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The DUP and Brexit January 18, 2017

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Funny we were taking about reasons why the Executive might have collapsed. I hadn’t seen this but Fintan O’Toole points to a weird advert in the London Metro taken out by the DUP in relation to Brexit. Given there are perishing few DUP voters in London one has to wonder why they would do such a thing and I cannot fault O’Toole’s logic when he writes:

What is absolutely clear, however, is that the DUP willingly allowed itself to be sucked in to the murkier side of the Brexit movement.
It wanted to express an ultra-British identity (which it is fully entitled to do) but it did so through opaque funding and fake claims. And, more importantly, it did so in a way that was breathtakingly irresponsible.

And here’s a few other oddities:

It was undoubtedly very expensive – newspapers, even freesheets, don’t like to hide themselves inside someone else’s ad so they charge a very heavy price for this kind of thing.
It is safe to assume that this was the most expensive single piece of propaganda ever issued by an Irish political party.
Yet we have no idea who paid for it: Northern Ireland, charmingly, is exempt from British laws on the disclosure of political donations.
At the time, the Democratic Unionist Party’s Mervyn Storey would say only that whatever the cost, it was a “price worth paying” to establish the DUP as a key player in the Brexit campaign, not in Northern Ireland but in the UK as a whole.

O’Toole, rightly points out that the DUP has an absolute right to do what it wants in relation to campaigning, and I’m not sure the ad itself is grounds, as he seems to think for the DUP to stand aside, though he may be on less shaky territory in regard to pointing to their seeming lack of regard taking account of the pro-Remain sentiment in the North or indeed what was best for Northern Ireland. But it does underscore the remarkable identification of the DUP with Brexit and the Tories.

Entertainingly he argues for the UU, SDLP and Alliance to make common cause – because they ‘agree on many things, and by far the most important of them is Brexit. They each opposed it’.

Hold on a sec, wasn’t there another party in the North also opposed to Brexit? No mention of them though.

What you want to say – 18th January, Week 3, 2017 January 18, 2017

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

May’s Brexit… January 17, 2017

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Where does that apostrophe go? Where is ejh when I need him? Anyhow, in some ways it’s refreshing to hear, straight from the horse’s mouth as it were, an outline of what Brexit means. That it has taken near enough nine months is less refreshing, the chaos on confusion in the interim period far from refreshing. But at least that which was unclear or at least not clear enough is now clearer. GW noted the following in comments:

So I think it’s now clearer after May’s speech.
The border that runs through Ireland will be a customs border and an immigration border.
This has enormous impact on both parts of Ireland.
There are three possibilities that I can see.
a) The maintenance of the border restrictions are outsourced to the RoI with free movement between the two juristictions.
b) NI is made an exceptional case within the ‘UK’, with free movement between the two parts of the island and borders policed by the UK in NI Airports and Ferryports.
c) A hard border is set up again with police, immigration and customs controls.
The position for EU citizens (including Irish nationals) living in the UK is less clear but it’s certain their rights to work and stay there will be reduced.
And England is on collision course with Scotland on the relationship with EU.

I’ll return to the Irish situation, but one thing is for sure, Britain is out of the single market – hardly a surprise. They’re not going the EEA/EFTA route. There probably won’t be a bespoke arrangement. The best that can be hoped for are bilateral deals – her ‘comprehensive and bold free trade agreement’. Sounds a bit bockety, we’ll see how that works out. I’m always dubious about May’s propensity to add in words like ‘bold’ etc as if she’s channeling a 1950s English children’s book. I’m no less dubious today.

The customs union? As the Guardian notes, here she was less clear.

But she also said: “I do want a customs agreement with the EU” and for Britain to have tariff-free access to EU markets. That could mean a completely new customs union agreement, or partial membership, or retaining some aspects – how this would happen in practice can be decided.

I’ll bet this will be up for grabs.

Immigration. There are so many strands to this. She said that …

….while wanting to continue to atrract “the brightest and best to study and work in Britain”, she said, “we will get control over number of people coming to Britain form the EU”.

