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A necessary analysis January 31, 2019

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Funny old world isn’t it? Pieces by Spiked columnists on the IT get many scores of comments BTL – in fairness pointing out the illogicality of the underlying arguments of the columnists. Or Newton Emerson continues to glide away from rationality as he lambastes the Irish government for things it has not actually done and seemingly demand it do things it cannot actually do while evading placing responsibility where it actually rests – in London.

Whereas this sober, forensic and commanding analysis of the situation in relation to the Border and the backstop had by the lunchtime on the day it was published received not one.

Brexiteers are right when they say that WTO rules are not about policing borders or enforcing border controls. This is because they are based on the assumption that customs controls will be imposed by states who want to protect their consumers, businesses and citizens. The idea that a country would simply refuse to fulfil its duties with regard to customs facilitation is bizarre.
Smuggling not only means losses to public revenue; it causes harm to legitimate traders, poses risks to consumers, and funds criminal activity. If the UK or Ireland decided to turn a blind eye to the traffic of goods across their borders, they would essentially be leaving a gate swinging wide open through which illicit goods will flow and from which criminals will profit.
This is the reality of what Ireland and the UK have to face with a no-deal. A fundamental rule of global border management is that a chaotic environment creates the capacity for border problems. No matter whether this chaos comes in the form of legal, political, economic or social flux – border problems will arise. If the UK leaves with no deal, the bare facts are that Ireland can do little to stem the ripple effect of profound uncertainties.

And crucially:

Looking ahead, if we end up with a no-deal outcome, it will be the decision not of the Irish Government but of British MPs. That so many of them are apparently willing to see the UK propelled into legal and economic insecurity in just 70 days’ time surely only justifies the Irish Government’s commitment to the certainties of the protocol.

Signs of Hope – A continuing series January 31, 2019

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Gewerkschaftler suggested this recently:

I suggest this blog should have a regular (weekly) slot where people can post happenings at the personal or political level that gives them hope that we’re perhaps not going to hell in a handbasket as quickly as we thought. Or as the phlegmatic Germans put it “hope dies last”.

Any contributions this week?

Challenging times for the ROI January 31, 2019

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Pat Leahy noted in the IT that:

As the Government publishes a summary of the Brexit omnibus Bill to be put before the Oireachtas in late February, a survey of other EU countries affected by Brexit shows many are more advanced in bringing forward Brexit legislation to cater for a no-deal outcome.
Many countries have already introduced legislation, which is currently before their parliaments. Some have introduced legislation to give their governments special powers to act in the case of a no-deal Brexit.

Yet the thought strikes me that only the ROI shares a land border with the current UK and that makes it more complex – particularly in regard to the lack of clarity as to what the shape of things to come will be. One could also argue that the ROI is more directly involved in attempting to frame matters.

And in late February the government here will be bringing forward a Brexit Bill.

Spinning for success (and simultaneously for failure) January 31, 2019

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This piece in the Guardian about the framing of the House of Commons vote on Tuesday is educative. It’s highly entertaining to see the Mail and the Express argue that this is some great victory for May (albeit those people with more cynical minds may well, as does Richard North, see her shifting the ground towards her own Plan slowly but surely). What’s telling is how it is necessary for those reading these papers to quite simply not understand the power balance at play in all this. If ones political horizons are limited to London and the House of Commons all this may indeed seem like a victory (of sorts) but widen the scope and it rapidly becomes clear that this is near enough parochial stuff.

The Telegraph is no more persuasive arguing that ‘May takes the Brexit battle back to Brussels’ managing to completely misunderstand and mischaracterise what is actually going on.

At least the Guardian, FT and Independent get it right. The last has an entertainingly terse headline:

“8.41pm MPs send May back to Brussels for a new deal, 8.47pm Brussels says no”

makedoandmend put it concisely in comments this week:

That one country thinks it can continue with what can only now be described as an internal parliamentary pantomime masquerading as a decision making body that routinely reneges on past agreements and essentially wants to dictate terms to a union of 27 other countries is beyond farce and self-delusion.
With <60 days left, these muppets are still playing internal party politics. It staggers the mind.

Internal party politics, writ a bit larger, but not much. It does indeed stagger the mind.

