After three years without devolved government, it looks like Northern Ireland is now on the cusp of agreeing a deal to get Stormont up and running again. In the words of this Labour source, “Julian Smith has played a blinder”…
Last night Jeremy Hunt told an audience in Northern Ireland that he would keep Karen Bradley as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Bradley, a May loyalist, is widely understood to not be liked by the DUP. Frosty relations on that front are not wise when the current Tory-DUP majority in the Commons is just three votes. It’s also highly unusual to openly promise jobs in the middle of a campaign. Will Hunt be publicly appointing the rest of his fantasy cabinet over the next few weeks..?
Irish Foreign Minister and Tánaiste Simon Coveney has been caught on tape saying to Irish Transport Minister Shane Ross that checks on goods will be introduced in the event of a no deal Brexit, and even suggested that those checks “could be in the sea.” He said that he couldn’t publicly acknowledge this for fear of a backlash…
The two members of the Irish Government were talking at the end of press briefing, apparently not realising that the microphone was still live.
The Independent.ie has transcribed the conversation:
Shane Ross: “Yeah. The border one, should I not have said that?”
[This is a reference to a question Mr Ross was asked about whether a truck travelling from Scotland by boat to Larne could then proceed to the Republic without any checks. During the press briefing, he replied: “I would anticipate that there would be checks.”]
Simon Coveney: “Yes, but we can’t get into where they’ll be at this stage. They could be in the sea, they could be… But once you start talking about checks anywhere near the border, people will start delving into that and all of a sudden we’ll be the government that reintroduced a physical border on the island of Ireland.”
Shane Ross: “Yeah, but I didn’t know what to say.”
This reveals a certain disingenuousness on the Irish government’s part because any prospect of checks at a land border would play into Sinn Fein’s hands and is politically unacceptable to the Irish government. Any prospect of a sea border would inflame the DUP/ERG and is politically unacceptable to the UK government. Unless the checks are going to be across the Celtic Sea between Ireland and the EU26…
The Brexit negotiations are teetering on the brink over the question of the backstop for the Irish border. Some fundamental truths are being forgotten in the froth of the negotiations:
The fact that Ireland has guaranteed no hard border in the case of no deal means that they clearly have no intention of constructing a hard border in the absence of the EU’s backstop – this is abundantly clear from the Taoiseach’s stated position as forcefully made to the Dáil Éireann
“… we are not drawing up any plans for a border between Northern Ireland and Ireland full stop. Because there isn’t going to be one and I have made very clear to my counterpart in the UK and also to the other EU Prime Ministers that under no circumstances will there be a border full stop.”
If the backstop is genuinely about concern for Ireland, not about trying to force the UK into a certain position, why is Ireland’s own commitment not sufficient? That is the question journalists should be asking.
The current trajectory of the negotiations is unsustainable unless the EU changes its stance on the backstop. Tory MPs have been discussing whether the EEA as a staging post on the way to a Canada-style deal could be a viable alternative – this is unlikely to solve the problem as the EU will simply throw up the same obstacles when the UK tries to leave that. May’s proposed transition extension does nothing to help either. It is simply a very expensive and unpopular way of drawing out the same problems for longer.
Ministers have increasingly been considering the possibility of a mitigated no-deal instead: hand over some cash in exchange for basic legal agreements on aviation, passports, haulage etc. and then negotiate sensible future arrangements outside the cauldron of the Article 50 process. Given the current state of the negotiations, this is starting to look more and more appealing…
UPDATE: Guido’s news editor, Hugh Bennett, reiterates the Irish PM’s “no hard border, even in the event of no deal” guarantee:
As Guido was travelling through Dublin Airport last night, he noticed the remote customs checks the Americans have, 3,000 miles away from the US border. The Republic of Ireland are perfectly happy with the principle of remote customs clearance, except for when it’s politically convenient not to be…
Karen Bradley has “will take the steps necessary to reduce Assembly Members’ salaries” in light of their failure to form an executive. Northern Ireland now hasn’t had a government for two years. The pay reduction will take place in two stages, commencing in November.
Perhaps we could extend this new performance related pay to all politicians…