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Showing posts from 2017

Writing elsewhere (mainly about Brexit)

If you follow this blog but don't bother with Twitter and other social media, you may have missed some of my more recent articles.
As phase 1 of the Brexit negotiations struggled to a slightly chaotic conclusion, I looked at some of the features of an emerging deal, at Conservative Home.
I argued that 'convergence', which has subsequently become 'alignment', was not necessarily the same as membership of the Customs Union or Single Market.
"All the fundamentals of Britain’s final deal with Brussels should apply equally across all its regions.  But if there are parts of the economy that benefit from harmonising regulations with the EU, without compromising the United Kingdom’s integrity, we should be clever and pragmatic enough to show some flexibility."
At the website, Reaction,  I examined how a deal could affect the 'principle of consent', which underpins the Good Friday Agreement. The Irish government's attitude to consent remains a concern fo…

Border with GB would be a massive betrayal

Last week, the veteran Tory Europhile, Ken Clarke, argued that if the UK leaves the EU Customs Union the best solution “is to have a border down the Irish Sea”. His intervention appalled unionists and delighted nationalists, who - in connivance with the Alliance Party - have been using Brexit to try to loosen Northern Ireland’s ties with Great Britain and edge it closer to the Republic of Ireland.
Mr Clarke has made many constructive arguments over the years, from the moderate wing of the Conservatives, but his comments about Northern Ireland have been pitifully few and often betrayed a patronising disdain for this part of the UK. After his former party leader, David Cameron, formed an electoral pact with Ulster Unionists, Clarke told the Daily Telegraph, “you can always do a deal with an Ulsterman, but it’s not the way to run a modern, sophisticated society”.
Nationalists will applaud anyone who supports their schemes to dilute Northern Ireland’s position in the UK. It is Alliance’s de…

May's Brexit missed opportunity with Russia

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When Theresa May’s speechwriters pondered this year’s keynote address to the Lord Mayor’s Banquet, they couldn’t have been short of potential material.

Businesses and their representative organisations daily pour over every utterance from the Prime Minister and her colleagues, in an attempt to decode how the Brexit negotiations might progress. The Conservative government appears to be riven with infighting and, if it falls, Labour and Jeremy Corbyn threaten to upend British society and the existing economic order. The chancellor continues to wrestle with the insoluble algebra of keeping unemployment low and cutting the deficit, while boosting productivity and raising wages.  

That’s probably why Mrs May’s speech largely avoided each of these big issues and instead reached for a series of well worn accusations, directed against Russia. It was the usual thing; espionage, destabilising eastern European states, weaponising information. “I have a very simple message for Russia”, the Prime M…

Only irrational GAWA would support the Republic

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Losing the World Cup Play-Off to a disputed penalty goal was a gut-wrenching experience for Northern Ireland fans. The faithful supporters who returned from Basel earlier this week might have expected to come home to a country commiserating with its team and reflecting on its achievements, through regional TV, radio and newspapers.
Instead they were faced with provocative demands to back the Republic in its play-off match against Denmark and accusations of sectarianism, based on information that was at least a generation out of date.
The Green and White Army weren’t surprised. They’re used to facing ill-disguised hostility, ignorance and a lack of empathy from sections of the media, including public service broadcasters, whose remit is supposed to be Northern Ireland alone.
The supporters’ hurt feelings are understandable, but do some of their critics have a point? For instance, should Northern Ireland fans show more generosity and cheer on the country country to their south?
The questi…

Is the UUP dying?

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The UUP last generated energy and excitement when it formed an electoral pact with the Conservatives. Can its new leader find another 'big idea' to inspire an electoral revival, or is the party slowly dying?

A couple of weekends ago, the UUP held its annual conference. For a party that now struggles to command media attention, it was a particularly important event, because the BBC covered its leader’s speech live and aired a party political broadcast the previous evening.
It's just six months since Robin Swann took over from Mike Nesbitt and then immediately faced a general election, which saw the UUP lose its two Westminster seats. At the conference in Armagh, the Ulster Unionists’ new leader had an opportunity to explain his brand of unionism and most of the coverage focussed on two policies and two buzzwords contained in Mr Swann’s speech.

The UUP opposed the idea that an Irish Language Act is needed in Northern Ireland and it supported changing the way an Executive is fo…

Westminster needs better arguments rather than new parties

It’s become common to assert that Brexit has changed the contours of British politics forever. That remains to be seen. After the UK leaves the EU, older loyalties and divisions may re-emerge, as allegiances and rivalries that developed since the referendum become irrelevant. That hasn’t prevented some fairly animated discussion about the potential for new parties to reflect a ‘realignment’ of politics after Brexit. Since Jeremy Corbyn’s hard-left faction took charge of the Labour, there have been suggestions that its pragmatic ‘Blairite’ wing would be happier outside the party. They may or may not have enough in common with disgruntled Conservative ‘remainers’ to share a common political home. This fabled ‘centrist’ group is joined by a ‘Radicals’ party, imagined by FT journalist,Jeremy Cliffe. He went to the trouble of drawing up a short manifesto, that combines pro-EU, pro-migrant social policies, with proposals for aggressive decentralisation and a free-market economy, driven by ‘disr…

Irish Language Act threatens a cultural carve-up

In the recent past, there was a common idea among academics who thought and wrote about unionists, that there were broadly two types of unionism in Northern Ireland. ‘Cultural unionism’ concentrated on defending a way of life regarded as specific to Protestants in Ulster and it was most closely associated with the DUP, while ‘liberal’ or ‘British unionism’ was focussed on the UK as a whole and influenced some quarters of the UUP.
People’s attitudes and motivations can rarely be put into categories so neatly, but there was some truth to the distinction. A common Ulster Unionist jibe asserted that the DUP was an “Ulster nationalist” party with little time for UK politics or modern British society, and scarcely deserved to be called ‘unionist’ at all.
From the perspective of late 2017, it’s a lot more difficult to sustain that claim.
Whatever the merits or otherwise of Brexit, the DUP threw itself into a nationwide campaign and argued the case for the whole UK to leave the EU. Then, after …