is it, she's gone". For one moment, the sheer magnitude of the defeat seemed absolutely impossible to survive for this government.
However, Theresa May almost immediately quelled my excitement by confidently pre-empting the calls for a Confidence Vote and went even further by stating that the Tories would consider a motion from the smaller opposition parties if Labour chose not to pursue it. It was a smart move that cornered Corbyn though I am certain she already knew she had the support of the 10 DUP MPs at that stage.
So then we had the Confidence Motion debate. It was exactly as you'd expect. If we've learned one thing since the Brexit vote it's just how tribalistic British politics still is. This clearly has a lot to do with the first past the post electoral system but it's still incredible that the same party lines remain despite the political upheaval of the last two and a half years. Apart from a few former Labour Independents there was almost no dissent on either side (again some Labour MPs mentioned a People's Vote) and the debate slowly meandered to the finish line and the vote.
The result was in the ball park of what everyone was anticipating though it had the numerical perfection of highlighting just how reliant the Conservatives are on the DUP's 10 votes, without them Labour would have won by a single vote.
Theresa May did win tonight but overall the last 48 hours will probably prove to be a Pyrrhic victory for her. She has exhausted so much of her political capital and has massively limited her flexibilty in two ways. Firstly, and over a long period of time, by narrowing her options though "red lines" and stump speeches since the Brexit vote. More recently interventions against a No Deal from members of her now emboldened Cabinet shave further hemmed her in. This new found freedom comes as a result of the Conservatives having their own confidence vote in Theresa May in December.
She can now only offer her political opponents a Brexit deal that includes leaving the Single Market and Customs Union on March 29th. The parliamentary arithmetic and the sheer scale of her Meaningful Vote defeat now make it unlikely that of all these conditions will be met.
I personally think there isn't any chance of all of these things happening and getting through parliament. Unfortunately for May I equally believe her failure to achieve all three of these conditions could split her party and end her premiership.
I will soon write about what I think might happen next and focus on the other players in the tragedy that is Brexit but for today I think the Deputy Leader summed the last 48 hours up best when he said "most people...simply feel sorry" for the Prime Minister who has run out of ideas, carrots and stick by stubbornly putting her red lines on a pedestal above all else...
I reviewed my 2018 predictions here yesterday. I had a mixed bag in terms of success, but it really did give me some food for thought looking at the year ahead. It has been a year of some drama but on reflection, particularly in Ireland and Britain, it does feel like we’ve experienced a holding period. A major player in this has been Theresa May who has pushed every single major Brexit decision as far out as possible, the latest example was her delay of the Meaningful Vote to the week of January 14th. I think 2019 will be a year of events and drama with no road left for delay or obfuscation.
Beginning of a serious global economic downturn
2018 was still a good year for economic growth despite the growing uncertainty and pockets of geopolitical turmoil across the globe. The growth projections for 2019 are still mostly positive but these can quickly change direction. While I am not going as far as predicting the global economy contracts next year, I think by the end of the year it will be evident the current cycle has reached the end of its growth trajectory.
This should mean the financial markets face another tough year and could place further pressure on incumbent Western governments though I think this will become more of a factor in 2020.
Brexit to happen
I do not think Brexit will be reversed. Firstly, in my opinion, there is less than a 50% chance that there is a People’s Vote and even if there is the outcome is far from certain.
What I am now less reluctant to confidently predict is that Brexit takes place on March 31st, 2019, despite previously adding it to my Political Punts. It seems increasingly likely that there will need to be an extension to Article 50 to ensure a deal can be gotten over the line in Westminster. The issue with this is that so far, the EU have said this is only possible in the case of a General Election or a Second Referendum.
No British General Election
I don’t envisage a General Election in Britain next year. I can’t see the Tories losing a Confidence Vote and I also don’t believe Theresa May would be foolish enough to call another snap election, given her government’s atrocious performance in the run up to the last one. Yes, the Conservatives currently lead in at least half of the polls but as she will probably be leader until December 2019 (given she won the Conservative Leadership Confidence Vote) I don’t believe the party will want to contest another election.
Theresa May to be Prime Minister and Jeremy Corbyn still to be Leader of the Opposition on January 1st 2020
Since the last General Election in June 2017, British politics has been in an almost constant state of low intensity chaos. I do expect this to continue post Brexit but unlike many others I see many of the same figures involved at the end of year as are now.
This prediction flows from the previous one. Firstly, without a General Election it is less likely that there are party leader changes in general. Furthermore, Theresa May has just won a Conservative Leadership Confidence Vote. This does not mean it is impossible to dislodge her as a coordinated mass resignation by some of her senior cabinet members could also be deadly however as many of them are jockeying for next leader, it is less likely they will work together.
Finally, I think Jeremy Corbyn will still be Labour leader as the majority of the membership still believe in his domestic policies and that he can win the next election. The biggest threat to his continued supremacy is a membership revolt over a Second Brexit Referendum or if Labour back the Conservatives Brexit deal. I think this will be avoided and that I’ll be making predictions about both May and Corbyn’s respective years ahead next December.
Irish General Election to take place
Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have both recently agreed to extend the Confidence and Supply agreement to Summer 2020 so this is a contrarian position to take as the markets do not envisage a Dail election next year. However, I really think both parties are eyeing up the right time to force an election with the caveat that they will try and spin it to the being the fault of the other.
Fine Gael to win most seats, just…
Fine Gael have finished every single opinion poll in first place in 2018 as can be seen here. The economy is still buoyant and despite crises in both housing and health, there is still a feel-good factor in the Republic as the pain of the financial crisis recedes into a distant memory for many.
However, this a double-edged sword for Fine Gael as many of the Irish electorate still have Fianna Fail hardwired into their DNA. I got a shock when the last poll of 2018 only had 2% between the parties. I do not think Leo Varadkar is a good campaigner and if the gap is this low at the start of the campaign it could be a very fine margin of victory for Fine Gael.
Trump to still be President on Jan 1st 2020 even if impeached…
This is quite straightforward. I believe Donald Trump will still be President this time next year. I do not believe the Mueller investigation will uncover enough to force him to resign or lead to a criminal conviction. It is less clear whether he will be impeached by the now Democratic held Congress as they do not take control until January however I am confident the Senate will not vote by the 2/3 majority needed to remove him from office. An impeachment in itself would typically be enough to force a resignation but I don’t believe Donald Trump would be one to acquiesce to political norms.
No Northern Ireland Assembly
I am beginning to think the era of the Northern Ireland Assembly has passed. There are too many immovable barriers to getting it back in session. I also now think that the DUP sees its home at Westminster while Sinn Fein believes its future lies in Dublin. It is simply the next step in the ever-growing political polarization of Northern Ireland. Peace but division…
Arlene Foster to be replaced as DUP Leader
Arlene Foster has had a pretty miserable year between the ongoing RHI investigation leading to further embarrassment as well as the Conservative government backtracking on several commitments regarding the Irish backstop.
Ultimately, there will be a Brexit deal and it will probably have to involve some slight compromise from the DUP. I envisage Arlene Foster being the scapegoat for this and being replaced by one the 10 DUP MPs, with Nigel Dodds the most likely next leader.
Far-right gains to be disappointing in EU Parliamentary Elections
They may win a few more seats but it won’t be some massive breakthrough. With the exception perhaps of Italy, the EU countries where the far-right is strongest already did quite well in the last EU Parliamentary elections in 2014. I expect the media to whip up a frenzy beforehand and Matteo Salvini to get an awful lot of front-page interviews and Op-eds but when all the votes are counted the bigger surprise may be the success of the Greens and even the Left…
Social Democrats to win the Most Seats in Danish General Election
This is the first of my two predictions in national level EU elections next year. I predicted the Social Democrats to win the most seats in last September’s Swedish Election and called it successfully but it is still unclear whether I was also correct to predict their leader, Stefan Lofven, would be the next Prime Minister given the complicated coalition structure and ongoing negotiations.
This structure is also similar in Denmark so while the Social Democrats led in almost every poll in 2018, they may not lead the next government. However, I am confident they’ll win the most seats.
Socialist Party to win the Most Seats in Portuguese General Election
Ireland aside, the performance of the Portuguese economy has been one of the so-called post financial crash success stories. The Socialist Party is flying high in the polls and have drawn the attention of socialist leaders from around the UK with Jeremy Corbyn praising their governmental performance recently at the Congress of European Socialists in Lisbon in December.
The election is not until October though and their biggest risk is that an economic downturn has already started to impact the perception of the Portuguese electorate though as I mentioned at the start, I think the election will come too early for this to transpire.
That’s all from me on next year. I would love to hear any predictions you have in the comments section below. Thank for you reading throughout the year and I wish you all a healthy and happy 2019…
2018 has been a turbulent year with many political shocks. However, I think we may still look back at in in years to come as the calm before the storm. A year of political stagnation across most of the West, where poor leadership and decision-making was masked slightly by a still buoyant global economy, enjoying the final flourish of the recovery from the last financial crisis in 2008
While tomorrow I will make my predictions for 2019, this article will reflect on what I had written this time last year and how it held up. Having had a quick review already, my first thoughts are that I was a little vague in my predictions which makes it a little difficult to full assess how successful I was.
Some of them were quite thematic and general, as opposed to specific, quantifiable predictions. I will try and alter this slightly for next year but for now it’s time to assess how each prediction turned out.
Trump to continue his Erratic Foreign Policy but No War:
It seems very obvious now that there wouldn’t be a “war” in 2018 but this can also be a case of selective memory bias. In 2017, Trump was involved in some very public threats and spats with North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un. In September, at Trump’s first address to the United Nations, he threatened “to totally destroy North Korea”. At this stage he had only been President for 9 months and we were still at the anything is possible phase. Since then, he has shocked the world by actually meeting Kim Jong Un in Singapore in June but most of 2018 his focus was on domestic issues including the US Midterm elections and the ongoing Robert Mueller investigation.
