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Panic? May 15, 2018

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Here’s a question. How does Newton Emerson know the following:

The DUP is now publicly panicking over Brexit.
Last week, as the British government’s plan for a customs partnership with Europe following Brexit fell apart and both houses of parliament voted to stay in the European Union customs union, the DUP reportedly informed Downing Street it would also back customs union membership if that was the price of preventing a so-called sea border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
DUP leader Arlene Foster repeated this in a television interview at the weekend. Her deputy Nigel Dodds, the party’s leader in the Commons, said much the same in a magazine interview two weeks ago.
Both stated they would prefer the UK to leave the customs union, with Dodds saying failure to do so would be “the worst of all worlds”.

Does this seem like panic? I’m not so sure. But even if it were true, does Emerson have some specific insight, bar what he (and we) can read in the news media about this issue?

Though I suppose it does suggest the DUP has no more a coherent line on all these matters than the Tories. Comforting words though for T May to an extent.

Emerson continues:

However, both added their only red line was keeping Northern Ireland in lockstep with Britain, whatever Brexit’s outcome.
If this achieves nothing else it should debunk claims the DUP is seeking a hard Brexit for hardline unionist reasons.
According to this hypothesis, which enjoys some credence in republican circles, the DUP or leading elements within it see Brexit as a last chance to drive an economic and physical wedge along the Border before the inexorable forces of demography, reason and love unite us all in a 32-county paradise.

And he continues:

The past two weeks have made it clear the DUP is not hoping to sabotage Irish unity through Brexit. However, this is not as accepted as it ought to be, even as the party runs scared of a sea border. Conspiracy theories attract diehard fans, this one flatters traditional suspicions about unionists and the British government, and investigations into Brexit campaign funding keep adding fuel to the paranoid fire.

Am I missing a sentence there where he demonstrates that this is not the case? Simply because Foster recognises that British political dynamics may be moving against her previously stated position on the customs union doesn’t mean that she and others don’t hope Brexit ’sabotages’ Irish unity. All it indicates is a recognition of that dynamic and that it would sweep them aside if push came to shove. Though given how absurd all these machinations are given the reality of what is on offer to the UK in relation to Brexit one has to wonder whether any of this has any reality at all.

I really think Emerson is reaching in the next paragraph too:

The result could be the worst of all worlds for Northern Ireland politics, in which the DUP backs a soft Brexit and perhaps even plays a small part in delivering it, but where it never gets the credit because of its pride and nationalism’s mistrust. A chance for rapprochement will be squandered and Brexit will remain hugely divisive despite being technically resolved.

Well, let’s wait and see if the DUP does back a soft Brexit. But it hasn’t yet.

That said, credit where credit is due. I do think Emerson is correct in the following:

There are two keys to understanding the DUP’s true position on EU departure. The first is to realise that, like almost everyone else, it did not think Leave would win the 2016 referendum. This lured the party into believing it could indulge the pro-Brexit instincts of its members and supporters at no political cost.
Such instincts were not shared across the leadership. In an infamous interview just after the referendum, Stormont economy minister Simon Hamilton – Foster’s closest lieutenant – repeatedly refused to say how he had voted, leading to the universal assumption he had voted Remain.

He argues that it was the Westminster caucus that was most pro-Brexit and was given its head consequently. And this seems likely too:

In the 2017 Westminster election, incredibly, it won 10 seats and found itself holding the balance of power, acquiring a national responsibility for Brexit. Now it is facing the fact that even this level of influence cannot offset the centrifugal forces unleashed against the union.
Did the DUP bring this on itself? Certainly. But that cannot have been its intention. Like the big beasts of Brexit it thought it could play with, the DUP has never had a plan.

The thing is though, that the DUP did have options after the referendum. It has pursued a ‘hard’ Brexit over a soft one. It has championed the ‘magical thinking’ on the Border that Davis et al have sought. It has allied itself with the most reactionary elements in Toryism, quite an achievement given how reactionary those elements are. It has been very clear in that, even to this day, even in the quotes Emerson himself provides. I think he’s right that in some ways it isn’t as wedded to matters as it might like to make out, and in any event may become an irrelevancy. But by its tactless and graceless approach it has, unquestionably, soured matters still further. That, unfortunately, is no small thing.


