Posts Tagged ‘DUP’

Tories sleepwalk towards soft Brexit

The UK government was deluded when it thought reaching a deal would be easy. It is deluded now in underestimating the concession it has made, writes Conor Quinn.

The DUP scuppered a Brexit deal for all the wrong reasons

Why did the DUP veto the proposed border arrangements for Northern Ireland? It was not because of pragmatic considerations, writes Anthony Costello (University College Cork), but through the simple desire to reassert unionism – even at the cost of a hard and damaging Brexit. Only if Northern Ireland can negotiate a new power-sharing deal will it be possible to force the party to properly represent the peoples of Northern Ireland.

The signing of the DUP-Conservative deal in June 2017 sent shockwaves throughout the UK and Ireland. For many observers, the deal cemented the foundations of a hard Brexit. But for those thinking outside the box – such as members of the Southern Irish government – it symbolised the opportunity to soften the UK’s obscure Brexit preferences.

According to this logic, the Democratic Unionists – in their new-found proximity to the British government – would use their political influence to make Westminster aware of the grave consequences that would ensue from a hard Brexit. Many observers questioned this notion, arguing that it naïvely overlooked the historical and contemporary politics and culture of the DUP. Still, some maintained that a combination of the economic and political constraints facing Northern Ireland, executive technicalities and party political ambition would surely influence the DUP to think pragmatically.

arlene foster

Arlene Foster attends a Remembrance Day service in Enniskillen, 2013. Photo: Northern Ireland Office via a CC-BY 2.0 licence

Now that the DUP enjoys considerable sway over the fate of Theresa May’s government, this small regional party has plenty of influence in the Brexit negotiations. It has used it to bring the Brexit negotiations and any opportunity for compromise to a standstill.

Since the deal was signed five months ago, the DUP has been relatively silent about Northern Ireland’s preferences. Instead, the party has repeatedly advocated a stance that would give the region equivalent status to the rest of the UK post-Brexit. Evidently, for the DUP the consequences of a hard Brexit are of little consideration as long as unionist objectives are met.

In the meantime, the Conservative Party is gradually learning that their initial ambitions for Brexit are unrealistic. Their proposals have shifted from a ‘frictionless border’ using technology to monitor trade and customs, to an offer of continued regulatory alignment. The latter would shift the external border of the UK to the Irish Sea, affectively creating separate rules for Northern Ireland that would bring the region’s trade rules and procedures into line with those of the Republic

Creative thinking in the face of such complexity must be admired. But the fact remains that the UK’s preferences to date have been fundamentally unrealistic and obscure. A hard Brexit – one which sees the UK leave the Single Market and the customs union – necessarily means a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. It is difficult to see how special status for Northern Ireland would be politically feasible. Continued regulatory alignment for Northern Ireland alone would place Northern Ireland in a politically and economically vulnerable position – not least because it would be a devolved UK region influenced by EU trade legislation and regulations, but with no representation at the EU level because it would be a mere autonomous region of a sovereign non-member of the EU.

The uncertain logistics of trade and customs rules for Northern Ireland separated by a sea border would cause considerable problems for both the region itself and its southern neighbour. From a political perspective, this is not in the DUP’s interests. They perceive it as pushing Northern Ireland closer to the Republic and weakening its ties with the rest of the UK. DUP leader Arlene Foster has made it very clear that any deal agreed between the UK and EU should not create special arrangements for Northern Ireland that could weaken its position in the UK. The fate of the UK is the fate of Northern Ireland, she argues, and this must not be compromised.

The DUP’s objections to regulatory alignment for Northern Ireland alone are sensible and pragmatic. Although David Davis has indicated that the policy would apply to the whole of the UK, this has not been confirmed by the Conservatives. The option has uncertain political and economic consequences for both Ireland and the UK. However, while the DUP’s rejection is commendable in one sense, the reasoning behind it is very concerning.

In recent days, it has become clear that the DUP’s reasoning comes not from a place of economic, legal or constitutional logic, or even concern for the economic prospects of Northern Ireland and North-South relations. It is firmly rooted in nothing more than staunch unionism and romantic notions of British nationalism. From statements made by Arlene Foster and her party peers, Northern Ireland’s unique conditions are of little importance to the party in terms of the Brexit negotiations and outcomes. The DUP’s aim is nothing more than the reassertion of the British identity of Northern Ireland, guaranteed by distancing the UK from the EU. Regardless of the consequences of Brexit for Northern Ireland, and the potential consequences of a hard Brexit for the stability of the DUP party, Foster and her peers are willing to sacrifice the preferences and interests of a majority of the Northern Irish peoples for the sake of a party-centric goal. Even more concerning is the free rein that Foster has in the absence of Executive constraint in Northern Ireland.

The DUP can no longer be considered a potentially positive constraint on British preferences in the sense of influencing a soft Brexit for the whole of the UK. Holding the balance of power in Westminster, they risk derailing the whole Brexit process. To reiterate, the rejection of continued regulatory alignment is not the key problem. It is the party’s reasoning behind the rejection that is of concern – their willingness to jeopardise everything for a hard Brexit that secures their unionist identity. The DUP argues that it does not wish to see a hard border between North and South, yet their actions in recent days clearly indicate a desire for a hard Brexit, which must mean installing a hard border. This may be only the first of a series of DUP refusals to compromise.