The Global Bull Market Run to Continue, Just About...:
Last year, I did caveat this with “just about”. However, nearly every global index has finished down in 2018 according to this excellent summary page from the Wall Street Journal so ultimately I got this wrong. I do think I was slightly correct in the sense that the ramifications of this haven’t filtered through to political discourse yet. I have a lot more thoughts on the global economic outlook, though I will save that for tomorrow’s predictions…
China to Continue its Steady, Low-Key Ascent to Global Hegemony:
This is an example of one of those predictions that are hard to quantify. Nothing has happened this year in China to contradict this assertion. Furthermore, continued stagnation by many of its closest Western rivals has also probably helped. It will be interesting to see if China can handle another economic downturn as aptly as they did in 2008, when their massive Chinese Economic Stimulus Plan not only helped to stabilize the Chinese economy but possibly helped to mitigate the global economic damage.
Tories to Survive and Brexit is Happening:
As of today, both aspects of this prediction are correct. The Conservatives will almost certainly finish 2018 still in government. They have had some challenging moments but ultimately, party loyalty and the threat of losing their seat in a snap election, helped keep Theresa May in power. Her prestige has been severely dented and since the Conservative’s annual conference we have started to see the potential next leaders jockey for position.
“Brexit is Happening” looks a lot less certain now than it did in the summer. There seems to be no clear parliamentary majority for any deal and the chances of a second referendum have certainly risen. I am going to carefully consider what I predict in 2019 though I genuinely believe anyone’s guess is as good as anyone else’s in British politics currently.
Fine Gael to increase seats lead over Fianna Fail in any Irish General Election:
There was no election in 2018 so I suppose this prediction has to be rendered null and void. However, Fine Gael has polled very strong throughout most of 2018 and I think it’s pretty evident they “would have” increased their seats lead over Fianna Fail in any Irish General Election. That said, the last poll of 2018 only gave Fine Gael a 2% lead over Fianna Fail so it will be interesting to see if they do continue to enjoy strong leads, particularly if Brexit turns out to be particularly damaging for the Irish economy.
The Irish Abortion Referendum Campaign to be Brutal:
It was brutal but there wasn’t quite the level of vitriol as I had envisaged here previously. It did not become our Trump or Brexit moment and the massive margin of victory for the Yes side has helped the country to heal quickly and move forward. It must be a sign of Ireland’s democratic and social maturity that the result has been respected by all sides. The Citizen’s Assembly process has rightly been given a lot of credit as it really helped the Irish electorate to understand the implications of their vote.
Iran to get even closer to Russia/China and avoid a Revolution:
The revolution was indeed avoided. The renewal of the sanctions against Iran will certainly lead to further future unrest. I am also concerned that either Benjamin Netanyahu or Donald Trump will try and use Iran as a distraction from their own domestic challenges in 2019. To be honest, I think I will need some further time to read up and decide if Iran did move closer to Russia and China in 2018 as it isn’t always evident in the media sources I mostly follow….
In summary, I think I did OK overall. Upon reviewing this I do get the further feel that 2018 was a bit of a “holding year”. When I write my 2019 predictions tomorrow, one major dilemma I will have to contend with is whether I believe this will be the same next year or whether we really are about to enter a period of even greater instability and chaos…
A lot has happened since I last wrote about Brexit in July but very little has changed. There have been numerous occasions where I thought; “this is it” regarding either a major breakthrough or the end of Theresa May’s premiership.
However, each the expectations of a Brexit breakthrough rose, they have quickly dissipated as further sources pour scorn on earlier reports. Equally, whenever the threats to Theresa May or the calls for her to stand aside reach fever pitch, a compromise is reached, or a belligerent political actor backs down.
On a Brexit deal, it does seem that there has been slight progress made since July though the Irish border remains a stumbling block. I’ve previously written about a buildup of ill-will and energy that will lead to a political earthquake and heads rolling. I still believe this may have to be the case as the compromises needed can not be reached without major climbdowns from either Theresa May, Leo Varadkar or Arlene Foster.
I It does appear the Irish border can be solved through a compromise that protects the all-island economy and avoids a hard border through a combination of transition extensions, full UK-wide participation in a customs union and the threats of an early British General Election…
At this stage in the negotiations, I finally believe Teresa May and Olly Robbins know the rough parameters of what a deal entails and where the Britain ends up post-Brexit. Despite May’s strong rhetoric, it is likely she privately acknowledges further East/West checks are necessary though I do believe her when she says she would never sign up to a full economic Irish Sea border.
Her challenges in securing this deal are obvious to most followers of British politics. She will either need the support of the great majority of the Conservative Party MPs and the ten votes of the Democratic Unionist Party or she will need considerable support from Labour MPs.
It will be almost impossible for her not to have some rebel hard Brexiteers if she continues down the current line of negotiations and ends up with a deal roughly along her “Chequers+” plan.
There are currently 50 MPs who are publicly part of a “Stand Up 4 Brexit” campaign that explicitly rejects Theresa May’s “Chequers+” plan. What is not clear is whether this simply a political lobbying group or if the majority will vote down a deal when the Meaningful Vote comes back to parliament.
It does look more likely that full customs participation will be included, and this has raised considerable dissent from with the cabinet and wider parliamentary party. Equally though, it does make it more likely that Labour MPs could support it, especially those who would like to further undermine the authority of Jeremy Corbyn. They would have legitimate reasons for doing so as while Labour have been very, very vague on their alternative Brexit plan, they have consistently said they want a customs union with the EU.
I want to predict that we are at the point where Theresa May shows decisive leadership and decision making and stands up to the brexiteers and the DUP and we get clarity of her direction and strategy. This then either leads to a deal or her toppling, hence the title of the article.
However, I think the uncertainty will continue for a few more weeks as the gargantuan, emotionless python that is the realities of Brexit continues to slowly crush and asphyxiate the demands for a Canada+ Deal or the threats of DUP bringing down the government.
I also can’t see Labour being having the unity to topple the government by voting down the deal and forcing an early general election. They are too divided and weak on Brexit.
Finally, to predictions, I do believe a deal will be reached by mid-December at the latest that will keep the Irish border open. I believe May will survive to somehow get it voted through parliament with some cross-party amendments that solidify the UK’s position in a customs union.
It is harder to predict when her premiership will end but I believe she will still be the UK Prime Minister on January 1st, 2019, at least. It will be in her interests to keep some negotiations necessary for January and February next year so that she can fend off any leadership bids until post Brexit date and hope the public thank her in the polls afterwards.
The question will be whether the DUP can spin this as a political win. So far, they have railed against every single mooted potential divergence between Norther Ireland and Britain. This is foolish and risky. They are still the biggest wild card in my predictions as they could force that early election that I don’t believe will happen. However, I think it is more likely the MPs will turn on Arlene Foster and replace her sooner rather than later as a symbolic aggressive backlash against their ultimate political impotence.
Of course, nothing has gone to plan for the UK so far in negotiations and Brexit predictions are a mug’s game. I just don’t think Labour or the Conservatives want a no deal Brexit or the next general election to be fought on Brexit either. Therefore, realpolitik will eventually dictate that a deal is done and chaos doesn’t ensue…
The New Boundaries are a stark Reminder that the path to a Unity Referendum probably passes through the Assembly...
The New Boundary Commission Report yesterday for Northern Ireland mostly made for bleak reading for nationalists.
Already, there has been some detailed analysis on each constituency and how it impacts the future composition of Northern Ireland's Westminster seats.
It almost certainly ensures that the Democratic Unionists will win the most seats in the next General Election, with the exception of a black swan event occurring that no one can forecast today.
I now think that most paths to a Unity Referendum will have to go through the Northern Ireland Assembly. There are several reasons for this.
The New Boundaries, if passed, will almost cetainly act as a nationalist vote suppressant. There will be almost no competitive seats outside of Belfast and the first past the post system (FPTP) renders many votes meaningless.
However, in this tempest of constitutional turmoil, every single election result will be judged on the basis of a referendum on Northern Ireland.
Currently, the only way to secure a Unity Referendum is for the NI Secretary of State to indicate that he/she believes a majority would vote for a United Ireland in the North as set out in the Good Friday Agreement below;
“the Secretary of State shall exercise the power under paragraph 1 if at any time it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland.”
The consensus around this definition seems to be that it would require nationalist parties to receive 50%+1 of the first preference votes in a Northern Assembly Election or 50%+1 of the total votes in a Westminster Election.
Unfortunately, and despite the current impasse over the Irish Language, it is hard to see how pro-Unity advocates will be able to get to 50%+1 without a Northern Ireland Assembly.
Recent polls have shown us that any future Unity Referendum will be decided by small nationalist and union voters, Alliance and Green Party voters and nonvoters at recent elections.
Naturally, it is illogical to assume that Alliance or Green party voters will switch to nationalist parties. However, the “small n” nationalist and the non-voters who would come from a nationalist background will need to be motivated and energized to vote.
The Northern Ireland Assembly elections in February 2017 proved to be a very strong result for nationalists and indicated for the first time that an energized nationalist electorate could over take the unionist vote.
There are a number of widely discussed impediments to getting the Assembly back up and running and both the DUP and Sinn Fein believe they have legitimate reasons for meaning their current stance. However, if Sinn Fein are serious about forcing a Unity Referendum they must realise that nearly ass paths to it pass through both votes for and votes in the Assembly…
On Brexit, so much has happened in the last two weeks but very little has changed. Time has passed, and May has survived without really presenting a credible plan for the Irish border.
I had believed that a Customs Union amendment would be passed by the Tory rebels in the Trade and Customs Bills that would have, at worst, safeguarded against a Hard Brexit or even tied the United Kingdom to the Customs Union after March 2019.
