Current Affairs Politics

The UK Concedes A Backstop For An All Stop

So after two years of contentious negotiations abroad and political chaos at home, London has returned to the original “Northern Ireland only” version of the backstop protocol in the proposed Withdrawal Agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union. Except that in this second draft of the treaty the UK has moved from accepting a potential “backstop” for the Six Counties to recognising an immediate “all stop”, placing the contested region in a bespoke regulatory arrangement that will make it a de facto adjunct of the EU’s Customs Union while remaining a de jure part of the British one. Thus establishing a less explicit but more complex form of the long-predicted Irish Sea border between the two territories. Despite claims to the contrary by the Conservative Party government and its apologists in Britain*, a careful reading of the revised deal makes it clear that Boris Johnson’s new 2019 text is simply Theresa May’s old 2017 text with two amended paragraphs in the important clause covering the “Northern Ireland Protocol” and six minor changes to the separate – and somewhat aspirational – Political Declaration. Which makes his support for the proposal and that of many previous diehard Brexiteers in Westminster and beyond all the more remarkable.

Of course the Democratic Unionist Party recognises a retreat from a position of “no surrender” when it sees one and despite recently fudging its own “blood red line” on the technicalities of Brexit the suggested settlement moves way beyond anything that the DUP could accept. Especially as Arlene Foster’s minority party knows that there is little hope of reversing what is likely to become a permanent arrangement no matter how hard they might work the included mechanisms designed to allow local approval or disapproval. If accepted by legislators in London, and given the dysfunctional nature of Westminster it is a major if, the new deal won’t just end years of Brexit impasse and worry in the Six Counties. It will likely serve as an economic and political stepping stone to a constitutional elsewhere.

* The rhetorical gymnastics of the Johnson loyalists in the UK trying to present the new draft agreement as a non-backstop deal reminds one of Tom King, the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland during the 1980s, and his much satirised denial of the existence of no-go zones for the British Forces in the Six Counties:

“There are no no-go areas in Northern Ireland. …but I draw the distinction… between routes where there are no no-go areas and routes that are more sensible, or less sensible, to use…”

40 comments on “The UK Concedes A Backstop For An All Stop

  1. Has Arlene got her bags packed yet?

  2. It hasn’t got through Parliament yet.

  3. Maybe her friends in the ERG could put her up.

  4. When will Unionists ever learn when it comes to English Politicians?

  5. A very good summary of where things are now at, and the DUP have only themselves to blame. They launched into the Little Englander, flag-waving exercise of Brexit thinking the Leave campaign would fail but their support for it would earn them kudos with the Tories (not ignoring, of course, the DUP’s own xenophobic, racist and anti-foreigner tendencies). Seeing Brexit as a means to finally destroy the Good Friday Agreement, they continued to support it despite the democratically expressed wishes of a majority in Northern Ireland to remain in the EU. Hubris led the DUP to massively over-estimate their importance and, in turn, to over-play their hand with the Tories. Johnson, or whoever else was Tory PM, was always going to dump them once their usefulness had expired. Now, as other unionists have graphically described it, thanks to the DUP Northern Ireland is sitting on the window ledge of the UK. Surely some in the DUP leadership are thinking, “How much simpler things would have been if only we’d given ground on an Irish Language Act and dumped Brexit as soon as the NI electorate voted to Remain.”
    To late, too late, was the cry!

  6. Many thanks.

    Further to the above, I think we could see quite a shift within unionism over the next few years. faster and more substantial than many people think possible. It’s worth remembering that 47% of unionists voted to remain in the EU. So, by any estimation the DUP has to be in trouble at the next election. They might be able to sell the “poor us, we were shafted” line to their core pro-Brexit supporters but those who never wanted Brexit in the first place are never going to buy it. And how must unionist businesspeople and farmers (and ordinary unionists) feel about the DUP consulting with the UVF and UDA leaderships on Brexit but not with them?
    So where will these unionist votes go? Not to the Ulster Unionists, as they‘re seen as a DUP-lite busted flush. They were all over the place on Brexit. Some unionists, but hopefully not too many, will revert to plague-on-all-your-houses mode and sit at home rather than vote. But then again, many “small u” unionists have had quite a fright over this Brexit business and may feel that not voting is no longer a sensible option.
    If they play their cards right, and don’t indulge themselves too much in any holier-than-thou shit, in the short term at least the Alliance Party should be the big beneficiaries. But it doesn’t have to end there. Dublin administrations, of whatever stripe, have a massive role to play in wooing unionists over the coming years. And, to be fair, they haven’t done a bad job to date.