More than ever, Northern Ireland needs  a power-sharing arrangement and the return of legitimate representation. Only through this can executive constraints be put in place in Northern Ireland that might encourage the DUP to rethink their position.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Brexit blog, nor the LSE.

Dr Anthony Costello is a Lecturer in the Department of Government and Politics, University College Cork.

The key to unlocking Brexit is… in the Lisbon Treaty

The Northern Irish DUP party, a junior coalition member to Theresa May’s government, is a stumbling block to unlocking the Brexit talks. Dick Roche gives the receipt how the problem can be solved.

Why the Republic and Northern Ireland need shared regulatory frameworks

On 4 December, the UK and the EU failed to reach an agreement to move on to the next stage of the Brexit talks, with reports suggesting the Democratic Unionist Party had refused to accept proposed concessions on the Irish border. Anand Menon explains why there are strong reasons for shared regulatory frameworks on both sides of the Irish border to continue following Brexit, and why it remains exceptionally challenging to resolve the issue.

Ireland is hogging the Brexit headlines. While some reports on Monday suggested that the UK and EU were close to a solution on the vexed question of the Irish border, still others indicated that the Democratic Unionist Party, on which Theresa May depends for her slim Commons majority, would not accept any differentiation between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

And yet such differentiation has to be granted if the UK government intends to square the circle it has drawn. Somehow, the UK must leave the single market and customs union while providing the Republic with the political commitment it has demanded that the intra-Irish border must remain invisible.

Much has been written and said about the tangled politics of the Irish border. Yet a couple of issues tend to get lost in the hubbub. First, while obviously the government in Dublin is hugely concerned about what happens to the intra-Ireland border, it is also arguably the most anxious among the EU27 to move on to phase two of the Brexit process and begin negotiating a close and mutually beneficial trade relationship. And for good reason. A recent report by the Irish Central Statistics Office underlines the close trading links that bind the two countries.

Ireland is simultaneously demanding that its requirements for the withdrawal phase be met while being the most anxious to proceed. And of course this is partly because of fears related to a violent sectarian past. But a focus on this has shifted attention from the variety of more mundane, yet equally important factors militating in favour of continued regulatory alignment between the north and south of the island. Simply put, divergence would impact on people’s lives in a variety of different ways.

Throughout last summer, British, Irish and EU officials undertook a detailed “mapping” exercise intended to examine all the areas of north-south co-operation which would be affected by Brexit. They identified more than 140 such areas. The exercise has served to underline the serious challenges posed by any regulatory divergence between the Republic and the North.

Healthcare is one area that stands to be profoundly affected. Joint membership of the single market ensures single standards for medical devices, mutual recognition of medical qualifications, mutual acceptance of cross border ambulance activity and so on. Patients on the island of Ireland can fill prescriptions written by doctors on one side of the border in pharmacies on the other side of the border.

But for this to happen, doctors and pharmacists need to be working to the same standards and need to know medicines are approved in both the North and South. The EU provides the legislative framework to make this possible. Continued regulatory harmonisation is the only way to ensure it continues to be so.

Likewise, when it comes to agriculture, above and beyond the questions about trade and tariffs that dominate public debate, the single market and common rules are crucial. So, for instanceauthorities on both sides of the border co-operate closely when it comes to managing the risks associated with animal health. For example, they meet regularly to work on contingency planning in case of an outbreak.

This co-operation happens through the North South Ministerial Council working groups and is based on provisions and conditions laid down in EU legislation. Removing this framework from Northern Ireland would not only impose a border, and make co-operation more complex, but would increase the risk of an outbreak of disease.

Transport, too, would be massively affected by regulatory divergence. A variety of bus services cross the border on a regular basis. Services scheduled by Bus Éireann, Translink and other private operators, services going from Donegal to Scotland which collect passengers in Northern Ireland, local operators bringing children to school, tour buses and privately hired buses all benefit from the common regulations that exist. Bus services that cross the border do so easily because the services are regulated at an EU level. EU legislation ensures that bus services comply with the same vehicle safety standards, driver hour regulations and other safety measures.

It also enables authorities on both sides of the border to harmonise co-operation in enforcing safety measures. Removing this framework would hinder the ability of services to operate across the border, adding additional complexity and burdens, undermining confidence in the safety of services, and reducing the ability of authorities to ensure that all adhere to high safety standards. Ultimately, of course, it would be ordinary passengers who would suffer.

And finally, consider energy. Consumers on the island of Ireland benefit from the existence of a wholesale single electricity market, with all of the economic and social benefits that come with that. The single electricity market is an integrated wholesale electricity supply system built entirely upon binding EU legislation and policies. If it unravels because Northern Ireland no longer applies EU legislation, the electricity supply market on the island will fracture. If nothing else, the loss of efficiencies of scale implies that electricity will become more expensive for consumers.

So the Irish border question is not simply about sectarianism. Nor, indeed, is it all about tariffs. It is also about rules, and the impact those rules have on ordinary people on both sides of the border. These citizens live in a world in which the existence of the same regulatory framework shapes numerous aspects of their daily lives.

