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By Jason Michael
Britain has few friends left when it comes to Brexit. The Prime Minister has come short on offering Scotland anything better than the referendum it now seeks for itself, and Theresa May’s failure to go to Belfast lets us know Northern Ireland is already lost.
Theresa May’s quick sortie north of the border today was a sure indication that Brexit and indeed the project that was Britain have come to the end of the road. Her meeting with the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in Glasgow today, ahead of the rescheduled Section 30 vote in Edinburgh tomorrow and the formal triggering of Article 50 on Wednesday, has taught us two important things about the future of the United Kingdom. In Scotland we have learned that, even now at the end of the eleventh hour, the British government has nothing more to offer the people of Scotland and that – from her failure to go to the province – it has already given up on Northern Ireland.
What is Scotland to the British establishment? Work that out and you'll understand why they are in Scotland today and not Northern Ireland.—
Ross Colquhoun (@rosscolquhoun) March 27, 2017
Asked whether she would respect the outcome of tomorrow’s vote in Holyrood Mrs. May repeated her mantra that “now is not the time,” indicating her intention to stick to the Brexit dogma of the UK exiting the European Union as one united Britain – without consideration of the wishes of Scotland and Northern Ireland. She has shown her hand, and it is not a good one. Her government is pursuing a strategy of dominating the centre – protecting the interests of London – regardless of the cost of this policy on the Scottish and Irish periphery.
In the context of the imminent triggering of Article 50 the Prime Minister’s trip to Scotland is nothing other than a visible, yet meaningless, show of power in Scotland before forcing the hand of the Edinburgh government to seek independence. She has made her position known to the First Minister, thus establishing the necessary pretext for the outright refusal of another independence referendum before the terms of the Brexit negotiations are known – a turn of phrase understood differently in Edinburgh and London. Where Sturgeon reads this as a point in the discussions where it becomes apparent what the result will be, May simply means that point in the talks when it becomes too late for Scotland to save itself.
Nothing new was introduced into the discussion, which raises the question why she came to Scotland in the first place and not to Belfast – where the crisis is now acute. The North’s power sharing executive collapsed amid another unionist scandal and the refusal of the majority in Northern Ireland to accept leaving the EU. In the subsequent snap elections the unionist parties lost their overall majority, making a referendum on the six counties’ reunification with the rest of Ireland to avoid Brexit a distinct possibility. Now, having run out of time to re-negotiate the executive, Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill has stated that the talks have reached an impasse while the Northern Secretary – James Brokenshire – has given everyone one more last chance before direct rule is re-imposed.
Brokenshire says UK govt is taking Northern Ireland crisis very seriously. Journalist asks- then why isn't Theresa May even here?—
Siobhan Fenton (@SiobhanFenton) March 27, 2017
The absence of Theresa May in Belfast today signals where the priorities of the Brexiteer British government lie, and they are not in Ireland – north or south. Direct rule would of course undermine the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, risking a return to the violence and bloodshed of the Troubles. With neither the DUP nor Sinn Féin able to head up the Stormont government, direct rule looks to be the most likely next step for London.
So what is the British government playing at? It has been obvious from the June referendum last year that Britain’s priority is the protection of London and the English part of this so-called union of equals. As a hard Brexit or worse – no deal at all – is on the cards, Downing Street is moving fast to secure what is useful – Scotland – and to jettison what it now considers a lost cause – Northern Ireland. When it really comes down to it, this is what Britain really means when it talks about assets and liabilities.
Europe too, at long last, has come into the fray. During the sixtieth anniversary celebrations of the European Union crowds in a number of European cities made their support for Scotland and Scottish independence heard and Germany’s federal governments have declared that they will support Scotland’s continuation in the union as an independent nation. All of this puts Britain under increasing pressure to close off all the exit doors for Scotland before it can complete the task of scuttling the ship. The vote in the Scottish parliament tomorrow and the pushing of the big red button on Brexit on Wednesday are now pretty academic. We are already at the end game.
Northern Ireland parties told time is running out to form new government