This would have not fully alleviated the challenged that Brexit posed to Ireland, but it would have been concrete, tangible progress.
Instead the European Research Group Conservative MPs were able to add clauses that made it illegal for Northern Ireland to have a separate customs structure to that of Britain, as well as another clause that only allows the UK to collect VAT on behalf of EU nations if they do the same for the UK.
The former makes the Irish backstop, agreed in December and formalized in March, almost impossible to implement in the case of No Deal and ups the ante on the Irish government to concede further on what constitutes a hard border.
The latter makes Theresa May’s Facilitated Customs Arrangement, one of the central tenets of here Chequer’s Plan, very likely to be rejected by the European Commission.
It’s a very worrying state of affairs and the lack of certainty continues to damage all parties involved.
I always thought that a soft Brexit would ultimately prevail but would probably take Theresa May down with it.
The Irish government have lobbied hard within Brussels and have take a very firm stance. This has played well with the Irish electorate and has garnered the support of all the major political parties.
However, as it becomes less certain that a soft Brexit that retains the status quo at the Irish border will emerge, Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein have begun to challenge Leo Varadkar’s affirmation that there will be no change.
Sinn Fein are a bit of a disadvantage here as their seven seats at Westminster could have been enough to swing some of the key votes mentioned above.
I believe Fianna Fail will now go on the offensive on Brexit and seek to criticize the Fine Gael position as naïve and out of touch with the political realities in Brussels and London.
There is still a small chance that a final agreement can be built from the basis of the Chequer’s proposal, though this is unlikely.
If the proposal does indeed collapse, the Irish government must hope that this becomes the moment the UK parliament finally asserts its will and decides that economics trumps party politics.
Otherwise, Leo Varadkar could fall from grace almost as fast has Theresa May has…
I haven’t written about Brexit in almost four months. It’s a frustrating topic that produces daily coverage but often little in terms of tangible progress or moments that truly move the Brexit needle.
There is a constant expectation of drama and a desire for decisive political moments but so often they fail to transpire.
That said, it is clear we have now reached a point where “fudging” becomes a lot less viable as an option for Theresa May and her government if she wants to avoid a No – Deal scenario.
She will face a crucial test this week when the Withdrawal Bill comes back to Westminster with 15 amendments from the Lords.
When these amendments were tabled a month ago, it looked like there was an appetite for inflicting defeats on the Government from some of the Tory rebels.
The chaos last week over the British proposal for the backstop agreement (which contained another round of David Davis will he /won’t he resign) has rattled many in the party as the consensus seems to be his resignation would have led to others and this could really have threatened the stability of the government.
This may convince the some of the Tory rebels that this isn’t the time or the appropriate forum for firing from both barrels.
Amber Rudd alluded to this in an article in the Telegraph yesterday where she wrote;
"a technical measure which is essential to getting Brexit right".
This leads me to believe that she won’t be supporting the amendments or rallying other moderates to the cause either.
It would be in line with so many other seminal Brexit moments so far where almost every analyst predicted major drama and the potential rolling of political heads but “fudge” won out…
However, even if the amendments aren’t passed tomorrow there could still be some massive blows to Theresa May and Brexit this month.
The Irish border has not been resolved at all and I stand by my analysis from the time of the December summit that a political earthquake was probably only delayed.
She will also have to face down an amendment to the Trade Bill that has come from her own party and now has the backing of the Labour Party.
It is hard to see how she avoids this defeat. The only question is whether it will return to parliament before the summer recess or even before the EU Summit at the end of the month.
There may also be challenges to the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill and further amendments tabled.
In summary Theresa and the Conservatives may overturn all 15 amendments this week but if she does it is likely more a tactical retreat from her political opponents (in both Labour and her own party) rather than a major political coup.
If she can’t overturn the 15 amendments then her position may become untenable very shortly thereafter as the challenges pile up and her authority diminishes.
Theresa May has successfully managed to balance the scales since losing her majority in last June’s election, but this June may turn out to be even more damaging to her premiership…
In the end the week wasn’t quite as dramatic as I had predicted here. Further details did emerge from all sides but there were no major fallouts or political backlash, aside from a few belligerent comments from the DUP.
It was a badly kept secret that Jeremy Corbyn would announce last Monday that Labour’s official Brexit policy would now be to seek “a customs union” with the EU. He also stated that the UK would remain in the single market during any transitional period before exiting it.
The speech received a mixed reception with many remain-supporters claiming it didn’t go far enough. Equally, some pro-Brexit Labour MPs were unhappy with Frank Field claiming a customs union would be “ratting” on leave voters.
Now that I’ve had a few days to reflect on the speeches, I’m not sure how impactful Corbyn’s intervention was. It has opened some clear divide on policy between Labour and the Tories but for it to be meaningful, Corbyn needs to cultivate some cross-party support to win any major votes against the government.
Fortunately for Corbyn, Anna Soubry and Chuka Umunna have already tabled Clause 5 in the Trade Bill, that will lead to a vote in parliament. Many analysts quickly jumped on Corbyn’s change in policy as the potential vote that could bring down the government.
May’s speech on Friday was well received by many as containing more detail. Personally, I didn’t see that. I did learn that it’s now highly unlikely that May will request a customs union, along with the responsibilities that come with it.
Her speech does seem to have appeased the Brexiteers. Jacob Rees Mogg, who leads the anti-EU European Research Group that contains enough MPs to force a Conservative leadership contest, gave it his qualified approval, writing in the Telegraph;
“There are inevitably a few small points that will concern Leave campaigners but we must all recognise that everyone will have to give up something to get a deal, so now is not the time to nitpick.”
I think May has done enough to fend off an attack from this faction of her MPs. If she holds firm on her red lines, she may not accomplish much but it is one less flank she must defend against.
The EU has so far shown very little appetite to compromise on its negotiating stance. The protocol it released on Wednesday, was very close to what was concluded in December, much to the consternation of those who thought that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.
The next big challenge for May will come from the remainers. Any meaningful votes in parliament that pushed for a customs union, single market access in exchange for certain Brexit sacrifices could seriously hurt the government.
I do not see Brexit being reversed at this hour but it may end up being quite a light version. This will not be the case if the final agreement is concluded under Theresa May as she has firmly come down on the side of the brexiteers. The strength of the Brexiteer position is that they can maximise the power of their limited numbers by a clarity of purpose.
There is a broad church of pre-EU supporting MPs that would form the majority in the Conservative Party. Unfortunately for them, they have not found a consensus that they can use a rallying cry. In the future political historians would struggle to identify the zeitgeist of the post Brexit referendum vote period.
However, if, for example, the Anna Soubry bill ends up being this rallying cause it could easily win a vote in parliament. Theresa May must now quickly work to convince those within her own party that voting alongside Jeremy Corbyn and Labour for a customs union agreement would seriously undermine the government. I expect to see lots of “red” scaremongering (though done a little more subtly than the Czech spy smear).
Whether this will be enough to convince her own MPs that the UK’s best interests is now outside a customs union but with a bespoke trade deal remains to be seen.
My views on where we are heading have not changed significantly after the last week’s events. I see the UK exiting the EU with a deal that falls short of most expectations on both sides of the EU argument.
Unfortunately, I do not see it causing a general election in the next twelve months, as when push comes to shove the Tories will probably put power over the nation’s interest. I think Theresa May will not last until the summer of 2019 as Prime Minister but my view on whether her exit date is 2018 or 2019 varies almost by the week.
The next few weeks will focus on trade talks and the Irish question, both of which I’ve left aside for today and will come back to shortly. I will be writing quite frequently on Brexit over the next two months, as trade talks are soon going to reach their crescendo..
The next five days will go a long way in determining how Brexit eventually plays out for the British people. It is a week that will be dominated by two speeches from Jeremy Corbyn on Monday and Theresa May on Friday, as well as by the release of the EU protocol of the December agreement that concluded Phase One of the talks.
This is only the very high-level summary of events and there are also other key players and actions that could influence the week. However, I am focusing on these three critical dynamics as they may also determine the future of Theresa May as Prime Minister.
May is currently under pressure from both flanks of her party, as well as from the Labour opposition who have returned to polling ahead of the Conservatives, after a short recent blip…
Until recently most of the pressure came from the pro-Brexit side of the party with Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, Liam Fox all pushing May to pursue a “hard” Brexit which they believed would allow Britain to sign mutually beneficial free trade agreements around the globe.
Of late, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Tory backbencher, who heads up the European Research Group, has become the most vocal advocate of this from of Brexit through some savvy media appearances and his bi-weekly blog on Conservative Home, aptly named the Moggcast.
While this group have been focused and efficient in their lobbying, they simply don’t have the MP numbers to lead the party (there were 62 MP signatures on a recent letter addressed to the Prime Minister) but could force a leadership contest for the Tories (48 MP letters required).
More worrying for Theresa May is the recent re-invigorated onslaught from the pro-EU side of her party under the likes of Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston. Soubry’s proposed new clause 5 in the Trade Bill is potentially very damaging to May’s authority as it is a motion for the UK to remain in a customs union with the EU, if not the customs union.
This clause was also signed by Chuka Umunna, the Labour MP who has been very vocal on Brexit. Any customs union agreement with the EU will severely impede on Britain’s ability to conclude free trade deals with third party nations.
This brings me to the first of the two speeches this week. Jeremy Corbyn announced last week that he would make a speech, laying out his party’s vision for Brexit. In recent times, Corbyn has remained quite coy on what Labour’s official policy for Brexit is. It has exposed Corbyn to quite a lot of flak, particularly from its young and London based voters, who typically voted Remain.
The rumours coming out of the party are that Corbyn will call for a customs union with the EU. This will potentially give Soubry’s clause the numbers to pass in Westminster, inflicting a heavy defeat on May and a major victory for those seeking a soft Brexit. Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry, two potential future leaders of the party, have both hinted that this will be part of Corbyn’s speech.