1. EWI - May 15, 2018

If this achieves nothing else it should debunk claims the DUP is seeking a hard Brexit for hardline unionist reasons.

It does no such thing, and this is breath-taking audacity (even for a Newton Emerson column) to claim so.

What he describes on the changed DUP tune proves that everything the DUP has done (and is doing) around Brexit is precisely for reasons primarily to do with seeking unionist advantage, and that all other considerations are secondary. Given the viper in the nest that the DUP are and always have been, how long until they betray the Tories for the ‘interests’ of the Wee Province?


WorldbyStorm - May 15, 2018



2. Aengus Millen - May 15, 2018

Frankly the last week or two has shown how at sea the conservative are on this issue. Because of the idiots in cabinet we’ll either get this ridiculous Max Fac that relies on magical thinking about technological solution (a solution which is unacceptable to both Ireland and the EU) or else the tories will dissolve into infighting as they’ve done many times before. Honestly the DUP seems to be playing almost no role on either UK or ROI thinking on this. If there are enough rebels in the conservative ranks to support staying in the customs union then the DUP’s numbers won’t be enough to prevent it and if the conservatives come to an agreed solution the DUP will just go along. If the DUP had been smart they would have foreseen this issue and made the tories agree a border position with them in the immediate aftermath of the election when they still had leverage. At this point they’re not gonna bring down the government but nor do they have leverage to influence government policy on the border.


WorldbyStorm - May 15, 2018

I wonder are the DUP as incoherent t on this as the Tories ?


GW - May 15, 2018

“If the DUP had been smart…”

Good analysis Aengus – Brexit could in the recent past have been used as an opportunity to frame NI as a entrepot with at least immaginable economic benefits. But this would have meant going softly on negotiations and not indulging in hard-Brexiteer rhetoric and political manouverings. Some kind of working arrangement with just enough fudge with a Fine Gael government should have been possible, and the latter is in a position to bring the EU along with it.

But it wasn’t so, and I don’t think there’s much room to retreat given the paralysis in the British government and oppostion on Brexit.

Add to that the loss of trust in the Tory/DUP outfit as capable of negotiating and sticking to an agreement, itself partly a result of DUP actions and things don’t look too bright.

History has hysteresis – a fundamental fact that [Br|L]exiteers can’t get their heads around.


Aengus Millen - May 15, 2018

Yeah the problem for the DUP and potentially for all of us is that while the specifics of conditions on our little island were seen as the province of the Irish government and the Northern parties in the past, and hence possible to be solved quietly, they’ve now become a tool in the battle between factions of the conservative party with Fraser Nelson of the Spectator saying that Karen Bradley (NI secretary) is the tie breaking vote on the border issue in the cabinet and Rees-Mogg and May arguing on the front pages about the potential of losing a border poll.


3. Alibaba - May 15, 2018

It strikes me the DUP are facing into an historic cul-de-sac, no matter which way Brexit plays out. Hence, the panic and incoherent approach.

And by the way, I don’t believe a single word out of the mouths of key negotiators over yonder or from the EU team.


makedoanmend - May 15, 2018

Why not believe the word of the EU team (including the Irish government)?

Ain’t say the EU are some wonder kids who can’t make mistakes or deceive for their own purposes – but just wondering.

The EU have repeatedly and repeatedly and repeatedly set out their so-called red lines.

Maybe you think the EU will throw Ireland to wolves, so to speak, to placate a chaotic and seemingly reckless UK? I can see that as a possibility.


GW - May 15, 2018

I’d tend to endorse the assertion that EU has more reason to be open and honest in its negotiating position. On their side and on a purely political the agreement won’t be a lash between a couple of highly reactionary political parties but must get through many political endorsement processes, not least that of the European Parliament.

Leaving aside the border through the island of Ireland, the current Brit/DUP position on EU citizens in the UK after Brexit hasn’t a hope in hell of getting through the European Parliament.


makedoanmend - May 15, 2018

Seems a fair assessment GW.