Obviously, ensuring an absence of regulatory divergence will be challenging. The political problems are all too familiar, but they are not the only ones. There will also be issues around Northern Ireland’s place in the UK’s own internal market (and whether, for instance, the terms of new UK trade deals dealing with, say, chlorinated chicken will apply to the province).

Whatever path is chosen will be problematic. But don’t expect Dublin to stop demanding some certainty about the lives of its citizens, however much it also wants to move on to talks about trade.

This piece originally appeared in the New Statesman and at UK in a Changing Europe/EUROPP. The article gives the views of the author, not the position of LSE Brexit  or the London School of Economics. Featured image credit: Andrein (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Anand Menon is Director at The UK in a Changing Europe and Professor of European Politics and Foreign Affairs at King’s College London.

News review – Wednesday 6 December 2017

News review – Wednesday 6 December 2017


Theresa May is facing a Cabinet revolt after Brexiteers led by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove expressed “genuine fear” the Prime Minister is trying to force through a soft Brexit. Mrs May was accused of trying to “bounce” the Cabinet into agreeing to “regulatory alignment” between Ulster and Ireland after it emerged she did not brief senior ministers before talks in Brussels on Monday that stalled over the controversial issue. David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, said that any alignment 
between the north and south in Ireland would apply to the whole of the UK, which Leave supporters interpreted as Britain remaining yoked to the EU.

Brexiteer cabinet ministers are backing the Democratic Unionist Party, heaping pressure on Theresa May to tear up a promise to align rules with the EU after Britain’s departure. The prime minister cancelled a visit to Brussels planned for today as the rebellion against proposals for so-called “regulatory alignment” to avoid a hard border with Ireland gathered strength. Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, rebuffed an invitation for a face-to-face meeting yesterday and kept the prime minister waiting for a phone call as the Tories’ Commons allies entrenched their opposition to the draft deal. Mrs Foster blamed Dublin for the collapse on Monday of talks to pave the way to the next stage of Brexit negotiations.

BRITAIN could still broker an initial Brexit deal with the European Union before Christmas despite Monday’s negotiation breakdown over the Irish border, Dublin’s ambassador has told Theresa May’s hopes of securing a deal with the EU lay in tatters after her Commons allies the DUP expressed outrage over agreements on the Irish border. Now Adrian O’Neill, Dublin’s ambassador to the UK, has confirmed a deal can be struck before the December 14 deadline to get the process of Brexit moving. But Mr O’Neill warned time was close to running out – and Mrs May will need to gain assurances from the 27 nation superstate by the end of the week to get a preliminary deal in time for 2018.

Iain Duncan Smith last night urged Theresa May to abandon  Brexit talks unless the EU agrees to back away from its ‘intolerable’ demands. In an ominous move, the former Conservative leader went public about his growing concerns with the direction of the negotiations on a potential divorce deal. Mr Duncan Smith said accepting the EU’s demands would leave the UK a ‘supplicant’ nation after Brexit. 
He said he had told the PM: ‘We have reached the point where really these sets of demands are demands too far.’ He added that it was time to tell the EU: ‘We’re not prepared to go down this road any longer, this is not working, we will not box ourselves in.’ Mr Duncan Smith has acted as a bridge between No 10 and the Eurosceptic wing of the Tory Party, helping to persuade MPs to back Mrs May and avoid rocking the boat. His decision to speak out underlines the difficulty Mrs May now faces in persuading the Right of the party to back her approach to Brexit.

Iain Duncan Smith has told the EU to ‘back off’ or ‘move on’ and suggested the UK should walk away if Brussels doesn’t change its position. He told the BBC: “You need to change this process and to back off otherwise we get on with other arrangements that won’t be beneficial to you. We would rather have the trade deal but not at any price. We should be treated as equals not supplicants. Everyone knows we’re not going to get a hard border in Ireland this is a game being played over power. “Who will call the shots on this? Right now we have to say ‘not good enough’. The reality for us is to persuade the government that they have the support of the party and the country at large if they say to the EU ‘we’re not prepared to go down this road’. I have made it pretty clear where I think we’ve reached a stage where these set of demands are too far.” Hopefully Theresa May listens to IDS and tells Brussels where to go.

Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, has said news of a potential agreement between the UK and the EU on the issue of the Irish border came as a “big shock” to her party, which is propping up Theresa May in Parliament. A potential agreement between London and Brussels that would have seen Northern Ireland retain “regulatory alignment” with the EU after Brexit fell apart on Monday after the DUP refused to give its backing to the proposal. Ms May is reliant on the party’s support after losing her parliamentary majority in June’s general election. Ms Foster said she had been asking for information on the Government’s plans for the Irish border for five weeks but had only received news of the proposed arrangement on Monday morning.  She claimed British negotiators told her the Irish Government had insisted her party was not given advance notice of the text of the agreement.