    • Tend to agree, and not least with your last thought. Been a revelation to see some of what Dublin has been like this last couple of years.

  7. civic-critic

    Looks to me like Varadkar has handed a veto to unionism in 4 years time, if they choose to exercise it, possibly as a last chance as a majority, they may use it and close the border. Varadkar has made us vulnerable to this and has described it as ‘a risk worth taking’.

    Varadkar has essentially given the time-limit that the British were seeking in order to move the negotiations on to the next stage. He has done this under a cover of ambiguity that is being sold as the ante-chamber to a united Ireland. In reality Vardkar has just walked us into 10 years of destabilisation with Brexit votes now every 4 years. Given that the last 3 years have seen a serious destabilisation, this is what Varadkar has signed us up for repeatedly into the future. He has allowed the British to move the destabilisation onto the island of Ireland.

    • Not sure how you see unionism having a veto. That would need three distinct elements to be in place: the assembly to be up and operating; unionists to hold a majority in the assembly; and for them to vote en bloc against the arrangement. The chances of these happening are remote in the extreme.

      I can see where you’re coming from re destabilisation. However, as I pointed out on here as soon as this agreement was announced, Sinn Fein has now even less incentive to make the assembly work as the arrangement continues undisturbed if an assembly is not up and running. Even if the assembly is operating, which I would prefer for a raft of reasons, I suspect the arrangement will go through on a nod (remember, it only needs a simple majority).

      • civic-critic

        They are not remote in the extreme, they are the last chance for unionism to effectively repartition the island unilaterally. Given that in 4 years time when the hysteria about Brexit has died down and as an accomplished fact has delivered, possibly, some surprinsingly ok and not catastrophic economic results, then it is perfectly conceivable that unionists will leap at the chance to use a constitutional cover to prooke a crisis over partition. Given the level of dangerous escalation seen over the last 3 years, Varadkar has effectively put us on a countdown to potential war and certainly on an escalator of increasing destabilisation. With the usual cover of ambiguity to keep the Irish strung along until an abrupt and dangerous turn is made by the British and unionists. Varadkar has walked us into risk and the southern political class are attempting to sell it as great ‘leadership’.

        • I understand the concern and it’s certainly one interpretation of the draft deal and a possible future outcome if it survives the coming weeks. But it is the most unlikely outcome. Demographic change in the north is going one direction and it’s not towards explicit unionism but towards a mix of ambiguous pro-unionism and nationalism. The future political bloc will be a mix of APNI, GP, SDLP, PBP and SF. DUP, UUP, TUV etc will be in the – vociferous – minority. And while the APNI or GP might vote with the traditional unionists when advantageous to do so by and large they’ll remain pro-EU and pro all-island cooperation.

          I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a border poll before a Stormont vote on the EU-UK arrangements. And Stormont returning is now even less of an incentive for SF. Even some in the SDLP must be thinking if it is worth it beyond the rhetoric and sloganeering.

          • civic-critic

            The ability for the Irish to stick their heads in the sand is endless. You’ve just had the GFA ripped up in front of your eyes and here you all are back for more, more rationalisations, more being strung along while heading into danger.

            The chances of Britain yielding almost a million people, the land associated with them and their strategically important foothold on the island of Ireland – at a time when Britain is retaking its traditional position between the US and Europe in the north Atlantic – is next to zero.

            I wouldn’t be surprised if the reason the referedum was called in the first place was because of the demographic situation in Ireland wherein Cameron or the people who give him his orders decided that now was the time, under a remaining cover of democracy in n. ireland, to break from Europe and negotiate over Ireland from a position of strength. Every referendum run about Europe in Holland, France, Denmark and Ireland has failed. Are we really to believe that the British ruling class didn’t know this?

            The statistical likelihood of the DUP being elevated to hold the balance of power of a major world economy at precisely the moment, the only moment in 100 years, when they were relevant, with negotiations over Ireland with Europe – now that’s the place to use ther word ‘remote’.

            I think you are all utterly naive and you’re naivety is driven by your fear of thinking otherwise and by a bourgeois commitment to comfort and denial for as long as you can get away with it.

            • … but from this post I take it you are not. Seems to me the only one with their head stuck is you – perhaps in a hat, of the tinfoil variety?

              • civic-critic

                It is a characteristic of humans that when real truth is spoken we don’t like it. Because it’s unpleasant.