It has rarely been that straightforward with anything Brexit-related though. While many Labour supporters voted Leave, backing a customs union would be popular with the majority of his party and could finally differentiate Labour’s strategy from that of the Conservatives, who have continually ruled out a post-Brexit customs Union.
However, Corbyn has been unconvincing in his defence of the European Union and his previous track record of votes in relation to Europe is far from emphatically pro-EU. His style is also not one of bombastic, engaging speeches that capture the imagination and I am quite worried that today may be a damp squib that hands the initiative back to Theresa May on Friday.
May supposedly had a very successful Brexit subcommittee cabinet meeting at Chequers last Thursday where she managed to keep both factions happy and onside. Very little of what was agreed was leaked to the press and we may have to wait until her Friday speech for the detail. It may be that May has come up with a plan that keeps the party united and has found a way around the Irish border issue, one of the major sticking points an almost any proposed plan thus far.
This issue is a about to get a lot more complex on Wednesday when the College of 27 EU Commissioners sign off on a draft legal text of the December Phase 1 agreement. Tony Connolly, from Ireland’s national broadcaster RTE, is reporting here that it will only include the reference to avoid the hard border on the island of Ireland (paragraph 49) and not paragraph 50 which made reference no border down the Irish Sea. This was inserted after pushback from the DUP, who prop up the British government.
If this is the case, then May will be severely limited by this agreement. It will be very interesting to note if any of her Friday demands explicitly contradict the agreement or if May will simply acquiesce to the EU’s rules of negotiation.
Simple acceptance could be fatal for May’s premiership if Corbyn has offered a compelling alternative and the EU have effectively ruled out most of her “fudge” options that have kept party together.
It promises to be a very exciting week of drama, political brinkmanship and intrigue. I am now going to sit back and watch it all unfold…
Labour have recently encountered a slight setback in British General Election polling, suffering their first three consecutive poll defeats since the General Election in June 2017.
It has encouraged calls for Jeremy Corbyn to come out stronger against a “Hard Brexit” and to make a greater case for the United Kingdom to remain in the Single Market and Customs Union.
In recent weeks Chuka Umunna, the young Labour MP from London, has been one of the most vocal proponents of the United Kingdom remaining in both.
His appearance on the Andrew Marr show last weekend was quite impressive, even if the image of him speaking in solidarity with Conservative MP Anna Soubry, an ardent pro-remain MP, would be difficult to accept for many Labour supporters.
Umunna has been quite astute in trying to rally the pro-remain Labour supporters without directly criticising Corbyn. Instead, he said he could not envision Corbyn using party whip to vote for a Hard Brexit;
“I cannot conceive of circumstances where Labour MPs are marshalled to go through the lobby and vote against us staying in the customs union and the single market with the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove,”
“I cannot see Jeremy saying to Labour MPs, “we’re going through the lobby with those guys” and damaging the interests of our constituents.”
Personally, I don’t think it’s a definite negative that Corbyn isn’t taking the lead on Brexit. There is a significant element of his party who voted Leave and with so many things uncertain and fluid in the UK-EU negotiations, there will be plenty of time to lay out position ahead of a “meaningful” vote in the Commons on a final deal.
The challenge for Corbyn is to ensure his policies and plans for Healthcare, Education etc get enough airtime and continued publicity in the current environment where many in the British media are focused almost exclusively on Brexit and the internecine internal Tory disputes.
I thought that this dispute would be more damaging to Conservative poll support. However, I am beginning to theink the continued publicity and coverage of both sides may be helping the Tories in the short term.
For now, until there is a clear Brexit policy by the Conservative party, every potential voter in the Tory universe who has accepted that Brexit cannot be wholly reversed can still envisage a successful outcome to the talks.
Until the Conservatives policy becomes clear and Labour know where they stand I don’t think the polls should overly concern Labour HQ.
Corbyn and his team should continue to lay out their vision for government while making contingency plans for Labour’s position in the various potential scenarios that arise from the talks…
The UK is looking increasingly isolated in international circles. Some of this is clearly down to Brexit and the pressure it has put on relations with the EU 26 nations. This is not the only reason though. Actions taken by some of its other allies have led to binary choices for the British which have had very obvious downsides.
In the past, they may have been in a position to arbitrate these disputes but currently there are simply not enough resources available or focus to take on this role.
I write this as I read that Donald Trump’s visit to the United Kingdom has been cancelled. The writing was on the wall for this visit for some time. Many groups had rallied around it and used it as a lightning rod to channel their frustrations about the current state of the United Kingdom.
It seems very likely that any kind of visit (there were already previous indications that it would be toned down from a full state visit) would have been met protests. Clearly Trump didn’t fancy that.
However, relations have been strained between Theresa May and Donald Trump before this. When Trump retweeted a Britain First video in November, it was met with serious criticism from the British Government. Trump in turn reacted by tweeting;
"Theresa, don’t focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine!"
It will be a challenge to move relations back to where they were under almost every President before Trump over the last thirty years. There have been very few diplomatic crises between the US and the UK in that time. Unfortunately for the UK Brexit and the Trump presidency occurred within seven months.
It is difficult to envisage a return to the previous level of relations while Trump remains as president. The challenge is that he will continue to say/tweet controversial remarks. May will continue to come under severe pressure by her electorate to condemn the most odious and abhorrent of these remarks. Even mild public criticism will irk Trump and probably cause him to lash out publicly. The downward spiral will then continue…
Furthermore, Trump’s foreign policy lacks the nuance of previous administrations. In the Palestinian question, he has practically cast off any semblance of neutrality by recognising Jerusalem as the undisputed, undivided capital of Israel and publicly criticising the Palestinian leadership. May does not have the stomach to seriously oppose this policy and this will not her position or popularity in the Middle East.
Similarly, in the ongoing dispute between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the British government has failed to level any criticism of the new Saudi regime despite obvious human rights abuses in their Yemeni campaign.
Major arms deals from the UK to Saudi Arabia mean there is little scope to work with the Iranian side to mediate this crisis or, at the very least, maintain cordial relations with Iran. Boris Johnson did defend the Iranian Nuclear Agreement this week but it may not be enough after his earlier gaffe in the Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe scandal.
The lack of allies currently in Europe is highly linked to Brexit and it will be difficult to change this in the short to medium term until the Brexit question is (if ever?) resolved. Ironically, if the UK had voted to Remain, I think there would now be a lot of scope to take more of a role as a leader in the EU. It would be able to work with the many eastern countries who have a healthy euro scepticism and it may have been able to get concessions on the overall EU immigration policy.
These countries have recently pushed for closer ties and integration with China. Increased trade with China is a key objective of the British government. Fortunately for the UK, Chinese-British relations have not been damaged by the Trump or Brexit factors. Managing this relationship will be crucial to a post- EU Britain.
On a Eurozone budget, it would not have had a say, but could have still have pushed back on proposed tax harmonisation and worked with the smaller nations who it has had historically strong ties with such as Malta, Cyprus and, more recently, Ireland.
Brexit has also negatively impacted ties with Russia as allegations and accusations of interference in the Brexit referendum have been levelled and rejected while US sanctions have been enforced. Again, increasing ties with Russia makes a lot of sense moving forward in terms of diplomatic clout and trade but the UK may be hamstrung here by US/Russia relations…
In summary, there are many challenges currently facing British diplomats and the UK government. It has been a challenging few years overall for the UK. However, the UK still has a lot of soft power and brand Britain is very strong. I see this almost everywhere I go in the world. A genuine problem currently is the political paralysis of the British Government as it struggles to come to terms with the competing factions in its government as well as major opposition to Brexit.
The UK will only be able to start to mend and build further ties when it has a clearer idea of where it wants to go and regains it sense of purpose. No pragmatic nation wants to build further ties with a rudderless country in a perceived state of political and economic malaise…
I started A Bit Left and A Bit Lost in June 2017. Initially, it was something to do while I moved countries and searched for a job. A way to combine my interest in politics and current affairs with that little spark for writing I think I've always had but rarely used.
It's been a great seven months. I've written around thirty articles and even got a few published on Slugger O' Toole. However, I love having everything I write on my own medium, so I can link back to previous articles and develop some themes and trends. These trends can evolve over time or dissipate in numerous ways. From key characters stepping aside or a catalyst for change.
The Political Punts page allows me to make "hard" predictions on a certain date and then look back and either bask in a little self congratulation or try to identify what I incorrectly assumed or based the bet on.
These 2018 predictions are a mix of themes and potential events. I always place at least a little wager on the political punts so finding markets online to match my views and predictions can be tricky. For these, they are more general predictions and most touch on topics I have covered in 2017.
Trump to continue his Erratic Foreign Policy but No War: The United States is in disarray under Donald Trump. Trump has already had spats with numerous leaders and caused widespread outrage with his decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He has shown little ability to maintain a coherent foreign policy. Trump is easily distracted by individual events and I expect this to continue. I think, in time, 2017 will be seen as a year of regression for the US but for now the buoyant global economy is giving Trump some breathing space.
The Global Bull Market Run to Continue, Just About...: 2017 has been a great year for the global economy and stick markets. We are definitely getting close to the peak and there will eventually be a market correction but there should just about be enough fuel left for 2018 to be another positive year. If this is the case, I will probably be making a very different 2019 prediction.
China to Continue its Steady, Low-Key Ascent to Global Hegemony: It was a good year for China and its leader Xi Jinping. He managed to consolidate his hold on power, prevented Trump from delivering on his pre-election threats on trade and China avoided any hard economic landing, while extending its global diplomatic and economic reach. I expect 2018 to be a similar year and would be surprised if there are any major negative stories.