Lovely.

Of course, as GW notes, there’s a specific Irish twist to this. We’ll see how that pans out. As the Guardian says there’s nothing about the EU citizens in the UK or vice versa.

But on Ireland, notable in the Guardian overview was a complete lack of attention to Ireland (bar a fleeting reference to NI elections). We just don’t register. Her comments though, as quoted in the IT will not necessary instil confidence:

Outlining the UK’s plans for leaving the EU, Ms May said the UK government would “make it a priority to deliver a practical solution” as quickly as possible to the question of the land Border with the Irish State.
“Nobody wants to return to the borders of the past,” said the prime minister on Tuesday .
“The family ties and bonds of affection that unite our two countries mean that there will always be a special relationship between us.” She added that maintaining the common travel area with the Republic would be “an important part of the talks”

Sure, no one wants a return. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. How can she square non participation in the single market with an open border with the RoI? I don’t know, do you?

Michael Portillo opined in advance of the speech that Ireland would be treated like a single entity in relation to Britain – with controls outside of it. How does he know? Is he a credible person to make that assertion?

And still the relentless drumbeat of British exceptionalism and British entitlement:

…she also warned the EU 27 firmly against heeding “voices calling for a punitive deal that punishes Britain and discourages other countries from taking the same path”, saying that would be “an act of calamitous self-harm for the countries of Europe. And it would not be the act of a friend.”
She also stressed that “no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain”, hinting that Britain might be willing to leave the EU with no trade deal in place, and revert to trading with the EU on World Trade Organisation terms.
And she repeated Hammond’s threat, saying that if Britain does not get access to the single market while at the same time being free to strike trade deals across the world, it would “be free to change the basis of Britain’s economic model”.

But this is barmy. As someone btl noted it takes two to make a trade agreement, it just can’t be settled on Britain’s terms. Yet everything she said was predicated precisely on that view.

So what has changed? Not much. She has made noises about participation in some EU programmes and even paying for access – where necessary. But I wonder how that works in practice. Just simple logistics suggest that such participation will be low key and kept quiet about.

Ed notes in comments that:

Chances of Scottish independence just went up alright. The polls since the referendum haven’t been showing a solid majority for breaking with London, a lot of Scots seem reluctant to make that leap into the dark, but if it’s made crystal-clear to them that staying in the UK means being dragged down into the mire with Trump and Netanyahu as your only international allies, I could see the vote hardening up pretty fast.

Brexit will occur. That is almost entirely certain. It will involve massive rupture. Its economic consequences are incalculable but the consensus appears to be that they will be largely, if not indeed overwhelmingly, negative for British workers and citizens. It throws up borders, both actual and figurative, between states and between people – indeed those last have, as noted on this site across months now and underscored by the direct personal experience of contributors in the UK, been rising higher and higher. It may trigger the break up of the UK itself as political entity. It has marginalised a left that was beginning in the UK to reassert itself once more. It promises nothing but problems for this island. This is their great ‘opportunity’. This is their ‘vision’.

Fine Gael rivalry… January 17, 2017

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From Archon in the Southern Star – and thanks to the person who forwarded it, some interesting thoughts on inter-FG rivalry…

OVER Christmas and New Year our politicos had a lot to talk about – most of it dross. But the same cannot be said of the intriguing comments from the very respectable Fine Gael Government Chief Whip, Ms Regina Doherty, and the equally-respectable Fine Gael Minister of State at the Department of Health, Ms Helen McEntee. The pair experienced a sort of contretemps that the nation quickly learned about.

And it was all because Helen didn’t say ‘Hi girl, how are ya?’ to Regina when she encountered her in the corridors of Leinster House! Regina referred to the rebuff in a national newspaper, commenting that Helen would ‘walk past her’ and not ‘even blink her eyes.’ Terrible altogether!

