The Irish Question 2.0

5 December 2017


Cogito Ergo Non Serviam

Ulster Unionists Undermine May's Brexit Talks in Brussels 


The politicians of Northern Ireland are notorious for never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity. With the UK leaving the EU and with a desire on all sides to avoid returning to a hard border between Ulster and the Republic of Ireland, the province was put in a unique position of being allowed to stay in the customs union and remain part of the UK. Prime Minister Teresa May was in Brussels settling the Irish Question when the Democratic Unionist Party, which keeps her minority Tories in power, pulled the rug out from under her. The DUP said it could not accept "regulatory alignment" with the EU if that meant being treated different from the rest of the UK. One wants to ask whether anyone in the May government knows how to solve a problem.

 Arlene Foster, who is head of the DUP, issued a statement that said, "If regulatory alignment in specific areas is requirement for a frictionless border, then must be on a UK-wide basis." This journal has argued that a special economic zone status would be a boon to Ulster, Ireland and the UK as a whole. Consider what China and India have managed with similar areas in their nations.

However, Ulster unionism is not about economics. It is about emotional ties to London rather than Dublin. Anything that moves the province away from London is seen as moving it toward Dublin, and that is unacceptable to the DUP.

The DUP's position could be accommodated if the entire UK were to avoid regulatory divergence from the EU. The only problem with that is that Brexit demands that regulatory divergence happens. If the UK stays in the single market and the customs union, exactly what has been Brexited?

The May government, and the PM herself, made a major disaster out of a molehill here by not getting the DUP's position in writing before trundling off to Brussels to talk about it all. As one analyst said that there was nothing unusual in the Brits going to Brussels and coming back without a deal. What was different was the Brits getting a deal in Brussels only to have a minority party most Brits can't vote for tear it up.

The only interpretation of these events that is worse than general ineptitude on the part of the Conservative government is that same ineptitude coupled with possible deceit by the DUP. Could it have been the case that there was an understanding before the Brussels discussions that the DUP reneged on when the deal was almost done? If that is the case, another election is needed right now to take the bat out of the DUP's hands.

What makes this whole situation even more bizarre is that the people of Northern Ireland voted to Remain in the EU with 55.8% of the ballots cast that way. Here was a chance for the DUP to let keep most of what makes membership in the EU worthwhile for most people in Ulster. Here was a chance for them to implement the people's will. Here was a chance to have most of the cake and eat a large slice of it, too.

In the end, the UK needs a deal and the EU does not. The December 15 deadline for deciding whether sufficient progress has been made to start phase 2 of the talks is 10 days away. One expects Britain to cave, but one has no idea how it can even manage that at this stage.

© Copyright 2017 by The Kensington Review, Jeff Myhre, PhD, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent. Produced using Ubuntu Linux.

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