Humiliated Theresa May was locked in a desperate round of telephone diplomacy yesterday in a race to claw back  DUP   support and salvage her Brexit deal. The Prime Minister has days to find a solution to the Irish border issue that will satisfy EU chiefs while keeping DUP boss Arlene Foster on side. Ms Foster sunk the PM’s talks in ­Brussels on Monday by refusing to agree “regulatory alignment” between Northern Ireland and the Republic. She said the move, which would mean continuing to follow some single market rules, would separate Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. But Brexit Secretary David Davis said any such alignment would be UK-wide. He told the Commons yesterday: “The presumption of the discussion was that everything we talked about applied to the whole United Kingdom. Alignment is not harmonisation. It’s not having exactly the same rules; it is sometimes having mutually recognised rules, mutually recognised inspection… That’s what we’re aiming at.”

Theresa May is facing mounting pressure to secure a breakthrough in EU negotiations after the Democratic Unionist party expressed shock at the handling of the Irish border question and Brexit-supporting Conservatives said the time had come to walk away. Senior cabinet members also voiced unease at May’s tactics, and complained they were not informed in advance about Downing Street’s plan to promise the EU some form of “regulatory alignment” to help move the divorce talks on to the next stage. Sources warned that key   Brexit supporters in May’s top team would object if they believed that anything was agreed that could limit the UK’s ability to diverge from the EU in the future. On the day after May was forced to step back from securing a deal on divorce negotiations after a last-minute intervention from the DUP.

BORIS Johnson and Michael Gove are spearheading a Cabinet rebellion against Theresa May following fears she is trying to hoodwink them into a soft Brexit, reports reveal. The Brexit architects expressed “genuine fear” that the Prime Minister was seeking regulatory alignment between the UK and Brussels after Britain leaves. Fear of a soft Brexit plot to keep the UK shackled to Brussels emerged after details of the proposed future of Ireland’s border were leaked prompting a furious DUP into torpedoing the deal. A Cabinet source told The Telegraph: “It seems that either Northern Ireland is splitting from the rest of the UK or we are headed for high alignment with the EU, which certainly hasn’t been agreed by Cabinet. “The Prime Minister is playing a risky game.”

Sky News
The moment Brexit “fantasy met brutal reality” is how Labour described the chaos over the Irish border. During an urgent question in the House of Commons on Tuesday, shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer claimed the Prime Minister’s promise to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland is impossible to deliver. This is due to Theresa May “recklessly” committing to leaving the EU’s customs union and single market, Sir Keir said. He and backbenchers from all sides of the Commons described 
Monday’s events as a “humiliation” and an “embarrassment” for the Government. Some demanded the Prime Minister change course on Brexit – or “rub out the red lines”, as Conservative Anna Soubry put it.

VOTERS’ faith in Britain getting a good Brexit deal has collapsed, according to fresh research. At the halfway stage of the 18 month long negotiations, a majority for the first time think we’ll get a bad deal when we leave in March 2019 – 52%, up from 37% per cent in February. A study by polling expert John Curtice for the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) found that even Leave voters have become more critical of the way talks are being handled by Theresa May – and turning pessimistic about the consequences of  Brexit. The Half-Time in the Brexit Negotiations scorecard found six in ten voters think the UK government is handling the negotiations badly – up from four in ten in February. Some 57 per cent blame the EU for how negotiations are going – up from 47 per cent in February. And the proportion of Brexit voters who think the UK will secure a good deal has fallen from 51 per cent to 28 per cent.

Terror plot

The security services have foiled an alleged plot to assassinate the Prime Minister in Downing Street, it has emerged. An Islamic extremist planned to use an improvised explosive device to blow up the gates of Downing Street before entering No 10 and making an attempt on Theresa May’s life. Two men have been charged with terror offences and are due to appear in Westminster magistrates’ court. Details of the alleged terror plot were set out to Cabinet members on Tuesday during a briefing by Andrew Parker, the head of MI5. Mr Parker revealed that British intelligence had foiled nine terror plots in the past 12 months. The disclosures about the charges came just hours after an official report into the Manchester terror attack revealed that the suicide bomber had been flagged for closer scrutiny by security services and that the atrocity could have been averted “had the cards fallen differently”.

The security services believe they have stopped an Islamist suicide bomb plot to assassinate the Prime Minister. Two Muslim men are suspected of conspiring to attack Downing Street armed with an improvised bomb, suicide vest and knives. Investigators suspect the pair wanted to detonate a bomb disguised as a bag. They would then attempt to kill Theresa May armed with a suicide vest, pepper spray and knife in the chaotic aftermath. Naa’imur Zakariyah Rahman, 20, and Mohammed Aqib Imran, 21, will appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday charged with planning terror attacks

Security services believe they have foiled a plot to assassinate Theresa May in Downing Street. Two men have been arrested on suspicion of plotting to kill the Prime Minister by using a bomb disguised as a bag to blow off the gates of Downing Street and then attack her with knives. The suspects were detained during raids in London and Birmingham last week and charged with terrorism offences. They are due to appear in Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday.  The plot was revealed to the Cabinet yesterday by Andrew Parker, the head of MI5, who also told ministers that security services have foiled nine terrorist attacks on the UK in the last year. The Metropolitan Police said Naa’imur Zakariyah Rahman, 20, from north London, and Mohammed Aqib Imran, 21, from Birmingham, had been charged with preparing a terrorist act.  A Scotland Yard spokesperson declined to confirm that the arrests were linked to a plot to attack Ms May.