Tories to Survive and Brexit is Happening: 2018 will be a tough year for the United Kingdom. Brexit is not going to be reversed with the current government (or a Labour alternative). The current Tory Government will probably survive but continue to stutter along. It is hard to see how the UK will be in a better state this time next year than now. However, politics in the UK has been so shocking since the Scottish Independence referendum was first called and there is every chance that something equally surprising and unexpected will happen in 2018.
Fine Gael to increase seats lead over Fianna Fail in any Irish General Election: The economic headline figures will continue to impress and this will be enough for many to approve of Leo Varadkar and Fine Gael. Furthermore, the "Brexit talks bounce" will continue to help Fine Gael and paralyse Fianna Fail. 2018 should be a good year for Fine Gael and Leo Varadkar.
The Irish Abortion Referendum Campaign to be Brutal: I think this will be a very nasty, divisive election. Much more similar to the last US Presidential election or the Brexit Referendum than the Marriage Equality Referendum. It is a much more partisan topic than marriage equality, which I believe the average Irish voter ultimately viewed as a matter of common decency and fairness. It should pass but if the odds go above 5 or 6/1 I may take a small speculative punt on it not passing.
Iran to get even closer to Russia/China and avoid a Revolution: The news has been filled with coverage of the current unrest in Iran recently. I don't think this will reach the levels of 2009 and the Green Revolution. Iran will continue to forge deeper links with Russia and China as Trump will make occasional threats against Iran, mainly at the best of Benjamin Netanyahu and the American pro-Israel lobby.
Thank you for reading this year. Keep following and have a happy and healthy 2018!
I recently wrote about how the Brexit deadlock was a perfectly destructive equilibrium of opposing aims and forces. The de facto vetoes held by the Irish Government on one side and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) on the other meant no viable solution was available that satisfied both sides. This led me to believe that heads would roll as one side was simply cast aside.
I was wrong on this for now. All sides were able to come to an agreement that allowed the talks to progress to the second phase, which will focus on trade. The impasse was broken mostly by vague language that was deemed acceptable by everyone as it was possible for a broad spectrum of interpretations of what the text actually meant.
“Regulatory alignment” was perceived as less constricting to the DUP than “no convergence” between the North and South that led them to effectively veto the agreement that had been decided on Monday last. For most commentators the second iteration, which was agreed last Friday is not much more favourable to the DUP’s stated goals. They have signed off on a document that commits the UK to full alignment between the North and South unless there are prior, agreed solutions.
“In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom committed to maintaining full alignment with those rules of the internal market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy, and the protection of the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement. In this context, implementation and oversight mechanisms for the specific arrangements to be found will be established to safeguard the integrity of the internal market.”
The breakthrough was greeted with guarded optimism by most sides, with the Irish government and Theresa May’s camps being the most vocal and ebullient. I wanted to wait until the weekend had passed to assess the fallout.
Furthermore, for Theresa May to navigate the talks and deliver a final solution, she needs to keep the hard right, anti-EU faction of her party onside. The uniformity of the message delivered by members of her party over the weekend was a crucial acid test of whether she had been able to get all sides onboard. Cracks that appear already will possibly move to chasms as the trade talks will evolve from aims and goals to facts, laws and treaties.
David Davis spoke on the Andrew Marr show yesterday and appeared bullish on the United Kingdom’s trade deal prospects, while playing down the commitments agreed in Phase 1. Davis claimed the divorce settlement will only be paid if a deal is agreed and that the text agreed was more a statement than a concrete agreement;
"We want to protect the peace process and we also want to protect Ireland from the impact of Brexit for them. This was a statement of intent more than anything else.”
Michael Gove, the Environment Minister and prominent Brexiteer, went a step further when he stated;
“If the British people dislike the arrangement that we have negotiated with the EU, the agreement will allow a future government to diverge.”
To me, this means that if the Tories win the next election, they can renege on many of their commitments and start over. While he public supported May’s efforts, this undoubtedly undermines her authority and negotiating position.
This has sparked alarm bells in Ireland and Europe and backlash from members of Labour and the Scottish National Party.
The DUP response has already been quite toxic and has done the most to poison relations between North and South. Sammy Wilson made some deplorable comments about cowboys and Indians in the past few weeks. Arlene Foster grudgingly approved the deal with the caveat that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. However, the most insidious comments came from Ian Paisley Junior who claimed the DUP “had done over” the Irish Government and Leo Vardker. This is almost Trump-esque language that will harden Irish resolve as well as cause consternation among many in London.
I won’t be writing about Brexit again until 2018, though there may be further breakthroughs and crucial details that emerge at the meeting of European leaders next week. For now, talks have progressed without real progress and I think all sides will be happy to park the key issues until the New Year. For 2017, disaster has been averted and jobs have been retained.
This agreement was akin so a small release of energy that has resolved the threat of a political earthquake in the very short term. Unfortunately, the underlying fundamentals have not changed and it is still my view that the Irish border is a catch 22 position that can’t be resolved with the current agreement. I expect the Spring to be a very turbulent time for Brexit and political volatility to greatly increase. That’s for later though, to paraphrase the Chinese proverb, “may we live in interesting times, but let’s enjoy Christmas first…”
The Symmetrical Power of the Irish Government and DUP will probably lead to a Political Earthquake…
“Earthquakes are usually caused when rock underground suddenly breaks along a fault. This sudden release of energy causes the seismic waves that make the ground shake. When two blocks of rock or two plates are rubbing against each other, they stick a little. ... When the rocks break, the earthquake occurs.”
Yesterday was a disaster for North-South relations in Ireland. The DUP scuppered a deal that had been agreed by all sides AKA the Irish Government, the Tory Government (granted not the DUP, whose ten seats prop them up) and the European side.
By most accounts it appears that Theresa May had verbally agreed to a deal that committed Northern Ireland to “regulatory alignment” with the Republic and the European Union without consulting the DUP beforehand.
This was either a case of misplaced confidence or extreme naivete. We are now in a position where two opposing forces are pushing against each other in a state of equilibrium (aka stalemate in the negotiations). Unfortunately, the window for an agreement to be reached that appeases both sides has almost completely passed.
This equilibrium cannot last indefinitely. It is increasingly likely that at least one side will be forced under and burnt and the ensuing release of energy and emotions will have devastating implications for those involved.
At this stage, the most likely victim of this political earthquake is the British Government. Theresa May’s authority has been consistently undermined and her position looks untenable. Having said that, it’s looked untenable for months and nothing has dislodged her yet.
Nobody across the political spectrum has so far proposed a solution that is acceptable to all parties. I would hazard a guess and say that nobody so far has guessed correctly what will happen when either the Irish Govt or the DUP are let down or the talks collapse completely.
If Brexit has taught me one thing, it’s that logical outcomes rarely happen when this level of emotion is invested by all sides. As I have stated already, the British Government do look the most vulnerable to this potential, political rupture. However, the potential backlash could take down Leo Varadkar, Arlene Foster or even threaten the stability of the United Kingdom.
We are close to an earthquake that will be have devastating but unforeseen circumstances. Leadership and maturity must now be shown by all sides if we are to avoid this…
The last week has seen many spats and comments from Irish, British and European politicians on Brexit, trade and the Irish Border question. Theresa May travels to Brussels for a crunch meeting with Jean Claude Juncker tomorrow so negotiations and emotions should reach fever pitch over the next two weeks, after the relative phoney war of the Autumn.
The dynamics between parties and individuals is complex, fluid and dynamic. I’ve tried to summarize the position some of the groups involved below in terms of what they really want to happen in the coming weeks, red lines and relative power. It’s a contentious topic and certainly up for debate so feel free to comment or correct below;
Theresa May and the mainstream Conservatives;
2017 has been her annus horribilis. She started the year in a position of relative strength with Labour in disarray and massively trailing in the polls. Her Lancashire speech was met with muted praise by many in the British media. However, it’s all been downhill since including losing her majority in the General Election in June. This led to a supply and confidence agreement with the DUP which has massively impacted her negotiating leverage since.
At this point she would settle for concluding Phase 1 without her government collapsing or a heave from the Brexiteer side of the party led by Boris Johnson, Michael Gove or Jacob Rees-Mogg. To avoid this, she’ll have to do enough to satisfy both which will be difficult. The explicit backing of the Irish veto by Donald Tusk last week was a further blow and it will be almost impossible to keep everyone happy.
Pro – Brexit Conservatives;
While there is not a uniform position held by all those who favoured Brexit there are some clear demands that resonate with most of these members. They are already massively dismayed by the approximate 50 billion pound divorce bill. The fact that there wasn’t a heave against Theresa May then shows the fear they have now that it could lead to an election. They are not as pushed on what happens to the Irish border as long as progress to the next round of talks isn’t delayed further. The No Deal threat/demand has been mentioned but is still seen as the nuclear option. To be honest, they haven’t been able to impose their aims as much as I had feared back in July.
The Irish Government;
The Irish Government is in a position of strength since the unequivocal backing of Donald Tusk and the European Union last Friday. Their position seemed to be quite clear in that they would veto progress to the next round unless they have concrete guarantees from the British government that there would be no physical infrastructure on the Irish border. Their ultimate desire is that the UK remains in the Single Market. This now seems impossible but there is the potential that Northern Ireland will become a special designated zone.
Taking a hard-line publicly will also win votes. I think the Irish people have been quite riled up over the last few weeks. On the domestic front, there is no potential to be heavily criticised for being aggressive, this position does not to be defended on two fronts. Fine Gael do need a good PR story after what happened with Frances Fitzgerald and the upped ante of these talks is a welcome distraction as I wrote here.
Democratic Unionist Party;
Their position is possibly the most complex. Like the Irish government, they also want no physical infrastructure on the Irish border. They realize that this could potentially lead to backlash from the Nationalist community that could energize their voting habits and increase the nationalist turnout at Westminster elections, as well as any future Northern Ireland Assembly elections.
