Current Affairs Politics

The DUP And Arlene Foster Blocks Compromise “Soft Border” Deal Between Ireland, The EU and Britain

Early on Monday morning it seemed as if several months of torturous negotiations between Dublin, Brussels and London had paid off, with all the parties to the discussions ready to sign an agreement over the contentious future status of the United Kingdom’s legacy colony in Ireland. The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, was meeting with his chief negotiator Michel Barnier and the representative of the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, breezily pledging a “fair deal” for all. David Davis, representing Britain, was in equally optimistic form, smiling for the cameras.

Then came an ill-timed leak published by RTÉ at 11.16 am, claiming that the UK was ready to concede to a key Irish request, and would maintain “regulatory alignment” between the British-administered Six Counties and the rest of the island. In other words, the north-east of the country would continue to have access to the European Union’s single market and customs union if Britain agreed to clone EU regulations in bespoke rules for the disputed region. Rules eventually overseen – and “legitimatised” – by the local, power-sharing assembly and executive at Stormont, should both be restored. This would effectively guarantee no re-imposition of partition or a “Brexit frontier” around the colonial holdout in the north.

According to Irish sources, this “soft border/no border” compromise was a done deal, the final text distributed and approved, simply requiring the United Kingdom to agree its publication so that all sides could move on with the UK’s urgent exit negotiations from the European Union. That left the news media ready for a big announcement from lunchtime onward, as optimistic preparations were made by public relations teams for a rare show of Anglo-European solidarity and good will. Then came a bizarre afternoon of frantic meetings and telephone conversations among British government officials, arguments between dissenting members of the ruling Conservative Party and cabinet in London, and a condemnatory press conference at 02.00 pm in Belfast by Arlene Foster, leader of the ultra-right Democratic Unionist Party: the small, fringe grouping now holding a parliamentary whip-hand over the minority Tory administration.

By 04.00 pm, following an emergency twenty minute phone call by the lacklustre UK prime minster, Theresa May, with the DUP boss – during which the latter apparently berated the Tory premier – the interim settlement was off the table. Much to the visible shock and dismay of negotiators in Dublin and Brussels. Within hours, London would be briefing the metropolitan press with tales of Continental and Hibernian skullduggery, blaming the whole debacle on the European Union and Ireland. Eventually, a ragbag collection of right-wing and nationalist politicians and commentators would join the misinformation campaign, singing an imperial chorus of “No Surrender!” to the Irish for British television and radio audiences during the remainder of the day.

This farce has left an Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, scrabbling to draw solace from a political and diplomatic mess. One which some critics are claiming as another example of Perfidious Albion’s untrustworthiness. Was it a trap? Was the Fine Gael leader and his EU counterparts set up by the British for a deliberate and humiliating fall as part of some elaborate negotiating trick or strategy? Or did Theresa May and her ministerial colleagues overplay their hand in their eagerness to get the “best deal” for Britain? Only to find that the Democratic Unionists were no longer willing to play ball when they saw the final wording of the historic compromise? Irish officials are insisting that a written agreement between both countries as been reached and that Britain can, at best, do no more than tinker with some of the wording before signing. Others think that the British are seeking more pliable phrasing, fine-sounding pledges with semantic get-out clauses should the need arise.

As for the DUP, it is doing a remarkable job of recreating the “Home Rule” crisis of 1912-14. At the start of the 20th century the demagogic leaders of the ethno-religious unionist minority in Ireland sought to prevent the country gaining some degree of autonomy within – or from – the United Kingdom though a mix of politics and violence. Instead of maintaining the “union” their ill-considered actions led to an electoral revolution across the island, a transformation which reduced the British colony to a segregated, northern-eastern rump, as four-fifths of the country regained its freedom from the UK.

With the current Brexit crisis, the modern representatives of the pro-union minority are blindly leading their followers down a familiar, obstructionist path which will inevitably end in the loss of that final fifth and with it several hundred years of British misrule in Ireland. Whatever may happen in the coming years and months, there is a certain satisfaction in knowing that, as with the losses nearly a century ago, political unionism is its own worse enemy.


21 comments on “The DUP And Arlene Foster Blocks Compromise “Soft Border” Deal Between Ireland, The EU and Britain

  1. Bhí seo roinnte ag Seán Mór ar facebook. Meas tú bhfuil aon fhirinne ann?
    “Did anyone else think that Arlene Foster’s hesitant and nervous body language was disconnected from the robust words she was saying to the tv cameras today? It lends credence to the view that she was aware of the original wording, but the party got spooked by the way it was sailing in the media, and she got huge opposition throughout the day.”

  2. Conspiracy or Cock-up? Definitely the latter on the British side, I think, the Tories are in no state to engineer a Cunning Plan. As for the DUP and friends, do you really want these loons as part of your United Ireland, honestly do you really?!
    (Please take them, we’ll have them gift-wrapped as a special seasonal offer …)

    • Frankly, I could do without the DUP or an Irish “Alabama”. But reunification is the only way to begin the process of establishing enduring peace and prosperity on the island. Otherwise it’s just another hundred years of this serial craziness.

      • Jams O'Donnell

        100 years is far too negative. NI can’t last more than another 20 years at most. The DUP are far too pig-headed to act rationally in their own interests.

