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Consent surely works both ways June 14, 2021

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Can’t help but have a little sympathy for Billy Hutchinson who at the House of Commons offered this analysis of the Northern Ireland Protocol last week:

“We are the only region in the UK who is [in the EU single market] and that means all of our economy will be aligned elsewhere and not with the UK, and that is a threat to people’s Britishness,” Mr Hutchinson told MPs.

The former Ulster Volunteer Force leader said the arrangement breaches the principle of consent, enshrined in the Belfast Agreement, and “that is forcing people down a road they don’t need to go”.

“It seems to be that that principle of consent has been dumped, or at least has been tampered with, to try to scare unionism,” Mr Hutchinson added.

And yet it was the government of the United Kingdom which negotiated with the European Union in respect of the Northern Ireland Protocol. And this on foot of the referendum of Brexit which per se, given the democratic vote in Northern Ireland in favour of remaining in the European Union also impacted on the issue of consent. And that being the case given that consent has been compromised by Brexit in one direction, it seems pragmatic to accept that it has also been compromised in the other and that an overall compromise is perhaps the most reasonable way to proceed. Indeed it is interesting that in polling on the issue there was the following, as noted by Katy Hayward and David Phinnemore in the Guardian:

While most respondents (65%) agree that particular arrangements for Northern Ireland were necessary after Brexit, they are evenly split on whether or not the protocol is appropriate or good. This division is being brought into the electoral arena. Looking ahead to the 2022 Stormont assembly elections, 47% of respondents say they will only vote for candidates who will uphold the full protocol, and 42% say they will only vote for candidates who oppose it. The DUP is banking on that opposition growing in the coming year. So the protocol will remain politically live and politically divisive come what may.

So, between the Protocol (47% support, 42% against) and particular arrangements necessary (65% support) presumably there is consent for a repositioning of the status of NI in relation to the rest of the UK given Brexit. And of course, one has to factor in that the North is not the same as the rest of the UK from the get go, that in its devolved administration, power sharing, cross-border bodies, NIMC and so forth it is already radically different say to Scotland and Wales, let alone Britain as a whole. 

Indeed Hutchinson is, understandably one might think, a little vague as to precisely what the problem is given the softest of soft regulatory borders between NI and the rest of the UK, one that to all intents and purposes is invisible to most travellers between those two points. And in fairness he does point to the sheer lack of interest on the part of London in actually spelling out the realities of the new dispensation:

Mr Hutchinson said it was incumbent on the British government to explain to loyalists that if the North remains in the EU single market after Brexit is fully completed “where does that leave people in Northern Ireland in terms of their Britishness”.

“People are thinking ahead about what sort of pressure that puts on them or where it leaves us, and no one has told us,” he said.

Tellingly though, the view from London is quite quite different:

Simon Hoare, Conservative MP for North Devon, insisted the regulatory checks at Irish Sea ports were only for goods and not for citizens.

“It is not a border for people, it is merely a regulatory check,” he said. “There are a lot of my friends and others who don’t get how anybody can identify their sense of national belonging and identity by the customs arrangements that, for example, moves their cornflakes from the Tesco warehouse in Daventry to the Tesco shelf in Belfast, and how people would identify who they belong to and who they identify with as a result of that.”

In a way the yawning gap between unionism and Britain is exemplified in this exchange. All the protestations of loyalty – entirely sincerely made, are as nothing because that form of loyalty simply has little or no purchase on those to whom it is made. Indeed they do not understand the fretting on the part of unionism whatsoever. Now, many of us may think that the concerns expressed by Hutchinson are overblown and exaggerated, but they are, at least for some (possibly a smaller number than the media has tended to suggest – at least to judge by reports at the weekend in relation to protests against the Protocol which were far from well attended) of significance to themselves. I imagine that there will be some cosmetic changes – but the sense of incomprehension, shading into disinterest, from London is now very strong. What is the impact of that going to be?

Comments»

1. EWI - June 14, 2021

‘Northern Ireland’ even has a separate civil service to Britain, namely the NIO (which hidden unionist-dominated permanent government has continued on even when Stormont was prorogued back in the early Seventies, to much harm).