However, they have also said that any concessions or proposals by the Conservative party that leads divergence between the British mainland and Northern Ireland would force them to end the supply and confidence agreement. On paper, this also gives them a veto. In reality, if they did this Labour are currently polling ahead and a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour government would be a disaster for the DUP, on top of them losing their kingmaker position.
Jeremy Corbyn and Labour;
This is a very challenging position to describe and one really open for debate. Corbyn was heavily criticised for not campaigning hard enough for the UK to remain in the European Union prior to the Brexit referendum. For most of his political career, her has been a euro sceptic. I believe the government collapsing is their main aim today. The problem for them, is that they have no real way of making this happen. This is not to say that the government will not fall, I have outlined above how it could occur. If they did suddenly win a snap election, I don’t think they would try and reverse Brexit but would look for the softest version of Brexit possible, though probably falling short of complete free movement of people and goods.
The European Union;
I think at this stage they are quite happy with how things have proceeded. The initial shock and horror at the disarray of the British negotiating team has given way to a realisation that they hold most of the aces and are negotiating from a position of relative power. I was surprised at the level of backing given to Ireland on Friday though I suspect some of this was posturing and behind closed doors Leo Varadkar was encouraged to avoid using his veto. Their red line is that the United Kingdom will not have the same level of access to the single market with the free, uninhibited movement of people throughout the European Union.
I think Sinn Fein’s position is worth analysing. With the Northern Ireland assembly not currently sitting, Sinn Fein are not directly involved in negotiations. That being said, they represent the nationalist community in Northern Ireland as expressed through both the Westminster and previous Northern Ireland Assembly elections. I don’t think they would like to see Brexit reversed tomorrow. Brexit has helped propel talks of a United Ireland in the mainstream conscious of the Irish people in way I haven’t seen in my (admittedly relatively short) lifetime.
Equally, I do not believe they would want a disastrous Brexit either as they may suffer a backlash over not going back into government in the North. To be fair they have been outright in their calls for Northern Ireland to remain in the European Union from day one. This is unlikely but divergences between the British mainland and Northern Ireland would be publicly and privately welcomed, particularly if the DUP did follow through on their threat to pull down the government.
Martin won, Leo lost but he can reclaim some face with Brexit talks before the inevitable Spring election...
What a week. Irish politics is often drab, parochial and all too predictable. We aren’t often blessed with great politicians who can command the attention of the world or political events that have a global reach. For every Parnell, there is a Pat Rabbitte and most of our political crises end with a shrug of shoulders, a nudge and a wink or in extreme cases, a never-ending tribunal that produces non-criminal results years after people have stopped caring…
The last week has been different. We had high drama that captured the attention not only of the Irish public but of the global media. It was a perfect storm of brinkmanship between Ireland’s two most powerful politicians that brought the government to the edge of collapse. It also contained a human element in the abhorrent treatment of a good man, Maurice McCabe.
Too often, the issues that can divide politicians and governments are over theoretical or abstract points that seem to be part of a different, political universe. However, the allegation that a respected Minister, Frances Fitzgerald, allowed a whistle-blower to be wrongfully labelled a paedophile brought out anger and disgust in the Irish electorate.
To briefly summarise, the allegations of wrongdoing have floated around for quite a while over Frances Fitzgerald. It came to a head last Thursday when Sinn Fein tabled a motion of no confidence in the Dail after a barrage of criticism by Mary Lou McDonald. Michael Martin quickly realised that that there was anger within his own party over the behaviour of Mrs Fitzgerald and that he could not allow Sinn Fein to be the main opposition in this crisis. So, on Friday morning last Fianna Fail lodged their own motion of no confidence to be tabled this Tuesday. The Soldiers of Destiny had crossed the Rubicon and the nation held its breath.
The onus was initially put straight back on Leo Varadkar. Many believed he would cast Frances Fitzgerald aside as the motion passing would lead to a General Election right before Christmas. He didn’t, in fact he backed her to the hilt. It was a string and decisive counter attack that many labelled as Leo calling Martin’s bluff. Many Fine Gael TDs came out with vehement defences of Mrs Fitzgerald and claimed that Fianna Fail were playing political games at a crucial period of Brexit negotiations and that the Charleton Tribunal should be allowed to do its job, starting in January.
There were behind the scenes meetings over the weekend between the leaders and documents were exchanged. On Monday morning both sides held the same line and it looked like Michael Martin was going to force an election that he wouldn’t win. His future as leader was genuinely on the line with murmurs of discontent.
Then on final flop two more damaging emails emerged Monday evening. Fianna Fail finally had a winning hand. Frances Fitzgerald was finished and now Leo had to act to avert a backlash from the public. He took his time and looked indecisive but eventually on Tuesday morning Frances Fitzgerald resigned and the motion was withdrawn.
Varadkar has lost a lot of political capital. Many political pundits are incredulous as to why he continued to publicly back her after he became aware of the further emails on Saturday morning. It strikes of political naivety and a lack of experience.
I’m not his biggest fan but I think he can easily recover. He is fortunate enough that almost immediately after this debacle, the focus is right back on Brexit talks. He, along with Simon Coveney (the Minister for Foreign Affairs) have been firm but fair in holding the Irish position on vetoing progress to the next stage without concrete proposal on the Irish border question.
He benefits from the fact that the public and all the major parties agree on this. There is no potential for an attack at home as long as he holds strong. If he continues to do so and is able to gain favourable concessions from the British government (they have already acquiesced to the financial demands of the EU this week) Frances Fitzgerald and Maurice McCabe will be yesterday’s problem.
Michael Martin clearly won a great battle this week. However, it didn’t significantly enhance Fianna Fail’s political strength. They continue to prop up Fine Gael while having to defend against attack from Sinn Fein and their new leader, Mary Lou McDonald. The Supply and Confidence agreement looks damaged beyond repair. The onus is now on either Michael or Leo to call a Spring election but Fianna Fail are yet to move ahead of Fine Gael in poling (the next poll will be very, very interesting) and as Fianna Fail have ruled out a coalition with Sinn Fein, their political mobility is limited.
In summary, this was a bad week for Leo and Fine Gael but they have a lot more flexibility and potential upside in the next few weeks. Hannibal crushed the Roman Army at the Battle of Cannae and looked to be about to conquer Rome. However, he didn’t press his advantage and this eventually allowed the Romans to consolidate their position and strike back. Fianna Fail are a little reminiscent of that post victory Carthage army wandering around Italy without a clear plan. Unless Fine Gael completely collapse on the border or Mick Wallace/The Charleton Tribunal deliver further bombshells in the coming weeks this crisis may prove to be a footnote when the almost inevitable Spring election rolls around…
The UK government currently seems to be slipping from one scandal to another. It is hard to remember a more visibly powerless Prime Minister (older readers feel free to give some examples below). Since the June election when the Conservative party lost its majority in the June General Election, the government has simply stumbled along.
The Brexit negotiations have been moving at a glacial pace with minimal results or noteworthy achievements. I recently labeled them almost as a "phoney war". However, this may be one factor in Theresa May's continued survival. The role of Prime Minister is currently quite undesirable for a number of members of the Conservative party. Who wants to be the Prime Minister dragging the United Kingdom out of the European Union, with no deal agreed and the British economy facing a sustained period of economic stagnation.
There are elements of the party on the pro-Brexit (or historically on the anti-Europe faction) who would relish the afore-mentioned prospect, though they would surely describe it quite differently. Boris Johnson was a late joiner to this cause when he famously declared for Brexit days ahead of the 2016 referendum. He has come as close to any since the June election to openly challenging May with his September article in the Telegraph which lay out his vision for a post-Brexit Britain that was quite different to that of May in her January speech. However the key members rallied around May and the answer to a previous article "Can Boris Oust Theresa" seems for now to be a resounding No.
The sexual harassment scandal currently enveloping Westminster has cost the Minister for Defense, Michael Fallon, his job. There are numerous MPs implicated for inappropriate behaviour. We may see a few resign in the coming weeks as further details emerge. Fortunately for May, it doesn't seem to be enough at present to topple the government or force May to stand down.
It has been a very long time since the "Irish Problem" forced a British Prime Minister to resign. The current lack of progress in forming a new government in the Northern Ireland Assembly does not seem to be a pressing issue for the British public, based on media coverage in Britain. Theresa May knows that she relies on the ten DUP Westminster seats for her working majority. The DUP can pull down this government at a time of their choosing. It just doesn't seem likely in any potential scenario short of the post Brexit border being the Irish Sea, something the Tories have emphatically ruled out. They simply can not take the risk of a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour ascending to power given his previous dialogues with republican leaders.
I haven't even mentioned the current scandal with Priti Patel and her unofficial but definitely politically motivated trip to Israel. The fact that she hasn't been dismissed by now again shows just how impotent May currently is.
This lack of power may actually be what saves her until Brexit is concluded. The analogy that comes to mind is that of the naive, deluded Islamic Caliph or Ottoman Sultan surrounded by courtiers and advisors who all have their own agendas and seek to influence the leader for their own political gain (cough... Gavin Williamson). It's a fate worse then political death for most but maybe deep down May still believes she can turn things around. It's unlikely but sure surely something has to go right after so many recent wrongs....
So far, we have discovered very little about what the United Kingdom’s future relationship will look like with the European Union post Brexit. The formal declaration that the UK would be leaving occurred on the 29 March 2017 with the United Kingdom serving the withdrawal notice under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.
The negotiations really started on the 19th June 2017 when the British Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (catchy title!), David Davis, landed in Brussels to negotiate the exit terms with the European Union’s head negotiator, Michael Barnier.
The British Government’s position had been strongly weakened less than ten days before when Theresa May and her Conservative government lost their majority in the House of Commons. This was after they had voluntarily called the election to consolidate their majority. In hindsight, it was a poor decision though at the time most pundits believed It would deliver a larger majority. It didn’t and was possibly the worst prelude to negotiations May could have imagined.