Alibaba - May 15, 2018

When I mention the ‘EU team’ I am thinking of Barnier and his cohort – the very people who are there to protect capital interests of the key economies – that being France and Germany. The fortunes of Ireland and its current population of almost 7 million (5 million post Brexit) doesn’t figure in their calculations seriously. There are cities in Britain and elsewhere bigger than this. The EU negotiatiors will cut any deal that suits them best, despite what they say. That may well mean a hard border, of course.

On the other hand, smaller EU nations will be watching what’s going on and won’t like to see Ireland coming short in case that happens to them too. So who knows what will happen in the end? Not I.

Liked by 1 person

4. deiseach - May 15, 2018

The DUP are in favour of anything that pisses off the Taigs. Newt would see that if, to paraphrase Upton Sinclair, his salary were not dependent on him not being able to understand their bad faith approach to politics.


5. CL - May 15, 2018

“I think that the concept of a shared customs space is something that certainly from an Irish perspective we would like to see some thinking from the British side..”-Coveney

“the current debate about customs arrangements is simply not fit for purpose….
Take the “customs partnership” that the Prime Minister proposed in her Mansion House speech…
both Brexit minister David Davis and the EU’s lead negotiator Michel Barnier have both rejected this option, it would be nothing short of a bureaucratic nightmare.”

“When it comes to the Irish border, the government’s reheated customs proposals are nothing less than magical thinking…
“It is something that perhaps we could make workable,” commented Taoiseach Leo Varadkar when confronted again with the prospect of a reheated proposal for UK/EU customs partnership, his well-worn tone of exasperation dropping towards one of desperation….
But there are solid reasons why the customs partnership idea was rejected last August….”-Katy Hayward

So why is the Irish government taking seriously the reheated Tory magical thinking on the Irish border question?


CL - May 15, 2018

‘The proposals, already rejected last year, are only the latest in a long line of failings in Britain’s negotiations with the island of Ireland’-Hayward.


GW - May 15, 2018

“… why is the Irish government taking seriously the reheated Tory magical thinking on the Irish border question?”

I think they are trying to remind the Tories/DUP that if they want an agreement they have to negotiate with RoI/EU as well as among themselves. Perhaps the RoI government hopes to move them on from the unworkable to the possibly workable.

Good luck with that at this stage.


CL - May 15, 2018

Varadkar has moved from ‘cast iron guarantee’ last December to now embracing ‘magical thinking’. But its ok; this counts as ‘sufficient progress’.


6. GW - May 15, 2018

The British Parliamentary Labour party has ruled out a whip to support Tory rebels pn remaining in the single market.

It seems to be sticking to its implicit preference for a hard Brexit and border infrastructure through the island of Ireland.


7. makedoanmend - May 15, 2018

Can’t abide the current formation of the DUP in any facet of its current incarnation. I just find them reprehensible on so many social issues and, in turn, incomprehensible on so many other levels. They seem to be defined not so much for what they believe but more for what they don’t want to believe.


It now seems almost certain that the Tories had no plan (as in zero) when they invoked the leave clause 1 1/2 years ago. And it almost seems certain that they didn’t think about the Irish border or just fobbed it off as some minor irrelevance given that Ireland and its economy is smaller and less important than the UK’s. Ireland is a nuisance detail that has held the UK back for these past 100 years. Surely the rest of Europe would understand this. (sarc intended)

Then May’s disastrous election landed the DUP where it never thought it would be, but the EU negotiations had taken a certain shape by that time. It was beginning to dawn on the Brits that the Irish border would be an issue they would have to address. I can’t believe that May could have given the DUP carte blanche on the border at that stage. The DUP are hardly known for their negotiating nuance. They be roaring a Tory guarantee like that from the roof tops.

Ireland still provides some leverage (as in the UK can actively harm us economically) for the UK in the negotiations to come. The Tories dangle carrots for the DUP but they let the DUP know who owns the power and hence the statelet. They’ll decide how the border issues plays out by calculating a profit and loss statement. And Ireland nor the DUP will be considered when the Tory grandee’s bank balances are at stake. It’s just business.


8. GW - May 15, 2018

And now direct rule in the North (by a government dependent on the DUP) has been forced on the British by the courts.

It just gets better all the time.


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