Worse still, Regina didn’t really know the reason for Helen’s sniffy non-blinking attitude towards her, although the newspaper coyly suggested that there was ‘fierce rivalry’ between the two ladies. For her part, Helen was determined to have ‘the matter’ sorted out ‘internally,’ adding that it was utterly inappropriate for Regina to have made such a comment about a colleague.

The intensity of the personal drama between Helen and Regina, deep within the bowels of Leinster House, impressed everybody no end, especially this scribe.

So, look it, for what it’s worth, we’ve taken sides. We think Regina is in the right. And we know exactly what’s bugging her because it’s not cool when someone you’re working with, and whom you always thought to be your very, very best friend, gives you the cold shoulder. That hurts. It really does.

I mean, don’t you hate it when people ignore you? It annoys us big time too, especially if the person involved is a bit of an attention seeker and just loves to be admired by everyone on the planet – well, in Ireland anyway.

So here’s our advice: Helen, cop yourself on and give Regina a break! What you’re doing is just so … so pathetic!

(Watch this space for the next instalment of the tangled interpersonal situations and dramatic real life events of Regina and Helen, stars of the newest Dáil soap opera entitled ‘On The Blink’! – Ed)

Meanwhile, Junior Minister Deputy Canney, a one-issue Independent Alliance chap whose speciality is ‘flooding defence,’ reinforced his simplistic Yuletide ‘flood-message’ with comments such as ‘we’re in action mode right now… we’re looking at solutions not reports … no one will be forgotten or left behind … rural Ireland has not been forgotten.’

But suddenly he changed tack and filled us with overpowering wonder, thanks to a speech that had absolutely nothing to do with rural Ireland and ‘taking silt and stuff from the Shannon.’ Temporarily abandoning his sodden soapbox, he warned the plain people of Ireland that public sector pay was ‘dragging the country back to the bad old days.’

As if reading from one of Dame Enda’s speeches in large print, the action-mode man said the ‘government must not give in to calls to speed up the restoration of pre-crash pay rates.

‘We have to be responsible,’ he advised, as he lashed public service workers, kinda forgetting in the process that he’s trousering a whopping €121,000 as a ministerial public sector employee –and a very pampered one at that!

Of course, it wasn’t long before Johnny Halligan again tickled our fancy with his ‘effing and blindin.’ Described by De Paper (January 6th) as the minister who calls the Council of Europe a ‘waste of f***ing space,’ his use of foul language is legendary.

The Sunday Independent reported on September 9th that, if he didn’t get his way, he’d bring down the Government. ‘I am not going to be f***ed over by anybody,’ he warned. Last June, The Journal.ie revealed that he was so angry with landlords that he would ‘jail the bastards’ and that ‘we still have developers and speculators wrecking the f***ing country.’

Without a doubt, he’s an outstanding Dáil example of the new breed of deconstruction linguists that considers swearing an apt vehicle for expressing strong emotions! On the other hand, the man in Dinty’s might have had a point when he said ‘someone should wash out that fella’s gob with carbolic soap!’

Nonetheless, as political analysts we acknowledge that Mini-Minister Halligan has done something really special for Ireland. He’s turned cursing into an art form and a badge of social acceptability! So, well done, Johnny and, as you might say yourself, a ‘Happy F***ing New Year’. At least you’ll be remembered for something!

Was there anyone in Ireland not impressed by Simon Coveney’s amazing bulletin to the masses? He declared that ‘his success as housing minister’ would contribute to the ongoing debate as to who would replace Dame Enda as Taoiseach.

Everyone appreciated his forthright and uninhibited expression of self-confidence, which is a tendency that those born to success exhibit rather freely.

But, while Coveney generally displays the demeanour of a boa constrictor that has just enjoyed a large lunch whenever mention is made of becoming Taoiseach, on this occasion he did not openly indicate a desire to consume poor Enda.

Instead he confined himself to ráiméis concerning his ‘big role’ in Fine Gael, plus the fact that he had ‘one of the most challenging political briefs.’ He said that, if he ‘delivered’ that brief, he was sure he would ‘enhance the party’s standing with the people.’