Counter-terror police have foiled an alleged plot to bomb Downing Street and murder PM Theresa May. Two suspects were arrested during raids in London and Birmingham last week, it emerged last night. Scotland Yard said: “Both men were remanded in custody to appear at Westminster magistrates court.” The pair – Naa’imur Zakariyah Rahman, of North London, and Mohammed Aqib Imran, from south east Birmingham – were held on November 28. It came during raids by officers from the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command.

Sky News
A terror plot to assassinate Prime Minister Theresa May has been foiled, Sky sources have confirmed. Sky’s Crime Correspondent Martin Brunt said: “It’s the latest in a number of terror plots that police and MI5 believe they’ve foiled this year. “I understand that the head of MI5, Andrew Parker, briefed Cabinet ministers today (Tuesday), such is the seriousness of what they believed they have uncovered. “It is in essence an extreme Islamist suicide plot against Downing Street. Essentially police believe that the plan was to launch some sort of improvised explosive device at Downing Street and in the ensuing chaos attack and kill Theresa May. “This is something which has been pursued over several weeks at least by Scotland Yard, MI5 and West Midlands Police. “It came to a head last week with the arrest of two men, by armed police, who were charged with preparing acts of terrorism.”

Alien planet

A MASSIVE “Super Earth” has been discovered just 111 light years away – and it could host an alien colony. Experts discovered the distant exoplanet – known as K2-18b – is a perfect candidate for hosting other life and is made out of rock like Earth. The study by researchers at the University of Texas and the University of Montreal was carried out using data from the European Southern Observatory (ESO). They found K2-18b also has a sister planet they’ve called K2-18c – although it is not thought this is too hot for aliens. Both planets orbit a red-dwarf star called K2-18 and fall within the star’s habitable zone. Ryan Cloutier, of the University of Montreal, said: “Being able to measure the mass and density of K2-18b was tremendous, but to discover a new exoplanet was lucky and equally exciting.” The team is now hoping that when NASA’s James Webb telescope is launched in 2019, the exoplanets can be studied in much greater detail.

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May’s Irish dilemma is a precursor of even more intractable dilemmas of Brexit to come

Those who wished the UK to leave the EU fell into two quite different camps, those who wanted Brexit to mark a decisive break in the economic and social life of the United Kingdom; and those who wanted Brexit to take place with minimal social and economic disruption. Brendan Donnelly (Federal Trust) argues that this division is at the heart of the current controversy over the Irish border, which may be resolved in such a way as to permit movement towards the second phase of Brexit talks on 14thDecember. Yet, the fundamental divisions within the pro-Brexit camp can only become more obvious and more acute in this second phase of negotiations. The debate over the Irish border may well come to be seen in retrospect as simply a precursor of other even more intractable dilemmas thrown up by the self-contradictions of the whole Brexit project, he concludes.

Tensions within the Conservative Party

The tensions between those favouring a revolutionary Brexit and those wanting to preserve as much as possible of the status quo are particularly manifest within the Conservative Party and government. Most Conservative MPs, unlike the membership of the Conservative Party, voted to remain within the European Union in last year’s referendum. A larger majority of the present Cabinet did the same. Most of these MPs and Ministers have now reconciled themselves to the prospect of leaving the European Union but are determined that the economic damage they believe Brexit will entail should be minimised as far as possible. They are however confronted by a well-organised, and determined minority within the Conservative Parliamentary Party who take a very different view, namely that leaving the EU loses much of its sense if the supposedly transformative effects of “liberation” from the European Union are not welcomed and emphasised. This minority is wholly unwilling to see the fruits of the narrow referendum victory frittered away in lengthy and expensive negotiations on Brexit that delay or even potentially prevent the social and economic transformation they desire and expect for the United Kingdom outside and indeed at some distance from the European Union.

Until now May has been able to preserve an uneasy truce between these contradictory conceptions of Brexit. She has invented for her fractious party the reassuring chimera of a “bespoke” arrangement after Brexit between the UK and the EU which will allow the United Kingdom to maintain “frictionless” trade with the Union, but simultaneously ensure that the UK is not inconvenienced in its internal or external economic arrangements by European legislation or trade policy. Those economic interests in the UK traditionally supportive of the Conservative Party will have their established trading patterns with continental Europe maintained, while those in the Party who wish to use Brexit as a platform for radical economic change in the UK will have a free hand to conduct their reorientation of British economic and social policy away from the European model for which they feel such contempt. The Prime Minister may have hoped that this pleasing fairy-tale, a more genteel version of “having our cake and eating it,” would have remained intact until at least the second phase of the Brexit negotiations. The inclusion in the first phase of these negotiations of the Irish dimension of Brexit has made this much more difficult.