Red (tape) scare January 30, 2019

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As always I know opinions are divided on Richard North – I can’t help but think that he’s done some service the past number of years. But this is excellent in my view. He discusses the manner in which UK agencies, the Vehicle Registration Authority, the CAA, have become de facto regulators with international legitimacy. And how this ends with Brexit and with that income streams and employment. And he notes that:

Of course, for the hard Brexiteers, this is all “red tape” from which British industry will be “liberated” once we leave the EU. But that is fundamentally to misunderstand the nature of such regulation. Without the reassurance if independent regulatory certification, markets contract, not only at a European level but also worldwide, in countries which also use EU certification as the basis for their own market access.

I recall once working for a UK company marketing a novel disinfectant product in the days before there was any UK or EU regulatory approval system. In order to gain access to its own domestic market – and lucrative NHS contracts – it became necessary for the company to submit its product voluntarily to US FDA approval. Post-Brexit, without the cover of the European system, many British companies will have to resort to similar stratagems, especially if they seek to market their products internationally.

To that extent, regulation is not a burden. It is an enabler. Yet the way we are handling Brexit, with the prospect of a no-deal, is potentially going to crash a huge spanner in the works. The minimal savings from reduced EU “red tape” will be absorbed in duplicating regulatory systems at a domestic level, while we then have to seek separate international approvals at additional cost.

That’s a fine phrase – regulation is not a burden, it is an enabler.

That’s one I’ll use again.

A last stronghold in Derry? January 30, 2019

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This struck me from last week, this is behind a paywall, but Allison Morris argues in the Newsletter that:

Derry remains the last stronghold of the organisation, which was blamed for helping orchestrate sectarian violence in the city during the summer months.
They have also been recruiting young men in the North West, aided in this venture by the lack of a peace dividend for places like Derry and Strabane that remain lacking in basic infrastructure and investment.

Is this accurate? And is it also reflected in other dissident groups? Any thoughts if it is accurate why elsewhere they’ve fallen into effective abeyance?

The illusion of activity January 30, 2019

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The latest vote in the House of Commons seems to signify some sort of activity – but as Richard North has noted many times far too often what takes place there has no relevance to the larger forces at work and is indeed diversionary. This from RTÉ gives a sober assessment of what is actually feasible after:

…British MPs gave their backing to proposals to replace the controversial Irish backstop in Prime Minister Theresa May’s withdrawal deal, here’s a look at what could happen next in the Brexit saga.

But as this notes:

Downing Street has said Mrs May was looking at three options: for the backstop to have a time limit, for the UK to have a unilateral exit mechanism, or for a third, the so called Max Fax option which would use technology to minimise checks on the Irish border.

The EU has already rejected all three ideas.

North suggests that this may be a long game on May’s part whereby she yet again goes through the motions, ticking off option after option as unworkable to allow her to finally point to her initial deal as the only one with any traction. As he says, what has she to lose?

What you want to say – 30 January 2019 January 30, 2019

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As always, following on Dr. X’s suggestion, it’s all yours, “announcements, general discussion, whatever you choose”, feel free.

Empire dreams January 29, 2019

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John Lloyd writing in the IT took Fintan O’Toole to task for suggesting that some of the strands inflecting Brexit included Imperial thinking.

And Lloyd argues:

England – Britain – voted Brexit not because its citizens regretted the loss of empire, thought it could be re-assembled, believed that the commonwealth could take its place or saw the EU as a sadomasochistic monster. They wished to be governed by a parliament and an administration that they understand, and on which they have a direct influence through their vote.

And yet, and yet. One doesn’t have to see it as the major strand – overtly expressed as such, without seeing a sense of British exceptionalism as being driven by it, at least in part. In fairness one might argue that this was an English exceptionalism. I’ve some experience of that attitude myself – being born there, having an English parent and living there and having a sense of how deep a sense of other there can be about the Irish in particular but not simply them (I’ve mentioned before how in conversation I heard that ‘you’re English’ by dint of my birth and parentage and how that was precursor to conversations that were distinctly exclusionary of those who weren’t in a similar position. Anecdotal – of course. But not unuseful as an indicator of sentiment when we see the broader dynamics.

And I think Lloyd underestimates sentiment in all this.

I’m reading Tomorrow Belongs to Us, a collection of essays on the British far right from 1967 to date. It’s a good read and while I wouldn’t agree with everything it’s well worth a look (though there’s a fascinating essay on the ‘New Visual Identities for British Neo-Fascist rock(1982-1987) which doesn’t have any actual images accompanying it – an odd omission).