The implication being…wait for it (we’re all of a doo-dah with the excitement) … that a leadership challenge was in the offing! Coveney for King! Hip hip hooray! (Excuse us while we reach for the sick bag.)

In the meantime the eminent Corkonian might try answering Alf Smiddy’s pertinent question as to what is happening to the stalled €53m Cork event centre on the former Beamish and Crawford brewery site?

Some €20m of public funding – €12m from the government and €8m from Cork City Council – has been sanctioned for the South Main Street ‘Palace of Fun’. But nothing much has been carried out by the project’s main partners, BAM, site owners Heineken and the event centre operators Live Nation.

Oops, we’re wrong! Something did happen: Just before the general election, Coveney and his present boss, the Taoiseach, arrived at the site, where in an excited photo shoot and with much backslapping, they proudly turned the first sod and declared the centre on its way. Since then, nettles and brambles have been growing over the little hole they made!

But the final word in new year messages belongs to the Master of the High Court, Edmund Honohan. He accused the Government of failing people confronted with the horrible prospect of having their house repossessed. He said the courts were ‘pumping people into homelessness due to a lack of adequate protection.’ Now that’s one for Kenny, Coveney and the mates to chew on; and it’s no joke! It’s real life!

CLR Book Club – Week 3, Jan 17, 2017 January 17, 2017

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Any thoughts?

Pension woes… redux January 17, 2017

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Grim reading in the SBP that:

Irish Life, the country’s largest pension provider, is set to close its own defined benefit pension scheme, despite the fact that it has a huge surplus, it is understood.

Where is the surprise. The pensions industry has all be run hot foot towards ‘providing’ defined contribution schemes. Why should it be different for them in relation to their own staff. And the issue of sustainability – well, that’s always seemed a thin excuse from the off. In IL’s case they have, according to the paper, ‘a surplus of €323m and 1,178 members with an average age of 43’.

Clare Daly had a strong response:

Jus like the CRC, INM and others this is another cynical opportunity for employers to abandon their responsibilities to their employees in order to enhance the value of the balance sheet.

But that’s the thing. The companies feel no sense of responsibility to those employees, or any others.

Ironic too that a few weeks back the SBP business section noted that one of the possible events of the year was the introduction of ‘mandatory’ pension schemes for all. And there we see the companies pushing yet more responsibility on to the state – despite the abysmal level of wages paid in this state.

Expedient demise of the Executive? January 17, 2017

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A comrade suggested the other day that there was something remarkably convenient about the timing of the RHI controversy (scandal, debacle?) in the North. And moreover this was underlined by Arlene Foster’s refusal to even step aside (as Peter Robinson had previously) for a brief period of time. His thoughts were that given the choppy waters a post-Brexit referendum UK was sailing into this removed one focus point of criticism from the game – no Executive, no elected administration (or parts of same) able to point up the democratic deficit in relation to the fast march to a hard Brexit across the UK despite the majority vote to remain in Northern Ireland. Sure, the Scottish government would play that part of articulating the argument about that deficit but now it would be more isolated. They thought SF had missed a trick in relation to this.

I wonder whether Foster could have been prevailed upon to fall on her sword in this way. I’d have been doubtful previously, but these days…

‘the country had voted to get people like her to “get out”‘… January 16, 2017

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Swedish citizens at the Scandinavian Kitchen cafe in central London told her of the anxieties about their future and xenophobic abuse they had experienced since the referendum.One woman working in the City told how her chief executive had to send an email to all employees to tell them xenophobic behaviour was not acceptable after she was told by a colleague that the country had voted to get people like her to “get out”. Another told her how she felt that she and other Swedes would end up being “collateral damage” in negotiations.

What has happened to Britain? Something that was always there or something that the referendum result has somehow ‘legitimised’?

Opinion polling on Brexit… January 16, 2017

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Fascinating piece on UKPollingReport that examines polling on Brexit. It appears that public opinion in the UK remains pretty much as it has since the referendum.