The view from Dublin

The Irish government rightly believes that the openness of the inner Irish border is an important expression of the success of the Good Friday agreement in vastly reducing political violence and promoting co-operative integration within the island of Ireland. It equally rightly fears that Brexit may compromise this open border if the internal and external trading regimes of Northern Ireland and of the Republic of Ireland differ significantly from each other after the UK leaves the European Union. The government in Dublin is unimpressed by airy British assurances that technological or other administrative solutions for trans-border problems can be found at the time of the UK’s leaving the Union. These assurances remind Irish politicians and officials unhappily of the naïve claims made by pro-Brexit campaigners during last year’s referendum that negotiating a new and favourable trading relationship for the UK with the rest of the European Union would be a straightforward and rapid process. Many in Dublin remain convinced that even today the British government is incapable of realising the objective complications and contradictions of the path towards Brexit on which it is engaged.

Many in Dublin remain convinced that the British government is incapable of realising the objective contradictions of Brexit

May’s Irish dilemma is stark but simple. She can assure herself of Irish support for moving towards the second phase of Brexit negotiations by assuring the Irish government that the difference between the internal and external economic regimes of the two parts of the island after Brexit will be minimal or non-existent. This guarantee will suffice to quell Irish fears that a reintroduced border between the Republic and Northern Ireland is the inevitable consequence of radically diverging economic arrangements within the island of Ireland. Or the British Prime Minister can maintain the precarious unity of her Parliamentary Party by refusing to give any such guarantee, claiming that it is either premature or unnecessary. Nor is it only the unity of her own Parliamentary Party that is at stake in this delicate calculation. The DUP made clear, in the humiliating veto it imposed on May’s negotiations with Juncker and Barnier earlier this week, that its support for the present Conservative government cannot be taken for granted if the latter envisages exceptional economic arrangements for Northern Ireland after Brexit, arrangements that would differentiate the Province from the rest of the United Kingdom.

Image by Ardfern, (Wiki), licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

As so often in the Brexit tragicomedy, there are no good choices for Theresa May. Progress towards the second phase of the Brexit negotiations is dependent upon giving an undertaking that one part of the United Kingdom will not move far away from the European regulatory model. This undertaking will be unacceptable to an important section of her own party and inevitably lead to calls for similar exceptions to be carved out for other parts of the United Kingdom such as Scotland, Wales and London. Already voices are being raised to argue that if Northern Ireland is in effect to remain within the European single market and Customs Union perhaps the rest of the United Kingdom should do the same. The Prime Minister also knows that failure now to move to the second phase of the Brexit negotiations and in particular failure rapidly to agree a “transitional” period for the UK after it leaves the European Union in March 2019 will inevitably trigger a substantial reduction of economic confidence in the UK by major domestic and international economic actors. It has been fear of this loss of confidence which has led her over recent weeks to important readjustments of British negotiating positions. If even these readjustments are insufficient to secure progress on 14th December towards the second phase of the negotiations, Mrs May’s political position within the United Kingdom will be perilous indeed.

Which way will the Conservative Cabinet jump?

It has been reported that the British Cabinet intends to meet in the New Year to discuss its policy preferences for the second phase of the Brexit negotiations. Helpfully, Michele Barnier and others have made clear that the real choices open to the United Kingdom correspond precisely to the line of cleavage within the British Cabinet. The United Kingdom can choose to remain close to the European Union by adopting some version of the “Norwegian” model, involving close approximation to European standards without participation in its decision-making institutions; or it can choose the much looser association of a third party trade treaty, such as that recently concluded with Canada. Minor variations of these existing models will perhaps be negotiable, but no more. The polemic already surrounding the question of the Irish border is an obvious foretaste of the uncertainty that will surround the projected meeting of the British Cabinet in 2018 to choose between these two offered templates.

Earlier this year, May gave an undertaking that after Brexit the United Kingdom would leave both the European single market and the Customs Union with the EU. In a less febrile and fluctuating political environment than the current one, it might be assumed that this undertaking prefigures an inevitable victory in next year’s Cabinet meeting for those who wish to leave the European Union in the most decisive and disruptive fashion possible. It is a token of the confusion and self-contradiction in which British European policy finds itself that not even this apparently logical prediction can be made with confidence. At the time when May committed herself to leaving the single market and the Customs Union, it was in the clear belief that similar “bespoke” arrangements could be negotiated between the UK and the EU that would replicate for the UK the trading advantages of the single market and Customs Union.

The present Irish controversy is learning through suffering for the UK government

Harsh experience in the first phase of negotiation will have disabused Theresa May and her colleagues of any such delusions for the future. If and when the Conservative Cabinet steels itself to make a realistic choice about the future relationship it wants to have with the European Union, it will do so on the basis of hard-won knowledge about the real options which the Union is prepared to entertain for that future relationship. The present Irish controversy will have played an important role in that process of learning throughout suffering. It would be a brave commentator who would predict the final European choice of the Conservative Cabinet next year. It is not even clear that said Cabinet, having made a choice, would be willing and able to live with the consequences of this choice. “Taking back control” may have been an attractive slogan during last year’s referendum. It bears little relationship to the realities faced by the British government in trying to “make a success of Brexit.”

An earlier version of this post appeared on The Federal Trust and it represents the views of the author and not those of the Brexit blog, nor the LSE. 

Brendan Donnelly has been Director of the Federal Trust since January 2003 and is a Senior Research Fellow at the Global Policy Institute. He is a former Member of the European Parliament (1994 to 1999).