Since then, there has been plenty of back and forth from London to Brussels. Talks are ongoing but seem to deliver very little in terms of concrete results, at least for the public. In fact, I think many people are already suffering from “Brexit fatigue”. Maybe it’s part of the Tory strategy, deliver so little and trickle news to the media so slowly that people eventually stop caring. Unfortunately for them, this won’t work as the media continues to focus on every announcement.
It doesn’t help that the Tories are currently undergoing an internecine leadership battle between those who want to either reverse Brexit or at the very least mitigate its impact and those who believe Brexit will be the greatest thing to happen to the UK since they found oil in the North Sea. This allows the British tabloids to continue their desire for the hardest possible Brexit through mouthpieces like Jacob Rees-Mogg or Nigel Farage.
We have seen some battle lines drawn on divorce payment, the role of the European Court of Justice in any (yet to be agreed) transition period. However, nothing is confirmed. Personally, I believe it will be very hard to the UK to make real, concrete progress until either Theresa May is deposed and a new leader who openly represents one of the afore mentioned factions emerges or, even more dramatically, a General Election is called and Labour emerge, championing a soft Brexit.
Somehow the European Union has claimed enough progress has been made to move to the second stage of the negotiations in December. The Phoney War lasted eight months between the UK’s declaration of war on Germany in September 1939 and Germany’s first offensive on the Low Countries on the 10 May 1940. December will mark approximately eight months of the Brexit talks.
As each day passes with little progress and updates I think it is more likely that the EU negotiators will start the genuine war and publicly deliver some hard truths to the British Government. This is no not really in anyone’s interests (I haven’t even touched upon Ireland in this article though I have speculated on how the internal Tory struggle is dangerous before here).
The problem for the British is that while they bicker and postulate that any bad deal will hurt the remaining 27 EU nations more, the European Union is going about its business in a discreet and diligent manner. They have started to send out signals that they are losing patience with David Davis and co. but I still think they are yet to use any of the weapons at their disposal. Davis publicly calling his European counterparts the “enemy” gives them further justification for harsher measures. The phoney war is going to soon end and I believe it will be the European side who fire the first bullet. This bullet may even be the coup de grâce for May’s shambolic reign as Prime Minister.
Leo Varadkar needs to stand up to the Franco-German axis for Ireland and the small nations of the European Union
*First appeared here on Slugger O' Toole
Since it became clear that Angela Merkel would be re-elected as German Chancellor, there has been a re-focused approach to tax harmonisation within the European Union, driven mostly by Emmanuel Macron's France, along with Germany. This has been covered by numerous media outlets and there is little I can add to the conversation. The argument is that France and Germany who are now both stable and revitalised after momentous national elections, will look to readjust the balance of Europe. It was a major talking point a few years ago and then seemed to die down with numerous crises occurring, like the EU sovereign debt crisis, followed by Brexit.
In fact, it looked like Brexit would deter these efforts for a number of years at the very least. However, the certainty of the EU position in the face of a disorganized and often contradictory UK position has probably alleviated some of the fear in Brussels that the EU will suffer more than the UK from Brexit. The buoyant economic situation across Europe has also added to this new-found sense of confidence. This is a welcome change from the near fatalism that pervaded much of the mainstream media concerning the European Project over the last number of years. Unfortunately for Ireland, this has exacerbated the return to the tackling the major thorn at the side of the two most powerful EU economies; the variance in corporation tax that has attracted a disproportionate amount of foreign direct investment to certain peripheral EU states.
Ireland is undoubtedly the most high-profile example of a country benefitting from a lower than average corporate tax rate in the EU. It isn’t the only nation though, with some of the so called peripheral nations also attracting companies in this way. These include Cyprus and Malta amongst others. Many of these have suffered in the past from poverty, emigration and elevated levels of unemployment, A story all too familiar to many of our own older generations. The access to the European Union has offered these countries the chance to invigorate their economies, some experiencing growth unheard of in the recent past.
Unfortunately for the small nations, now that Germany and France (with the support of some of the other large nations) have realised that the rules are not in their favour they have decided that they want to play a different game. The latest utterings coming from Paris and Berlin are that the Eurozone needs a finance minister, along with a uniform corporate tax rate.
The Irish government needs to be firm and stand up for itself here, along with the other smaller nations. Allegedly, we have a lot of goodwill over the unique challenges we face with Brexit. Surely, we can argue, this is not the time for such drastic changes to the daily functions of the EU. Furthermore, these actions would boost the dissenters against the European Union’s creeping power. Many of these protestors have fuelled far right movements in European countries in recent years.
Ireland needs to say this isn’t the time and tell Europe that they will use any veto powers available to them to block this. Ireland can then work with the other nations who are more discreetly opposed to a single tax rate to organise a bloc of countries. Ireland is one of the most pro-European nations. Varadkar will need to effectively vocalise that there is difference between being Eurosceptic and believing that these potential steps are a bridge too far.
A lot of Varadkar’s appeal to his supports revolves around his frank and outspoken method of communicating. He is seen as someone who isn’t afraid to mince his words. This is often seen in sharp contrast to his predecessor, Enda Kenny. It’s hard to forget the image of Nicolas Sarkozy rubbing his head, this was not the action of someone speaking to their equal.
Varadkar has been a lot more forthright with his criticism of the British government for their approach thus far to Brexit. It would be a lot more of a challenge to be as outspoken against tax harmonisation. However, this does not mean it would be prudent to stay silent. Ireland needs to stay strong on this issue. We cannot back down and allow ourselves to be walked over and dismissed. Let’s hope we have a leader who will fight for Ireland and maybe we can be an inspiration for other nations struggling to find their voice in Brussels.
To many observers of British politics, Boris Johnson launched his bid for leadership of the British Conservative party yesterday. It came in the format of an article in the Telegraph that laid out his vision for Britain’s Brexit.
Many of the positions were at odds with what Theresa May is expected to say in her speech to the European Union in Florence next Friday. The consensus is he has become frustrated with the backtracking by May on a number of issues since her bullish Lancaster Speech on January 17th.
Boris did try and run for leadership already, in the wake of David Cameron’s resignation, post Brexit referendum. He looked to be in pole position until he was brutally betrayed by Michael Gove. Gove basically supported his bid all along. Then, with 2 hours to go until Johnson’s campaign launch, he called Johnson’s campaign manager to let him know he was running himself.
It completely devastated Boris, who immediately called off his bid. Gove didn’t figure in the final running (not many voters of any political ilk want a self serving, Judas-type character as their leader).
I am not so sure if this is a full on bid for power, yet. It is probably a reminder to the more hard line Brexit MPs that he is still with them and could be their man. David Davis still remains the forerunner in betting odds to be the next Tory leader(4/1) and is also viewed as a proponent of a “hard” Brexit.
If Boris is to succeed, a lot of his success will be based on his “charisma”. He is certainly more interesting to listen to than May, Davis or Hammond, though he has offended many over the years with some very questionable phrases and actions (Politico have compiled a list of 11 of his most memorable here).
May’s stock has suffered terribly since the last British General election in June. The early part of the campaign focused on the mantra of her “strong and stable leadership”. This ran concurrently with the ongoing Brexit discussions which were unpredictable with positions changed on an almost daily basis. This was not lost on her opponents or the wider general public.
My ultimate view on this is that Boris no longer has the necessary clout across the spectrum of the Tory MPs to win a leadership contest. He can probably get the 15% of MPs required to force a contest but I think another candidate would then emerge at that stage.
Theresa May is living on borrowed time, that is evident to everyone. Boris is probably not the man to replace her, but he may yet be remembered for starting the open rebellion against Theresa May’s leadership.
Ireland is increasingly being viewed as one of the most open, tolerant societies in the world, or at least we like telling ourselves so. There is no doubt that the Marriage Equality referendum in May 2015 was a watershed moment for our society. A chance to shake off some of the shackles of our Catholic past. A past which was often cold, brutal and closed off. This feeling that we have joined the upper echelon of socially liberal nations has been further magnified in the minds of many by two factors, one internal and one external.
Leo Varadkar’s ascent to become the Taoiseach of Ireland is undoubtedly an historic occasion in Ireland’s history. The fact that an openly gay man, who is the son of an Indian doctor can become the leader of the country is unquestionably a sign of progress. Irishness is no longer as monolithic as it once was. This trend has been taking place for a long time now and while Leo Varadkar is the current personification of this, there are plenty of other positive, grassroots examples of this throughout the country. A topic I would like to explore at a future date is that while the glass ceiling has been smashed for many with this appointment. We ,as a country, are still not doing enough to lessen inequality between the haves and have nots -if he was the son of an Indian factory worker or construction worker and not a doctor with a less polished South Dublin accent would this still have been possible?.
The decisions of our American and British neighbours to elect Donald Trump as President and vote for Brexit do seem to stand in stark contrast to our Yes result in the Marriage Equality Act. Both have been deemed by many in the mainstream media as backwards steps. Decisions underpinned by angry, old white men who yearn for the glory days of the past. Accusations of racism against supporters of both have been frequently levelled. Many social and political commentators have linked these two decisions as results of similar trends. Rapid changes in society, as well as the collapse of many industries and institutions that were formerly seen as the bedrock of the respective societies and national identities.
I think there is a certain truth to this. I also believe that these results were in part the responsibility of many of those who espouse views on the left of the political spectrum. Those who simply labelled trump supporters or pro- Brexiteers as ignorant, backwards, stupid or a combination of all three. There was so much dismissal of differing views and arrogance on the left. So little attempt at empathising with those whose views were different. I genuinely believe many people who were on the fence in both decisions could have been convinced with more conversation and less condescension.
