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By Jason Michael
WE ARE WITHIN REACHING DISTANCE of a deal on Brexit, or so we are told. A draft proposal, which reportedly includes a comprehensive proposal on the Irish border, has been delivered by the British government to Brussels and Dublin. But the problem is that no one as yet knows the details of this proposal – at this stage that includes members of the British Cabinet in London. Here in Dublin the motto of the hour is very much loose lips sink ships. No one is talking, and that is odd for Ireland. Late this evening the lights were on at the Department of the Taoiseach on Merrion Street, Foley’s Pub on Baggot Street – a famous haunt of Irish civil servants and government ministers – was packed to the rafters with the usual suspects of the press pack and an assortment of other journos and politicos, but not a G-man in sight. One well-known pencil pusher from government buildings did poke his head through the door, but was quick to beat a retreat. Not one of my own contacts in either the Taoiseach’s office or the Department of Foreign Affairs was willing to talk. Most have their phones turned off. When Dublin – a village by European standards – gets like this something is happening.
So, apologies in advance – the best we have to go on here is the infamous Dublin rumour mill. But, in fairness, much of the gossip in this has been corroborated in London by Boris Johnson; the former mini-Trump Foreign Secretary. He has suggested the latest proposal will see the British border in Ireland shifted to the Irish Sea, effectively keeping the six counties within the Single Market, and has alluded to the possibility that Dublin will have more say in the government of Northern Ireland than it has had “since forever.” Given that this is the only proposal on the North that can be accepted by Dublin and supported by Brussels, it is likely that this is what Mrs May has put on the table. This might also explain why, at the time of writing, British government ministers are being summoned to Number 10 for one-on-one discussions with the Prime Minister.
Dublin: Lights are on in the Department of the Taoiseach. The midnight oil is being burned tonight.… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Jason Michael (@Jeggit) November 13, 2018
This, certainly in the context of politics on the island of Ireland, is incendiary, and the only reason one can think of for the absolute silence on Merrion Street. If this is the proposal then Theresa May has made one hell of a gamble. Whatever way this now plays out she has shown her hand vis-à-vis her government’s relationship with the Democratic Unionist Party – this is a betrayal of the “red lines” the DUP put to the British government before signing up to its confidence and supply agreement. It is perhaps a good thing for the British government the billion-pound cheque has not been delivered. That agreement is about to go south – leaving May at the helm of a minority government in Westminster without, for the time being, any real prospect of regaining her fragile majority in the Commons. A deal on Brexit has gone right to the wire and May, it appears, is risking the collapse of her government and another Brexit general election to make it happen.
Joe Johnson, Boris Johnson’s brother, became the seventh Cabinet minister to resign over Brexit on Friday and it is likely more will follow him over tonight and tomorrow if this proposal is to stand a chance of becoming a deal. Before considering the hypothetical options for this hypothetical deal it is important to consider what is at stake. The making of this deal has exposed just how weak and fractious Mrs May’s government is. If this ever truly was a game of brinksmanship – which is doubtful – then tonight or tomorrow we are about to see London blink first. May is hoping against hope she can carry enough support in the Cabinet, no doubt with threats and inducements, to stab the DUP in the back and limp on in the hope of cobbling another confidence and supply agreement – which might result in a People’s Vote concession – with, most probably, the pro-Brexit Labour Party. Might. Failing this, the UK has another general election.
So, what can happen? Either way the DUP has seen what way May’s wind is blowing. She’s prepared to cross its red lines and sell out on Ulster. It is next to unimaginable that the DUP will be willing to play ball after tonight – unless, that is – and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility – the British security services have been doing their jobs and have, let’s say, compromising information on the personalities involved. In Northern Irish politics that is seldom impossible – think dodgy dealings on fuel and events at a certain orphanage for boys.
Brian Watters (@Brizerwatt1) November 13, 2018
With or without the DUP this proposal can go one of two ways; it can either become a deal or it can sink – obvious. In the event that it becomes a deal the loyalists of Northern Ireland – already a minority in the province – will be left to twist in the wind. Britain will be leaving Ireland! Regardless of whether or not there is a border poll on Irish unity – a decision reserved to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, a deal that would see the border moved into the sea makes long-term fiscal and legislative divergence between Britain and the North inevitable. In less than a year of ordinary business, with an open border between Ireland and the rest of Ireland, the six counties will be closer in every respect to the rest of the EU than to the rUK. Seeing as this is the democratic will of the clear majority of the Northern electorate – which includes its unionist base, the reunification of Ireland will become a de facto reality. After this a border poll becomes a mere formality.
Special status for Northern Ireland, which rejected Brexit, will be a slap in the face for Scotland – which also rejected Brexit. As the six counties do not have significant oil and gas resources and Scotland does, no such arrangement will be considered for the Scots. This cannot play out well for British unity. The majority of Scotland – including its unionist base – rejected Brexit, Holyrood has refused legislative consent to any deal that does not consider the interests of the Scottish voters, and those voters themselves know what’s best for them. Any Brexit deal that gives special status to the North and ignores Scotland will drive Scotland to the brink – either it accepts a London rule against its better judgement or it attempts to escape Brexit altogether by holding another referendum on independence or by taking a parliamentary route to self-determination. It has already been spelt out from Brussels that the door will remain open to Scottish re-entry after Brexit.
If this proposal flounders – and we all pray it doesn’t – then May’s goose is cooked. Her tea’s oot. The last best hope of saving the Good Friday Agreement will have been blown out, and the North will become the sword on which this British government must fall. Low-level violence, amidst generally rising tensions, is right now simmering in the North. The moment the republican and nationalist communities feel cut off from the rest of Ireland and from the protection of Europe low-level, predominantly unionist-loyalist violence, will be met with increasingly forceful reprisals and matters will quickly spiral back into the horrors of the Troubles. The failure of the GFA also necessitates the return of British soldiers to the streets of Northern Ireland – an eventuality that can only but throw petrol on the fire, and the violence will escalate.
Brexit Deal: first reviews in: Rees-Mogg: “we’re a slave state” ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ Boris Johnson: “As bad as it could poss… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Matt PEOPLE’S VOTE Kelly (@mk1969) November 13, 2018
Over all, the failure of this proposal – now very much a last ditched effort – will bring Britain – England, Scotland, and Wales – dangerously close to the so-called Brexit “Armageddon scenario,” with the immediate cessation of trade between the UK and the EU on Brexit day – “Britain’s independence day,” and all the attendant woes of food and medicines shortages, mass civil and political unrest, and – you guessed it – soldiers on the streets. Tonight, if it is the case the Irish border is on the table, it is the British government’s best option. In fact, this is the UK’s only option. Europe and Ireland are not playing a game of brinksmanship. They have nothing to lose here and they are not going to budge. If May’s ministers know what’s good for them, they will sign on the dotted line.
In spite of the silence in Dublin, the mood here is quietly optimistic. Unlike in London, Brexit scenarios actually have been gamed through in Dublin and Brussels. The situation for the UK without a deal is dire. The only deal acceptable to Dublin is the border question – so it simply must be what the midnight oil is being burnt for in the Department of the Taoiseach, but – and frustratingly – this is not a decision that will be made on Merrion Street. This will be hammered out tonight in Downing Street, and, to be perfectly frank, no one here and precious few in Brussels are still prepared to trust Britain will make the right decision. This is the moment of truth.
Brexit talks: “A moment of truth”