A high-risk game of ‘Chicken’ is being played over the Irish border

Unsurprisingly, academic and media accounts of Northern Ireland and the British-Irish relationship have been necessarily reactive and empirical since June 2016, given the on-going and unknown outcome of the Brexit negotiations. In assessing the British-Irish relationship, the Irish government has been either praised for holding firm and playing tough about a vital interest or criticized for not using more consensual language and engaging with the DUP and the Tory government. In this new Brexit world, it seems that everyone’s a lobbyist and everyone’s a critic, writes Etain Tannam (Trinity College Dublin). The events of December 4th 2017 are a case in point.

During the meeting between Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker on December 4th, reports emerged that the text of a statement about the Irish border had been agreed between the EU and the UK government, setting out either regulatory convergence, or alignment on the island, and guaranteeing the protection of the Good Friday Agreement. It was anticipated that the Irish Prime Minister Leo Vardakar would make a statement that the Irish government was happy with the progress made, signaling that on December 14th a text would be formally agreed between the EU and the UK government that would allow the European Council on December 15th to agree to move to Phase 2 of the Brexit negotiations-trade talks.

Unfortunately, although Mr Juncker was confident that agreement would still be reached by December 14th, no such announcement was made. It was reported that the DUP had refused to support any statement that treated Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK. Given the DUP’s confidence and supply arrangement with the UK government, Theresa May could not finalise an agreement. In the immediate aftermath, a Times journalist argued that Leo Varadakar’s tone at the subsequent press conference on December 4th was not helpful and that he should have been more conciliatory, whereas others praised his assertiveness. However, given the centrality of the British-Irish relationship to stability in Northern Ireland, it is essential to analyse the motivations for each government’s strategy more academically and more objectively.

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Faisal Islam has provided one of the more conceptual analyses of the Brexit negotiations, by characterizing four sets of negotiations, including the British-Irish bargaining ‘game’, as four games of ‘Chicken’. This application of rational choice theory not only allows for a better understanding of the UK’s border proposals on December 4th, but it also helps in making predictions about the future of the British-Irish relationship and of the likelihood of moving to Phase 2 of the Brexit negotiations. According to Islam, the Irish government played tough about the border issue and calculated that not reaching a deal in December because this issue would be more damaging to the UK government than to the Irish government, as it would mean that the UK government could not proceed to trade negotiations until March, at least (and if at all). Contrary to the rhetoric, the Irish government’s perception was that ‘no deal’ for the UK government was not its real preference. Therefore, the Irish government engaged in brinkmanship and megaphone diplomacy. However, the UK government did likewise, believing that once it agreed to settle the ‘divorce bill’ to the satisfaction of the European Council and the Commission, the other 26 states would not prioritise the border issue and the negotiations would proceed, even if the Irish government objected.

In this new Brexit world, everyone’s a lobbyist and everyone’s a critic – Northern Ireland is a case in point

The above game theory application fits well with a more extensive description of British-Irish negotiations to date. There are various accounts of UK officials lobbying in EU member state capitals in the attempt to exclude resolution of the border issue as a condition for moving to trade talks. However, Irish officials too had been lobbying intensively since June 2016, first to ensure that the border issue/Good Friday Agreement were included in the list of the three main issues to be resolved before moving to Phase 2 and then, from summer 2017, to ensure that EU member states would hold firm in their commitment to the Northern Ireland issue, even if the other two issues were resolved. Irish lobbying paid off and on December 1st, the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk re-affirmed emphatically that the negotiations would not move to Phase 2 (trade) unless the Northern Ireland issue was resolved. In a joint press meeting, Leo Vardakar stated ‘the EU is a family and families stick together’. Regardless of the disappointment in the late afternoon of December 4th, it seemed that the Irish government’s strategy had paid off in ensuring that it had a de facto veto over the Brexit negotiations moving to trade talks if the border issue (including the Good Friday Agreement issue) was not resolved to its satisfaction.

The success of bargaining strategies rests on full and perfect information. The Irish government’s decision to use megaphone diplomacy and engage in brinkmanship was risky as it marked a major departure from a joint British-Irish strategy, devised in the mid-1980s. It resisted the consensual language of intergovernmental cooperation and of the Good Friday Agreement and it reverted to zero-sum characterisations of Brexit and the border issue, whereby the issue was not a problem to be solved jointly in bilateral meetings before Article 50 was triggered, but was a UK problem – ‘the UK’s fault’.

The strategy worked because the Irish government was relatively confident of two things: i. It could not rely on the UK government to resolve the border issue satisfactorily unless the Irish government played ‘hardball’; ii. It could rely on its EU partners to support the Irish government’s preference in not moving to trade talks, unless the border issue was resolved.

The Irish government appears to have been correct about both assumptions. Even a week before the border announcement, there were UK media commentaries, apparently drawn from UK Cabinet ministers, that once the divorce bill was agreed, the EU would soon cave in on the border issue. The implication was that the UK government was loath to compromise on this issue and did not perceive it to be necessary to do so. Therefore, Leo Vardakar’s blunt rhetoric stepped up a pace, signalling both to the UK and to the EU that the Irish government would block moving to trade talks if the UK did not come up with satisfactory proposals.