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2. An Sionnach Fionn - June 14, 2021

I wonder just how idle is the idle speculation that SF is going to orchestrate a snap Stormont election precisely because the pro-protocol demographic is a narrow majority? Strike while the iron is hot and before a summer of unrest and further restrictions frighten protocol sympathetic non-aligned or pro-union voters into the anti-protocol camp?

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WorldbyStorm - June 14, 2021

That makes a lot of sense. Could it happen?

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An Sionnach Fionn - June 14, 2021

Big question. I’m not sure that it would be a sound strategy. It could blow up in SF’s face. The mood among voters in the north is very mixed. If the DUP pulls out all the stops they could still retain the First Minister office, even if down seats. And the SF leadership/group at Stormont is hardly the party’s A-team.

On the face of it, it’s a tempting plan. But I’m not sure that SF will be the primary beneficiary of an early election. Especially if the SDLP, UUP and Alliance successfully blame SF and the DUP for forcing an early election in the middle of ongoing health and trading crises.

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WorldbyStorm - June 14, 2021

That’s very true re SF’s group at Stormont.And as you say, the framing of this is extremely critical. I can see a lot of efforts to ensure it’s not in a way that is good for SF (or even the DUP). So a lot to play for but then again perhaps a time to be careful too.

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Bagatelle's Ungurned Tauntings - June 15, 2021

LOL

Looks like SF allowed Poots to walk into a slamming door. The UK govt recently offered to legislate an ILA but SF preferred to have Stormont do it. Now they’re taking the UK up on their offer after Poots confirmed for everyone what the DUP are, and after Eastwood put his foot in his mouth.

Jaysus, what a masterful stroke if the K govt does pass an ILA over the heads of the DUP in Stormont.

From the BelTel:

Sinn Fein has called on the UK Government to introduce Irish language legislation at Westminster to save Stormont. Mary Lou McDonald on Monday night said London must intervene after the DUP failed to agree to deliver an Acht na Gaeilge before next May’s Assembly election.She revealed that several weeks ago the Government had offered to legislate for the language, but Sinn Fein had preferred it to come via Stormont.However, following Edwin Poots’ indication that would not happen, she urged Downing Street to act.While doing so would remove a huge problem for the new DUP leader and ensure Paul Givan was installed as First Minister next week, Mr Poots would also be left to look emasculated and powerless at a time when he is under immense pressure over the protocol.With loyalists already protesting on the streets, tensions could mount in the run-up to the Twelfth. Westminster has already introduced legislation on abortion and same-sex marriage over the DUP’s head.Meanwhile, if devolution collapses Stormont sources have indicated that the Secretary of State will move to cut MLAs’ pay.Speaking after meeting Brandon Lewis, Ms McDonald said: “A number of weeks ago the British Government offered to legislate for Acht Gaeilge.“At that time we said our preference was that Irish language legislation would be delivered through the Assembly and Executive, as was agreed in New Decade, New Approach."We have pursued that option vigorously over the last number of weeks.“We have engaged intensively with the DUP and with party leader Edwin Poots. He has told us that they will not be delivering Acht in this mandate.“This legislation was negotiated a year-and-a-half ago and it is now incumbent on the British and Irish Governments to act. This is the only way forward to finally resolve this issue.”The ongoing stand-off between Sinn Fein and the DUP over Irish language legislation is threatening to topple the institutions unless resolution is rapidly found.Following Arlene Foster’s resignation as First Minister on Monday, the joint nature of the office means that Sinn Fein must renominate Michelle O’Neill as Deputy First Minister within seven days.If it doesn’t, the Government has a legal responsibility to call an election. Sources have signalled that would likely be in the autumn, with the Secretary of State potentially slashing MLAs’ wages.When asked about the possibility of a pay-cut, a Government spokesman said: “The public expects MLAs to be able to do their job holding the Northern Ireland Executive to account.“Our focus is on working with all parties to ensure the Executive can continue to deliver for the people of Northern Ireland.”Speaking earlier, Mr Poots said Sinn Fein could not attach preconditions to Mrs O’Neill’s nomination.He insisted he was committed to implementing all outstanding aspects of the 2020 deal to restore power-sharing, including Irish language legislation, but declined to indicate whether he would do so in the current Assembly mandate. He said there were other priorities the Executive should be focusing on, including the health service and economy."Setting pre-conditions is not appropriate, it's not respecting someone's mandate, and we cannot be in a circumstance where we have pre-conditions set for the selection of our First Minister,” he added.Speaking in the Assembly as she resigned from the office, Mrs Foster said all parties must stick to the language and cultural deal they agreed to in January 2020.She said it included protections for the Ulster-Scots/British tradition and this was the “only model for success — not one step forward for some and one step back for others”.Calling for changes to the protocol, she said: "If Brussels continues to think the protocol is enough, they are in denial. Imbalance and instability in the context of Northern Ireland is a truly dangerous cocktail.”The SDLP and the Ulster Unionists warned that if power-sharing collapses, it might never return. Colum Eastwood accused the DUP and Sinn Fein of turning Stormont into a "soap opera" with the latest stand-off."Does anybody really want Boris Johnson dealing with our health crisis? I for one don't. It's about time these two parties stopped thinking about themselves and looking after their own interests and started thinking about the public out there. People are sick of it."We're still going through a pandemic and waiting lists are out of control. Stop all the messing, nominate a First Minister and a Deputy First Minister and let's get on with delivering.”Doug Beattie called on the DUP and Sinn Fein to exhaust every avenue to reach a deal.“If they have to lock themselves in a room, close the doors, and thrash this out until they get a solution, then that is exactly what they have to do,” he said.

