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Evading reality January 22, 2021

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

A scathing analysis in the SBP recently by Deirdre Heenan of the twists and turns of the DUP in relation to the Irish Sea regulatory border post-Brexit. As Heenan notes:

…the proposals for a Northern Ireland Protocol published in October 2019 included the establishment of a regulatory border in the Irish Sea with associated infrastructure, including customs posts at the ports. Shortly after its publication, Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, endorsed the plan as a “serious and sensible” way forward. Within weeks, she had u-turned, and denounced the proposals as divisive and unacceptable.


Rather than admit that it didn’t think through or foresee the consequences of Brexit for the North…it seems it has now decided that it is politically expedient to disassemble the overall Brexit project from the Northern Ireland protocol. Last week Ian Paisley jr, the DUP MP, referred to Brexit as “not just a good thing, but a great thing”.


He stressed that the party still fully supports Brexit, but is just unhappy with the version of Brexit that we have ended up with. In the DUP‘s world, it was not short-sighted to campaign for, cheerlead and prop up Brexit at every opportunity…Implausibly, it is now seeking to divest itself of any responsibility for the creation of these barriers, instead pointing the finger of blame at its political opponents, an inept British government, a spiteful EU, the Irish government and the naïve business community.

And more:

On the Andrew Marr Show on BBC last Sunday, Foster refused to acknowledge the existence of a border in the Irish Sea, stating that it was her job to “mitigate against that”, and instead referring to a “regulatory issue” in the Irish Sea. When asked about the additional checks and new bureaucracy, she said that there had always been inspections at the border, and claimed this was nothing new. However, the suggestion that there is nothing to see here, as there have always been some animal inspections, is sophistry on a grand scale and is not reflected by the current reality.

As Heenan notes:

While these attempts to deny reality, contradictory positioning, mixed messaging and internal wrangling may be fascinating for political observers, they have serious consequences. The Irish Sea border exists, and there is no longer unfettered trade between Britain and the North. The checkpoints at ports, customs declarations, veterinary checks, red tape, delays, added bureaucracy and extra costs are all tangible and real.

All of which has an enormous political effect – as Brendan O’Leary (Lauder Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania) noted in the IT this week – “That union, moreover, has had its foundations bulldozed by the Brexiteers.”

And he makes a compelling argument:

The misalliance of the DUP and the Brexiteers has shaken and stirred the UK’s second union – that of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Neither set of sectaries promised this outcome, but since January 1st Northern Ireland is under the joint authority of the EU and the UK – a tribute to Boris Johnson’s career in truth-smashing. To address rational fears, Northern Ireland has been re-engineered in a remarkable improvisation. It is now a double “federacy” or an annex to two different unions. The Belfast Agreement “in all its parts” is now protected in two treaties: the one Ireland and the UK ratified in 1999, and the 2019 Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland agreed between the UK and the EU that has just taken effect.


Rube Goldberg, Heath Robinson or HR Giger would be required to visualise the new order. Northern Ireland remains within the EU’s single market for goods, and, for practical purposes, in its customs union, but without European political institutions. Unless Stormont decides otherwise in 2024, the Government of Ireland will have more influence on economic regulations affecting Northern Ireland than the Westminster parliament.

And a stunning point too here:

To resume full citizenship of the European confederation, many northerners have taken out Irish passports. Up to half the population have them, while the number taking out UK passports has slid. Later, they may support Irish unity to return to the European Union – not to Pearse’s, Cosgrave’s, or de Valera’s Ireland.

O’Leary suggests that perhaps NI will remain in this state between two worlds, but he also suggests that the mechanisms of the Protocol and agreement between the UK/EU seems ‘precarious’. And he argues that to avoid a Brexit like referendum it is necessary to prepare because the situation is so unstable. Indeed he argues that the South has a particular obligation to prepare because a referendum is in the gift of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and that could mean a referendum came as a surprise. All of which places even greater emphasis on what he calls “the power-sharing securities needed for people of British identity and citizenship”. For many there are ways forward that will allow for those latter within a future united Ireland – the ‘reverse GFA/BA’ is onesuch.

Intriguingly Peter Shirlow (director at the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Irish Studies) argues in the same paper for another approach again which would seek to build, through the GFA/BA, the NI Protocol and – ahem – the Shared Island unit of the Department of the Taoiseach, an interdependence. Shirlow is hazy as to what that might exactly mean.

The protocol entails a policy of enhanced all-island relationships that will build economic, cultural and political opportunity. The protocol and its promotion of greater North-South co-operation, combined with Northern Ireland being within the EU customs code and UK customs territory, can frame critical all-island connectivity.

Little to disagree with there, indeed all laudable.

The binary approach to this issue also relies on and propagates the skewed idea that there are two economies on the island, as defined by the Border. In fact, there are several – among them Dublin, Belfast, the southwest, and the “left behind”. There is an immediate case for building an Atlantic corridor linking Derry and Limerick. The furthering of linkages between North and South through culture, environment and tourism can also raise the levels of mutual dependence and assist in the avoidance of conflict.

Indeed, but what of the political opportunity he mentions in his all-island relationships. The fundamental question with regard to the island to the East remains (and no mention of Scotland, a telling omission).

He suggests that:

For those who are pro-union, greater North-South connection can render the Border so invisible that the desire for unification will abate. For those who are pro-unity, greater interdependence can re-establish connections cast asunder by partition. Interdependence is the antidote to the politics of immiserating dissonance that have crippled Northern Ireland for so long.

I see where he is coming from. The sheer oddity is that all he describes in the first lines in the paragraph above was available under the GFA/BA dispensation. There was no nirvana but the issue of the Border appeared to be quiescent. Now though Brexit has thrown that into a degree of chaos. I have to wonder if matters haven’t moved on to a new phase and trying to return to the status quo ante is – while understandable – unlikely to occur.


1. Klassenkampf Treehugger - January 22, 2021

Those are extraordinary figures for the holding of RoI/EU passports. What does ‘up to’ mean in this case? Does anyone have more precise figures?

Liked by 1 person

2. Klassenkampf Treehugger - January 22, 2021

The DUP’s principle strategy now seems to be to convince the Tories to renage on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

How likely is this?

Two processes influence that outcome. Firstly, when will the Tories start contesting the overall agreement? It’s a case of when, not if. Brexit isn’t in any sense settled, and as noted above, the agreement if fragile in its constitution. Whether this was a deliberate feature introduced by the UK, of simply a result of their brinkmanship and general incompentence, I’m not qualified to answer.

Secondly, how much do the ruling group of Tories around Johnson value the UK union with Northern Ireland? There’s a significant swell of opinion, instanced by that editorial mentioned here recently by George Osborne, that would be happy enough to get rid of the North of Ireland. Is that the position of a majority of the deciders within the cabinet of the UK? Let’s not pretend that the UK Parliament in current politics in the UK is much more of than a rubber stamp and patronage pool.

If I was forced to guess, I’d say that the Johnson and his boys and girls won’t break the agreement for the benefit of the DUP. And never underestimate Johnson’s laziness.

But should a certain Farage decide to widen his political ambitions beyond reinventing himself as the leader of a climate catastrophy denier party, and do an Enoch Powell in the North of Ireland, who knows?


WorldbyStorm - January 22, 2021

+1 a Farage or a Farage type yes


benmadigan - January 23, 2021

“when will the Tories start contesting the overall agreement?”

Don’t forget the EU is only provisionally applying the trade deal It still has to ratify it and won’t until end of Feb or even April if the UK agrees to an extension.

If the EU doesn’t ratify or formally renounces the Agreement, the UK is out on WTO terms, which are even worse than what is happening at present.



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