Secondly, the Irish government was correct to assume it would retain EU support for its position and that the UK’s ‘divide and conquer’ strategy would fail. The Irish government enjoyed goodwill from the Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, who was a key player in the Peace Process in the 1990s as well as from key EU states whose leaders were pleased by Irish recovery from recession and management of the economic crisis. Of course, conversely, the UK government’s political stock was quickly dissipating in the face of the UK government’s hardline Brexiteer language, the UK government’s fragility and its apparent ineptitude. On both counts, the Irish government made the correct calculation and the UK government miscalculated.

the Irish government made the correct calculation and the UK government miscalculated

Thus, by lunch-time on December 4th, there were signs that the Irish game of Chicken had paid off in stage one. Indeed, the failure to announce that satisfactory progress had been made was not because of the Irish government’s miscalculation of the Tory government or of the EU’s behaviour, but the UK and Irish governments’ miscalculation of the DUP’s reaction. The DUP too, according to Islam, is playing Chicken and stated firmly that it would not accept regulatory divergence. If the British-Irish policy in the 1990s is anything to go by, then the UK government will hold firm against unionist attempts to scupper a significant agreement and the DUP will be forced to compromise. However, the new UK Brexit political context and government weakness have cast doubt on such a coercive policy.

A key calculation in examining DUP behaviour is that if there is another UK election, they could well lose their position of influence. In addition, the DUP’s interests are served by the continuation of the Good Friday Agreement. The DUP has a majority in the devolved Assembly and if the Good Friday Agreement collapses because of a failure to deal with the border issue, the DUP will lose power in Northern Ireland and Irish unification will increasingly be on the agenda. Therefore there is an incentive for the DUP to compromise. The Irish government’s calculation was that Theresa May would not risk failing to achieve a trade deal with the EU and that the correct packaging of UK-EU border plans would allow the DUP to accept them, while not losing face. It is possible that this scenario is realistic, the reasons for the DUP’s apparently sudden reaction on December 4th are not clear, but it was reported that Theresa May had rushed through the draft text on December 4th, possibly deliberately without communicating effectively with the DUP, so further communication with the DUP may suffice. It was also reported that the DUP had been in constant contact over the past week, so suddenly got cold feet yesterday. Even so, tweaking of the text and cosseting of the DUP may help reach an agreement, if Theresa May does not resign.

Thus, by explaining the motivations for the behaviour of key actors and the calculations and miscalculations they make, game theory highlights the underlying logic of the Brexit border negotiations and helps to predict the final outcome. According to the above analysis, the Irish government’s choice to play Chicken was founded on accurate information about UK and EU member state preferences and the UK’s choice to play Chicken was based on misinformation about EU preferences and miscalculation about the intensity and effectiveness of Irish governmental preferences and lobbying.

The prediction is that the UK government, (again if Theresa May remains in power), having seen the failure of its strategy to sideline the border issue and the success of the Irish government’s strategy in persuading the EU to prioritise it, will consult with the DUP and agree a text that meets with Irish governmental and DUP approval, by December 14th. It is in the DUP’s, the Irish government’s, the EU’s and Theresa May’s interest to do so. At a minimum, the UK government and the EU will agree general principles about Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement that will replicate the language of the Good Friday Agreement, enshrine cross-border cooperation under the Agreement and through the devolution arrangements of the Good Friday Agreement, provide for a common regulatory regime for all key economic sectors, but may use different terminology. The wording that is suitable to DUP sensitivities will facilitate agreement and the terms, ‘single status’, ‘single market’ or ‘customs union’ will not be used. Instead, Northern Ireland’s special history and geography as part of the UK will be emphasised, as will the Good Friday Agreement.

At a maximum, Theresa May could propose that the UK as a whole enters into a regulatory alignment arrangement with the EU so that Northern Ireland is not being treated differently from the rest of the UK. Much will be made of listening to the DUP between now and December 14th and the DUP leadership will emphasise too how it influenced the final arrangement for the benefit of Northern Ireland, but also for its constituents.

All games are risky and Chicken is the most high-risk of all

According to this optimistic scenario, the specific factors that led to the Irish government’s hard-line diplomacy and the game of Chicken played by both governments will diminish during Phase 2 of the negotiations and the British-Irish relationship will remove to reciprocity and cooperation.

All games are risky and Chicken is the most high-risk of all. If the border issue is not satisfactorily resolved for the Irish government, for unionists and for nationalists in Northern Ireland, the strategies pursued will be criticized and the failure to use consensual bilateral diplomacy and avail of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference to iron out issues, before Article 50 was triggered, will be highlighted. However, Brexit has created a volatile and unpredictable environment, where no one has the benefit of perfect information or hindsight. The above analysis has shown the motivations for the strategies pursued by British and Irish governments, as well as highlighting the risks attached. On December 14th, we will know whether those risks were worth it.

This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Brexit blog, nor of the London School of Economics. 

Etain Tannam is Assistant Professor in International Peace Studies, Trinity College Dublin and Associate P.I. Trinity’s Long Room Hub for Arts and Humanities, Trinity College Dublin.

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