        • I hope that optimism proves correct. The DUP are doing the job of republicans for them. I just hope that our own “hotheads” are sensible enough to know that the pikes need to stay in the thatch while the unionists are busy setting fire to their own roofs.

      • Forgive an ignorant Brit, but …
        Prosperity : I thought the RoI was doing pretty well these days and might well benefit overall from Brexit, how could an impoverished North be anything but a burden?
        Peace : Are you effin joking? Ideally redraw the Border, but failing that resettle the Nationalists in the South and either way build a wall round the Northern Nut-jobs, the higher the better, we’d probably contribute.

        • What peace has there been on the island for the last eight centuries with a British institutional presence? Episodic at best. I fear we are in a transition stage to another round of trouble, despite all the “experts” whistling pass the graveyard.

          • Well I sincerely hope not. Maybe the best hope is that the DUP have overplayed their hand and made themselves look ridiculous. Also there’s a lot of water under the bridge since the ’60s, the Republic is a lot more prosperous and relatively more secular and international than it was back then, so a United Ireland must now be a much more attractive proposition than it was back in the day?

  3. David Davis is now claiming that the “Northern Ireland” plan would apply to the UK too. Which implies that the Tories planned this all along, as a way of keeping the UK’s foot inside the EU door, and were using the failure of the meeting yesterday to trick the anti-EU mob into accepting an “all UK” form of regulatory alignment.

    Or, it was just a pure fuck up by May and company.

    Whatever the case, I don’t trust the UK to honour any pledge given in the here and now. Regulatory alignment or whatever way they phrase it is too slippery a concept.

    My gut says Britain will accept some mishmash deal now to renege on it later.

    • Or have they simply got cold feet over Brexit and are looking for any excuse to effectively stay in the EU in all but name. Y’know, “We respect the will of the British electorate but our hand was forced …” etc. Remember a sizeable chunk of both major UK parties were pro-EU all along, or at least less than enthusiastic Brexiteers.

      • Wheels within wheels. I have to say, the reaction by Scotland’s first minster and the mayor of London – we want a special deal too if the Irish get one! – has not gone down well here. There is a feeling of people jumping on the bandwagon and knocking it over. To Ireland’s fatal disadvantage. Sturgeon has done herself no favours with an otherwise sympathetic Irish political class.

        • Interesting, I wouldn’t have foreseen that Irish reaction. Basically the Irish are saying “No Border Here!” and the DUP are saying “No Border with Britain”, so then either the whole UK remains within the common market and CU, the very weakest form of Brexit, or we call the whole thing off.
          However, IF NI is made a special case, if say we get a UK Labour government not beholden to the DUP, then all the other NO-voting parts of the UK will demand special treatment along similar lines. Scotland is simply best placed to make that demand.
          Given that Ireland is pro-EU, then surely they ought to want to support any bits of the UK that wish to maintain the closest possible ties?
          But then nobody here can understand the Irish 🙂

          • I imagine the Irish establishment is happy to support that Scottish demand but not where it imperils their own demands. Self-interest after all is the game here, whether economic or averting a return to another thirty years of bloodshed. The feeling that the SNP and Labour are playing a sort of Orange Card of their own puts peoples backs up. Ok, you want to ensure your economic prosperity – so do we. But we also want to ensure that people aren’t being blown to bits or shot to death on the streets. And your “greed” is not helping that.

            The Irish government would much prefer if all of the UK stayed in the customs union. But they know that won’t happen. So a special deal for the north is the best they can hope for. If the Scots or Londoners make that harder – or impossible – to achieve for their own selfish, short-sighted and frankly parochial reasons, people here won’t be quick to forget it.

            And yes, I think my own anger is reflecting what others are saying around me.

            PS. Anger at the UK and this mess in general, not you! 😉

            • Any festering disagreement between WM and Edinburgh surely brings the break-up of the UK closer, which must be to Ireland’s advantage as you’d then be dealing with a weaker rump-UK. The Scots were mostly for Remain in the EU ref. and before that only quite narrowly voted to remain in the UK. (And one of the arguments was that an Indy Scotland would be out of the EU on it’s ear — how d’ya think that one plays now?)

            • Jams O'Donnell

              “The Irish government would much prefer if all of the UK stayed in the customs union”

              Well, if the DUP won’t accept any sea border, then the whole UK must either stay in the SM &CU or what amounts to the same thing, or it’s on to WTO rules. Only the outer fringes of the tory party are keen on WTO rules (which mean instant poverty).

  4. Seán Mac Bhloscaidh

    What a tremendous graphic at the top of this article! Sin an ḟírinne…

  5. Terry Haute

    Did RTÉ deliberately leak the agreement?

    It wouldn’t be the first time the state broadcaster did the dirty work for the UK.

    • The RTÉ journo is insisting that the source of the leak was not from the Irish government. Which only leaves the UK or EU?

      • Wasn’t the workers party faction that supported loyalists had connections with the KGB and possibly still do considering Vladimir Putins interest of destroying liberal democratic institutions such as the EU. Those links should be lit up again seeing as both John Bull and the Russkies are desperate to hold on remnants of their once mighty empires.

        • Terry Haute

          The Stickies were the guiding hand in RTÉ from the mid seventies. You can still see their legacy there today.

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