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Ditch the dogma - do the deal

In the imagination of remainers, the Tory European Research Group is a cadre of irreconcilable Brexit ultras, determined to wrench the UK from the EU in chaotic fashion. It’s ironic then, that the ERG’s latest paper is one of the calmest contributions to the Irish border debate, delivering low-key, rather technical solutions to practical problems raised by the frontier, rather than overheated rhetoric.
The document draws heavily on the work of Dr Graham Gudgin, the Cambridge University academic who has examined forensically Brexit’s potential impact in Ireland at the think-tank, Policy Exchange. The audience at its publication included two former secretaries of state for Northern Ireland, Owen Paterson and Theresa Villiers, as well as Lord Trimble, unionist architect of the Belfast Agreement.
The ERG’s aim in writing this paper was fairly straight-forward. Come up with a set of arrangements that will avoid the need for new physical checks and infrastructure at the border between Nort…

Russia staged the best World Cup of modern times

The bitterness when Russia pipped England in the race to stage the World Cup was palpable.

Very soon, there were incessant implications that the tournament would be a disaster and countless attempts to organise a boycott on flimsy pretexts. Nick Clegg was one of the quickest out of the blocks, demanding British teams refuse to participate in protest at the Kremlin’s insistence on confronting Jihadist maniacs in Syria.
Russia’s stubbornly independent foreign policy and resistance to western groupthink has resulted in it being treated as a pariah. Yet it confounded its critics by staging the most entertaining World Cup in living memory and proved itself an exceptional host. From the opening ceremony to the trophy presentation, which took place in a near biblical rainstorm, Russia 2018 was an unqualified triumph.
The conspiracy theorists will allege that Vladimir Putin stage-managed the event carefully in order to cultivate a positive image of his country (as if micromanaging the experi…

Corbyn will never be trusted on Northern Ireland

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Jeremy Corbyn’s first visit to Northern Ireland as leader of the opposition was never likely to be greeted with enthusiasm by unionists. Hardly anyone is gullible enough to fall for his attempts to explain away decades of overt sympathy for the IRA. He retains links to Sinn Fein’s leaders and, just days ago, he reaffirmed his preference for a ‘united Ireland’, which, his spokesman says, “the majority of those people across the island” want to see.
Even before Corbyn arrived in Belfast last week, his itinerary generated controversy.
The Labour leader did not meet local members of his own party, who have been involved in a protracted struggle with their leadership to stand candidates in Northern Ireland elections. They argue that voters deserve ‘equal citizenship’ and the chance to vote for parties that can form the UK government, but they’re unlikely to persuade Corbyn, who hasn’t renounced his belief that the British state is an occupying force in Ireland.
He also declined to meet vi…

Writing elsewhere

Perpetual crisis likely unless unionism finds positive voice

This article was published first in the News Letter, 21 February 2018.
It may have been Sinn Fein that withdrew from the executive and refused to share power for thirteen months, but the way last week’s talks collapsed allowed blame to be pinned squarely on the DUP. The party has to take responsibility for communicating its position clumsily, but the balance of criticism has been grossly unfair.
After all, what exactly was the DUP supposed to do in the circumstances?
The latest impasse cannot be viewed in isolation. Though to listen to Northern Ireland’s increasingly vocal and partisan cohort of nationalist commentators, you’d think that every new political stand-off at Stormont was a unique and novel affront by unionists.
The truth is that Sinn Fein has used the same tactics many times before. Republicans habitually collapse power-sharing, create a crisis and then allow demands to build that unionists should accommodate them by agreeing some sort of compromise.
If Arlene Foster pushed …

Unionists and republicans aren't equally to blame for crisis

In his News Letter column (1 January), Alex Kane says he gets accused of “lazy analysis” when he blames both the DUP and Sinn Fein for the lack of power-sharing at Stormont. I don’t think Alex’s analysis is lazy, but I can’t agree with his implication that the two parties are equally responsible for the breakdown of devolved government.
Undoubtedly, the DUP deserves criticism for its conduct in the Assembly. Its role in the RHI scandal was an indictment of its attitude to tax-payers’ money and it gave Sinn Fein a pretext to pull down the Executive. Equally, the party’s intransigence on some issues has allowed republicans to pose as progressives and attract sympathy from naive young liberals.
Yet it’s glaringly obvious that the DUP didn’t collapse government and hasn’t prevented it from being reformed. Indeed, the party has even shown signs that it’s prepared to be flexible on parts of the list of sanctimonious demands, or ‘red-lines’, set out by Sinn Fein.
When commentators try to decod…