This brings me to the upcoming abortion referendum in Ireland. The Repeal the 8th movement is already quite strong in Ireland and an all likelihood the referendum will be passed. However, there are many who believe in the right to life from the moment of conception. There is every chance that there plenty more who are uncertain and still on the fence. Many on the left and in the media see the result as a foregone conclusion. The recent government Public Assembly voted 79-12 in favour of abortion. Many on the pro life side believe this is not an accurate reflection of current public opinion.
There is a certain amount of hubris in Ireland at the moment. The economy is undoubtedly in the best place it has been in the last seven years. I have heard a lot of talk that we are “different to the British and Americans”. We would never make decisions as stupid as they have. While the referendum on abortion is a moral issue and not purely political like the other two shocks, many of the voting dynamics also exist in Ireland. Don’t be surprised if the day after the referendum in Ireland we wake to read that maybe we’re not so different after all. Maybe Ireland isn't quite the bastion of liberalism we’ve come to believe...
Demographics and Brexit. These are the two arguments I encounter most often when reading about how a United Ireland is likely to come into existence. On the face of it, they actually compliment each other quite well, demographics are the long term structural change that seem to move at glacial pace while Brexit is the shocking spark, the catalyst to re-invigorate nationalism. The modern-day equivalent of what Easter 1916 did to the Irish national psyche.. Combined, many believe (or hope) that these distinct factors have now put us on course for a United Ireland that cannot be stopped or diverted.
I believe this to be a very dangerous and arrogant assumption. It’s the multiple of the assumed maximum upside of both factors, transpiring as nationalists would hope. Furthermore, no time table accompanies this assumption and it could be twenty years before demographic change translates into a majority of people who want a United Ireland.
According to Section 1 of the GFA above the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will suggest a referendum if it appears likely a majority want a United Ireland. This vague language may prove to be a point of contention in the future. Would one election result in Northern Ireland where the Nationalist vote exceeded the unionist vote be enough? Or would the Nationalist vote have to exceed 50%+1 of the overall vote including Alliance, the Green Party etc? The closest the Nationalist vote has come to the Unionist vote was in March where there were only 1,200 votes between them. By June this had jumped back to 20,000 as the Unionist vote rallied.
There is no doubt that the Catholic population in Northern Ireland is growing faster than the Protestant one. There are many excellent sites that focus exclusively on NI demographics and I have used the voting graph from http://endgameinulster.blogspot.com.mt/. I don’t like to use this metric for much analysis as it is a horribly crude, sectarian headcount. One major challenge with the demographic argument is that over the next twenty years the newly eligible to vote Catholics will be part of the least religious generation in modern Ireland’s history. This generation are a lot less likely to associate their birth at religion with their national loyalties.
The 2021 British Census results will shed a lot more light on the demographics argument timeframe. It is unlikely, but there may not be another election in Northern Ireland until 2022. In that case, it would be four years for nationalists on both sides of the border to work on ideas and make further arguments without the distraction of elections.
The Brexit impact is that many of those who are currently comfortable living in Northern Ireland would become more favourable towards a United Ireland as Brexit divides the island again and wrecks the British economy. Nationalists shouldn’t simply assume this will happen. At the moment, it does look like Brexit is a shambles, however the UK has just reached its highest ever level of employment. Were the British government able to successfully implement a Brexit with minimal interference to their economy and a mostly technological solution to the border then a United Ireland might be further away than ever.
Perhaps less likely is the chance that Brexit would be so disastrous to Northern Ireland that the assumed annual British subvention to Northern Ireland of around 9 billion pounds would shoot up. In this case, there is every chance that the seemingly impregnable majority in the Republic who would vote for a United Ireland currently (based on polls) starts to dissipate.
As someone who would like to see a United Ireland as soon as possible without a return to violence, this article is not meant as a rebuke of nationalism today. It is a voice that wants to see a greater diversification of thought and dialogue. The arguments for a United Ireland must also have emotional appeal to a wide range of voters. It needs to be about building bridges and changing the discussion purely from a numbers game to a holistic approach that draws from economic, cultural and social arguments. There have been attempts at this and I hope to see more of these in the future. Demographics and Brexit have not changed the fact that currently more people in Northern Ireland would prefer to remain in the UK than to leave it. Let’s start changing that today with dialogue and imagination rather than waiting on events beyond our control…
The comments today from the UK Minister for Immigration , Brandon Lewis, were blunt and to the point “Free movement of labour ends when we leave the European Union in the spring of 2019. I’ll be very clear about that,”.
He added no caveats and made no mention of Ireland. While we Irish sometimes overestimate our own importance (small country syndrome if you will) it would be a massive blow if Irish citizens no longer had the right to work in the UK. It is a strange quirk that Irish residency in the UK is so taken for granted that I have been told more times that London is the sixth largest French city by population rather than it is the second largest Irish city on the same basis. The chart below illustrates just how crucuial this continued right to work will be.
“There has been a Common Travel Area between the UK and the Republic of Ireland for many years. Indeed, it was formed before either of our two countries were members of the European Union. And the family ties and bonds of affection that unite our two countries mean that there will always be a special relationship between us.
“So we will work to deliver a practical solution that allows the maintenance of the Common Travel Area with the Republic, while protecting the integrity of the United Kingdom’s immigration system.
“Nobody wants to return to the borders of the past, so we will make it a priority to deliver a practical solution as soon as we can.”
Above are the words of Theresa May when questioned on the topic in January. However a lot has changed since then domestically in the UK. Her leadership is no longer "strong and stable".
I do not believe Theresa May will be the British Prime Minister in March 2019 when the UK leaves the European. Ireland may be a victim of the hawkish, pro-Brexit faction of the Conservative party if they gain power in the meantime. If negotiations break down fully between the European Union and the UK then it is very possible that all the talk of ‘special recognition for Ireland’ will fall by the wayside.
It is too early to speculate based on one interview. However it would be prudent for the Irish government to keenly follow every development and statement from the key players in the British government from now until the final Brexit settlement is agreed. Finally as I have mentioned before it would be naive in the extreme to believe the Irish aspect of Brexit is anywhere near being settled...
Finding out about the British Brexit referendum result was one of the most surreal moments of my life. I was following the Irish football team around France and we had taken a small detour to Ghent. We had found a barge to rent on AirBnb and when we arrived there it was huge. It was soon turned into the flagship of the joint Irish/Lebanese Naval Force (there was a Sean, Cathal, Abdallah, Jad and Maher aboard). When Abdallah announced first thing in the morning they had voted to leave I literally couldn’t believe it. We had drunkenly gone to sleep pretty early the night before, after a long day’s drive, confident that the polls were all correct in suggesting a Remain win. I immediately viewed it as a watershed moment for Western politic and have maintained a healthy distrust of polls since.
Trump being elected was a lot less shocking. I do concur with the view that there was a similar pattern of middle class voters disillusioned with mainstream politics who viewed drastic change as a positive. I didn’t believe he would ultimately win but I advised my brother (who enjoys a punt) to back him at 3/1 a few days before the election ( this was before James Comey came out and said that Hillary Clinton was still under investigation by the FBI - a moment many think had a major impact on the final result).
These two results could have marked the beginning of epochs of change in their respective countries. Brexit, in particular, was seen as a dramatic departure that would change the face of the European Union forever. I may be guilty of engaging in a little hyperbole here, but not more so than the British press in the days following the election.
However in recents months both Trump and Brexit momentum have definitely stalled. The key question in this article is which will collapse first. There is still a major chance that Trump will successfully complete his term as President and may even get re-elected if he chooses not to return to the simpler task of selling golf holidays to wealthy pensioners. Similarly Brexit may turn out to be unheralded success that Nigel Farage has crowed about for a number of years. I don’t think this is likely.
Trump came to power on a wave of radical promises, including the memorable ‘drain the swamp’. However the swamp is fighting back. It looks to me like Trump has sent the last twenty years surrounding himself with sycophants and yes men. He seems to have a very binary view of the world and has so far proven himself to be very incapable of subtlety and nuance. These are two qualities that are crucial when you are the leader in a democratic country. The emphasis here is definitely on democratic. He is a self professed admirer of Putin and seems to wonder why he can’t simply sign off on laws the way Vladimir can.
The allegations of collusion with a foreign government are mounting. Every day it seems a new accusation or piece of evidence comes to the attention of the public (and the potential prosecutors). His supporters scream ‘fake news’ any time there is a major story from a broad variety of media outlets. They saying goes there is no smoke without fire and currently the Trump administration, in particular a number of his key clientele, are suffocating. I predict Trump will ultimately survive these allegations after lengthy, multiple investigations but his administration will suffer greatly. To be a little bolder I predict he will not get the backing of the Republican party (and will either announce his intention not to run again before this goes public) or run as the first ever incumbent, Independent Presidential candidate (someone may correct me if this isn’t legally possible).
Brexit is stumbling on without a clear mandate. I have no doubt that if the Referendum was re-run Remain would win. The Conservatives, and Theresa May in particular, are living on borrowed time. There may even be an early election called if the DUP pull the plug. This could result in a Labour minority government or the Brexit doves gaining the upperhand in the Conservative party. I think a very diluted Brexit will take place with the freedom of movement and access to the market intact albeit with a different title and an added layer of political spin. There may be a few caveats to please the hawks and this will be gained through some sort of divorce bill that is a lot lower than the sixty billion pounds that has been bandied about.
Events are moving so swiftly on both sides of the Atlantic that predictions can’t remain static but in the end I see Trump and Brexit being constrained by Realpolitik to the extent that little changes substantially. This would be quite appropriate for two campaigns that were distinctly lacking in substance. Maybe the real lesson we can take from the last year is that vision and bringing people together leads to lasting change, not divisive soundbites...
ps if anyone is interested I’ve posted a picture of the finest Irish/Lebanese vessel the world has ever seen….