                I’m doing you a favour giving you an anlaysis you haen’t seen elsehwre or so clearly written. Your response is denigration. A fool walking blindly into war. Into repartition.

                Over 10 years ago I predicted that what is happening was going to happen in one form or another – the reassertion of the geostrategic, destabilisation and potential war. From that time to now my analysis has recived unremitting denigration and denial – but it is my analysis which has proven to be correct. As for example worldbystrom knows as he used to argue just as you are about the analysis. The problem is that in Ireland there is a culture of intellectual pettiness and denial due to fear. The Irish, at least in the south, are generally too petty and frivolous to be serious thinkers – and thus leave themselves open to being revisited by extreme violence going into the 21st century.

          • Very well put.

            • My “Very well put” was directed at ASF. 🙂

              • civic-critic

                It should have been directed at what I said but you’re only going to know that in a few years time.

        • From this post Civic, I take it you are Irish but…

    • Yes, failure to recognise that NI actually voted to remain emphasises how detached the DuP are.

      What kind of impact did these people think Brexit would have – a hard border across Ireland or a border at the ports between NI and the ‘ rest’ of the UK.

      And yes, their reluctance to accommodate an Irish Language Act just defies common sense. Gaidhlig as original language of Ireland, or at least since the Celts arrived from the middle East, was just another example of their blind intolerance.

      Well if Brixit happens they will I suspect come to reflect that their actions have done much to accelerate towards what the fear most – a united Ireland.

      Certainly seems to me from across the water that the move towards that is inevitable.

      But will Brexit actually happen.

      • The extraordinary antics of Remainers since Thursday, people who previously despised the DUP and had little interest in the North until Brexit, now championing the hurt feelings of the DUP, acting as if the DUP spoke for the North, and flying their unionist credentials, is nauseating.

        None of them, Leave or Remain, truly gives a damn about Ireland. It’s just a pawn in their domestic games, valued or discarded as needed.

        • This is so true. It lends spurious legitimacy to the DUP’s complaints, and risks letting them off the hook in NI. “Even our enemies agree that we’ve been hard done by,” will be their cry. I nearly fell off my seat when Corbyn, of all people, complained about “separating Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK” in his immediate reaction to Johnson’s deal with the EU. Remainers and anti-Tories should all have been hammering the DUP for supporting Brexit against the wishes of the NI people, for propping up the Tories and trusting Johnson. “We told you so,” should have been the cry. It wasn’t even as if remainers needed to butter-up the DUP yesterday, there was absolutely no chance they were going to side with Johnson.
          When oh when is the APNI, for example, going to complain publicly that the DUP consulted with the UVF and UDA on Brexit the other week but totally ignored NI businesspeople and farmers?

  8. In this Commons debate, the SNP members keep pointing out (accurately, I should add) how good a deal Northern Ireland would be getting in comparison to Scotland. I’m sure the UVF/UDA political wing, the DUP, aren’t too happy with that.

  9. The ERG are rock solid for the Boris Bumper Betrayal Deal according to sources on Twitter. The DUP look like they are about to burst into tears at any moment. Frank Field seems ready to vote for the deal he usually votes with HIGH JUMP Kate so even Labour’s Orange Faction can’t agree on this deal.

    • civic-critic

      That is for public consumption and seems to work upon an ever credulous, especially Irish, public.

      Power is exercised dialectially but the people listen and believe straightforwardly, therefore they are led into one disaster after another by the nose. The DUP have been informed of the long game over the next 5 – 10 years. They were elevated to hold the balance of power to give a cover to the British government that they were taking their position on Brexit and Ireland because of their dependence on the DUP instead of the real reason – their geostrategic interests.

      Now that the cover has been used to extract concessions they will make it appear they’re selling the DUP out, in order to convince the domestic Irish audience that what is in fact a time-limited agreement leading to repartion and disaster is in fact ‘a victory’.

      The DUP have been told that the plan is for repartition in 5-10 years time. That is what they are aiming for. That is what the Irish bourgeoisie, Varadkar and his reactionary ilk and Ahern and others sent out to sell it, are walking us into.

  10. Hard not to compare Keir Starmer, who’s currently speaking, with that clown Corbyn – and feel like weeping

  11. civic-critic

    As I wrote over on politicalirish.com (https://www.politicalirish.com/threads/united-ireland-is-now-dead-is-northern-ireland-the-place-to-be.32610/page-9):

    Why do you think all talk of unionists being interested in a united Ireland is coming from the British media and British sources? Been convinced by it have you?