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banjoagbeanjoe - June 15, 2021

“And the SF leadership/group at Stormont is hardly the party’s A-team.”

What’s the story there? Could ASF and WBS expand on their opinion that that’s the case?
Is it true that their leadership/group in Stormont is not their A team? And if so, how did that happen? What’s going on in SF if they’ve allowed that to happen?
And if that’s the opinion on here, where there is a fair bit of goodwill towards SF, then SF are playing a dangerous game if they allow that situation to continue. People aren’t stupid and SF will lose votes if people think they’re being offered some kind of B team – some people won’t accept that and will give their votes to someone else.

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WorldbyStorm - June 15, 2021

My read of it for what it’s worth, and having a little experience meeting some of them, is that in the late 2000s and early 2010s as SF really began to grow in the South a number of very experienced people in the party from the North moved southwards to help the party there. It made perfect sense, these were very heavy hitters who had been involved in the GFA/BA, local politics etc, but my sense is – and this is only a sense, that this may have caused a bit of a deficit in the North. It’s not that the crew in the North are bad, but there’s been a number of issues over the years that strike me as not having been problems or being nipped in the bud if they’d been recognised and dealt with earlier. Of course this is broad brush strokes stuff, and just an impression. And in fairness to SF it’s not the largest party on the planet and has undergone very significant expansion in a relatively short period of time.

BTW. I would argue much the same was seen at much the same time in relation to some of the further left parties when they made the breakthrough into the Dáil with TDs where suddenly they had constituency politics at representational level, not just councillors, to engage with and seats to have to retain. That changes parties and their outlook as activists have to suddenly do that sort of work and therefore aren’t as available to do more community centred work.

And sure we saw it ourselves didn’t we back in the WP days?

Agree, this can be a problem, though I’d be certain SF has sought to address it in more recent times.

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banjoagbeanjoe - June 15, 2021

Thanks for the measured and thoughtful response. But c’mon… name me some names!

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WorldbyStorm - June 15, 2021

Hahah, oh no, not going there 🙂 though thanks for the kind words and likewise.

But in a way it’s the Eoin O’Broin dynamic, sort of where talented people move south even if he is from the south, btw on a different aspect I wonder has the island seen this dynamic of people moving across the border back and forth because I presume it works both ways since the start of partition. Some one should do a thesis!

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