In it there’s a piece on ‘the English Defence League and Patriotism’. This is based in long research and interview of EDL members. Now you might say that the EDL isn’t representative of England as such, and I’d agree. But it is a manifestation at its sharpest point of a broader attitude – indeed a striking aspect of the research is how few of those who entered the EDL came from overt far-right groups previously.

The author C.M. Quinn notes that:

Gilroy (2004,2005) argues that Britain has failed to come to terms with its loss of empire and global standing and whilst respondents recognise the loss of empire, there is a claim of pride in that past status, of imperialist empire builders and a desire for a return of that global status for the nation and themselves as patriots.

And Quinn offers multiple quotes where it is clear that imperial sentiment most certainly exists in the nationalist discourse – and with that an anti-EU sentiment as well.

We are trying to turn the clock back a bit to how things were, where people were proud of their country, proud of where they lived… I think 13 years of Labour where they did everything they could to make you not want to feel English, they want everybody to feel European or part of the world rather than to feel proud to actually feel they were part of this country. They made you feel embarrassed about our history, imperialism, colonialism [Patriotism] it’s just a feeling fo greatness, a feeling of love for your country and it’s everything, you know, your past history. It’s a sad thing, we used to run two thirds of the globe, we don’t any more but it’s nice to harp back to those great days.

Qunn further notes:

Loss of empire, loss of pride and prowess is expressed by respondents…

What’s also telling is how this also extends to a sympathy and identification with ‘loyalists’ in Northern Ireland. As Quinn notes:

Many respondents make direct comparison to Ulster loyalists… in regard to their need to defend. They consider the threats that the Protestant community in the north of Ireland face are the same threats that they face and one reasons for taking action now is so that the situation in England does not escalate to the state it has in the north of Ireland.

But then as Quinn says, coming from football in part the linkages with supporters there (some supporting Chelsea and Millwall are mentioned as strongly pro-Loyalist) and some songs used by the EDL are actually originally loyalist and UVF songs.

Again, the attitude of EDL supporters is only one aspect of this. I think it’s also key to keep in mind that no-one rational is arguing for a literal reinstatement of the Empire, although some of the rhetoric about Empire V.2, essentially a sort of rebooting and upgrade of the Commonwealth relationships on economic terms, has been unwise and implausible. But that’s not unimportant in itself. The very fact that renewing or forging links in that way internationally has been badged, however superficially in such terms, suggests a currency for elements, against however cosmetic, of the idea of empire.

What’s odd is that Lloyd’s counter argument is so thin. And his conclusion is deeply troubling, because if he believes the following then he is arguably in deep denial:

England – Britain – has not gone mad. The chaotic scenes in parliament and the thousands of arguments up and down the country bear witness to a deeply democratic and civic culture. Those who prefer politics to be the smooth management of the people by an elite mistake it for dementia.


Confined political space January 29, 2019

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Speaking of the Phoenix as we were yesterday, a profile of a Social Democratic candidate in Dublin Bay South suggests that:

Soc Dem candidates like Durcan would surely have hoped to see some appreciable polling bounce in the weeks after the abortion referendum, given how focused they were on the issue. Worryingly for Durcan, the referendum campaign seems to have little impact on any party’s polling figures, suggesting that effusive campaigning on social issues might not necessarily translate into gains.

That lesson was learned the hard way by Labour, the party the SDs have sworn to replace. Wrapping itself in soft liberal social rhetoric did little to avert the disaster that has befallen Labour since 2016, having enthusiastically implemented the austerity agenda for the previous six years. Not that the SDs are pro-austerity, but there is precious little, at policy level at least, to distinguish them from labour.

I don’t know about DBS, it does seem like a stretch that they could take a seat there. And if they could who would they take it from? But I think the problems described in the above is a real one for the SDs. They’ve gained nothing from the the referendum(s). They don’t feel as if they are to the left of the Labour Party c.2007-2016. And I think that’s a problem. Labour is withering on the vine, Sinn Féin lurks there or there abouts. The further left is oddly detached. There’s the Green Party which abides as ever. So on paper, at least, this should be their time. But somehow they haven’t caught light in the polls and their figures there hovering between 0% and 2% might only see them return the current incumbents. It could be that the European and Local Elections will provide an opportunity for a platform that they can utilise successfully to pave the way towards the General Election. One has to suspect a fair few of them are thinking along those lines already.

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