All except the Gallup International poll are within the margin of error of the referendum result (I think the contrast is because the Gallup poll has a very large proportion of university educated respondents, which correlates with support for EU membership). On average they show only a small movement towards Remain and – looking closer – even that may be illusionary. Looking at the actual tables for the polls none of them show any real net movement between Remain and Leave voters, the small move to Remain is only because people who didn’t vote last time claim they are more likely to vote Remain this time. I would treat that with some degree of scepticism – of course, it could be those people took the result for granted and would be spurred into action in a second referendum… or it could be those who couldn’t be bothered last time probably wouldn’t be bothered in a second referendum either.

Still the thought strikes that that is a very thin comfort zone for those supporting Brexit given the broad consensus amongst commentators, economists and so forth both in the UK and outside it, that Brexit is going to seriously and negatively impact upon that state as time moves on. As UKPR notes:

….the majority of people think the government have a duty to implement the results of the referendum and and the majority of people are opposed to revisiting the question. However, given the vote was only 52-48 it wouldn’t take much to tip opinion in favour of staying once the consequences become a bit more visible. It remains to be seen if the negotiations or economic developments do change things.

And moreover – and this I think is telling – unlike the consolidation of support politically for the Tories since Brexit, it suggests that there’s been no ‘bounce’ of opinion towards Brexit. We see that sort of bounce time and again in polls after elections where the winning party gets a boost in their poll rating. It never lasts but it is hardly unwelcome. But if it’s not there to begin with.

What a vision for the future for a Brexit Britain January 16, 2017

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Is the thought that comes to mind when reading Philip Hammond’s comments that:

…Britain could transform its economic model into that of a corporate tax haven if the EU fails to provide it with an agreement on market access after Brexit.

In an interview with the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag, Hammond said that if Britain were closed off from European markets after leaving the EU, it would consider abandoning a European-style social model with European-style taxation and regulation systems, and “become something different”.

How serious this is I’ll leave to others – the idea of the UK as a sort of a nuclear weapons equipped Singapore writ large on the edge of Europe is rather unlikely, but one could hardly say that the Tories hadn’t in small and various ways attempted to shift their models already.

But isn’t it remarkable that these thoughts – and Hammond supported Remain IIRC -would ever be crystallised in conversation. That a Chancellor of the UK would have said such things even a year ago would have been absurd. But then, welcome to absurdity. And difficult to argue with Jeremy Corbyn’s response:

Asked about Mr Hammond’s comments during an interview on The Andrew Marr Show Mr Corbyn said “He appears to be making a sort of threat to EU community saying ‘well, if you don’t give us exactly what we want, we are going to become this sort of strange entity on shore of Europe where there’ll be very low levels of corporate taxation, and designed to undermine the effectiveness or otherwise of industry across Europe.’
“It seems to me a recipe for some kind of trade war with Europe in the future. That really isn’t a very sensible way forward.”
Mr Corbyn also said Mrs May “appears to be heading us in the direction of a sort of bargain basement economy”, adding: “It seems to me an extremely risky strategy.”

It also points up that the line that somehow the EU is ‘threatening’ the UK is rather facile. The EU has a well established approach in regard to freedom of movement etc, the UK has decided to move away from the EU and is unwilling (it appears) to accept that and other elements that the EU regards as necessary for certain economic relationships with it by others. It is entirely the UK’s decision to terminate its membership – the conditions on which its new relationship with the EU are established will of necessity be different. And not as good – but that’s the nature of the exercise. For the UK to be attempting to – even rhetorically – threaten the EU seems curious, at best.

As to that Singapore-like future? The BBC points up some of the basic problems:

But turning a large G7 economy with a robust social model into a city state might be difficult. It might involve the government handpicking which industries it thinks will be successes and rapidly neglecting existing sectors.
Millions of people would need to get brand new qualifications while those with undesirable skills would become surplus to requirements. Massive infrastructure projects might be rushed through with minimal consultation.

Fantastic stuff. But only in one sense of the term.

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