    Why do you think Channel 4 announced a sit-com about the Famine in 2015, a year before the referendum?

    Why do you think this appeared? You wouldn’t have seen that on British TV for the last 40 years but there it is, bursting forth now, curiously congruent with the trajectory of the times.

    Why do you think Derry Girls was commissioned?

    The answer is that talk of a united Ireland is being talked up by the British media to raise the expectations and raise the temperature in Ireland. The reason for releasing a story about plans for a comedy about the famine was to spark outrage and generate strong feelings; it was directed cynically and precisely at one of the most deeply-seated memories of the Irish people.

    The reason Derry Girls was commissioned was to re-introduce those ideas, images and that atmosphere back into the minds of the people, of the environment of the time.

    What these things tell us is that British strategists have identified comedy as a way of introducing ideas, what today we would call memes, into the political environment. Collectively, over time, it is these small things which accumulate to have a significant influence. It is in this way that people are ruled and it is in this way that dialectical political manipulation is done. Especially when the issue is the future defence posture of Britain towards the north Atlantic and Europe out to the next 30-50 years.

    This is being done to create the conditions for the re-emergence of violence. It indicates that the British are preparing for trouble and are attempting to engender it in myriad subtle ways that they think are too subtle to be observed.

    What this also tells us, because the announcement about the ‘famine’ comedy was made in 2015 – a year before the Brexit referendum – is that this indicates they may have been working towards all this even before the referendum result.

  12. Letwin Amendment passed
    322-306 Votes

    • I think Keir Starmer’s magnificently forensic dissection of the Johnson deal swung it, to be honest. Before Starmer spoke I thought Johnson would just have enough votes, but listening to him I was struck by the impact he would likely have on at least some waverers.

  13. Too right Civic Critic. Manipulation of the masses, helping them form opinions, encouring them to support or reject positions is well established practice.

    And don’t we now know it in Scotland as the rank and file wake up to the fact that the BBC and more are not the paragons of truth and objectivity they hold themselves out to be.

    But the manipulation goes on, and then some.

    Evil shower of bastards with lumpen masses in tow, Brexit will rip their country apart.

    Isolated from Europe how can anyone believe that social fairness from workers protections, to fair wages, to societal fairness, will improve under governors like Johnson, Rees Mogg et al.

    A new serfdom awaits them – and maybe perchance a cartoon sometime about England’s rising poverty. God bless the Queen.

  14. Well isn’t this an interesting position.

    The EU opened an agreement for amendment, that they were not going to open for amendment and are granting an extension they said they would not grant without an election, referendum of an WA passed.

    Johnson discarded red lines he promised he’d never abandon, to agree to the kind of agreement he swore he’d never agree to.

    The DUP, well, they are exactly where so many told them they would end up. Now they are right back to playing footsie with sectarian terrorists and not a scintilla of condemnation from the press. After the wild hysterics about the IRA Army Council a few years back when there was an SF briefing in the Felons club and the Corbyn smearing the silence is utterly contemptible.

    Now look at the silly bugger games Johnson is playing with 3 letters to the EU.

    I think the EU are going to grant an extension to June, then put the issue on the backburner for a few months while the British resolve their “civil war” and are in a position to ratify a Withdrawal Agreement. They seem to be consistently mature and unemotional about how to proceed.

  15. civic-critic

    Today the first British F35 landed on the British aircraft carrier the Queen Elizabeth, just in time for Brexit.

    Has it occurred to anyone in Ireland what the purpose of these two new aircraft carriers is for the British? Global power projection perhaps? Iran, N. Korea, the Indian Ocean?

    How about the north Atlantic on the other side of Ireland? After 4 centuries of suppressing Ireland in order to cut it of from Europe and potential European allies, now that Europe is on the island of Ireland – a nightmare historically for British geostrategy – we find the British have 2 aircraft carriers.

    Varadkar has just agreed to an agreement that allows unionism the option to coalesce to close the border and defintively destroy the GFA in 4 years time.

    Varadkar was an intern in Washington, a well-known route for the recruitment of intelligence assets. What do any of us know about this guy Varadkar?

    In 4 years time if the unionists choose to exercise the position they are now being given to close the border, it will be the last opportunity they will have to do so, it will give them a cover of seeming democracy to so so and it will simultaneously provoke war because the Irish will not go back under exclusive British power. This is what Varadkar is setting up. The British will use this as a cover to justify military intervention and repartition.

    The Irish bourgeoisie are walking us into disaster as they have done repeatedly thoughout history.

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