Brexit & Ireland, and the two elephants in the room

elephants photo
Photo by Turkinator
I’ve just finished reading Tony Connelly’s “Brexit and Ireland: The Dangers, the Opportunities, and the Inside Story of the Irish Response”. It’s a good book, even though some bits are highly specific to Ireland, and it’s definitely worth reading.

However, the author almost completely ignored two elephants in the room by assuming the constitutional order won’t change: Scottish independence and Irish reunification.

The book hardly mentions Scotland at all, and Scottish independence is completely absent. Perhaps he simply assumes that it won’t happen soon enough to be relevant, but if it does happen within the next couple of years, the consequences could be extremely important for Ireland, so one would have thought it would have warranted a brief mention at least. I think I also expected an Irish observer to distinguish between the English and Scottish perspectives, rather than treating Britain almost as a uniform entity. But perhaps that’s appropriate – in spite of Scotland’s desire to Remain, it’s not clear that there will be another independence referendum in time to allow it to happen, and Westminster don’t seem to have any desire to grant Scotland a different kind of Brexit from England; so from a foreign perspective Scotland might as well be ignored. This feels very harsh when you’re a pro-indy remainer in Scotland, but sometimes it’s useful to see yourself as others see you, as Burns liked to remind us.

I find it even more surprising that the prospect of Irish reunification gets ignored. It is hard to imagine that it can happen before Brexit, but you never know. After all, the Good Friday Agreement says this about a border poll:

1. The Secretary of State may by order direct the holding of a poll for the purposes of section 1 on a date specified in the order.
2. Subject to paragraph 3, the Secretary of State shall exercise the power
under paragraph 1 if at any time it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to
be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland.
3. The Secretary of State shall not make an order under paragraph 1
earlier than seven years after the holding of a previous poll under this

Interestingly, it does not say anything about a majority in the Assembly or anything like that – the way I’m reading it, if a string of opinion polls express a clear majority for reunification, the Northern Irish Secretary will have to organise a referendum, and that might happen sooner rather than later if many people start worrying that their jobs will get lost due to a hard border cutting across the island of Ireland. Of course people had assumed that a border poll would only happen when the Catholic community had overtaken the Protestant one numerically, but there’s nothing preventing Brexit from being the event that creates a majority in favour of reunification.

I guess he didn’t want to speculate too much about hypothetical events, but so many of the negative consequences of Brexit could be avoided if Ireland reunified, so I would certainly have found it useful if he had been more open about it as a possible solution.

As far as I know, Tony Connelly has been based in Brussels for a number of years, so I cannot help wondering whether his approach to these two issues reflects the general feeling on the continent, or whether it reflects the current thinking in Ireland.

Should we leave or remain?

shipwreck photo
Photo by nathanmac87
My beloved wife and I have been agonising over what to do with regard to Brexit – should we stay in Scotland or leave for a new life on the continent? I might or might not be able to get Permanent Residence here (I probably can, but I’ve lost some of the necessary paperwork, so it’d be a hassle), but if Brexit ends up as the complete disaster that seems most likely at the moment, and if Scotland doesn’t find the mojo to leave, we’d rather our children grew up in a place with a future; however, my wife is only a UK citizen, so she might not be able to move to the rEU easily after March 2019, so it’d be safer to leave before then. Because it’s a hassle to move children during term time, it means the best time to leave Scotland will be the summer of 2018, i.e., in six to eight months’ time.

We’d rather remain here, but we’ll only do that if it looks like it’ll be a soft Brexit, if Brexit gets cancelled, or if Scotland looks like escaping the madhouse in time.

With that in mind, I arranged a wee Twitter poll, which attracted slightly more than 200 responses:

  • 74%: Stay – Scotref will save us
  • 17%: Relax and see what happens
  • 1%: Stay – the UK will remain
  • 8%: Leave – before March ’19

Personally, I don’t think a new independence referendum will come soon enough to save EU citizens and their families. I simply cannot see why Theresa May (or any other Tory PM, for that matter) would agree to it before the end of the transitional period (so probably by December 2020), and probably not even then. Also, if Westminster won’t play ball, almost all scenarios I can think of leads us into UDI territory, and the events in Catalonia have demonstrated that the EU really doesn’t like that. The only workable scenario I can think of is for Scotland to take the UK government to court for not agreeing to a referendum (arguing that there is a precedent for Westminster to grant such requests by a devolved parliament), but as far as I remember, Nicola Sturgeon ruled that out a while ago. Of course the referendum might happen in spite of everything, but it would be a huge gamble.

It’s always tempting to wait and see, but it’s also very dangerous when the risks are so high. I guess many of the people recommending this approach are pro-Brexit or at least think there’s a decent chance it’ll work out fine. Also, those who think the UK will end up with a soft Brexit are likely to have ticked this box.

Practically nobody thought Brexit would get cancelled. I’m actually quite surprised the number was so low, given that so many people are working on stopping it.

Finally, I was slightly surprised that so many people thought the best option would be to escape the country. Sadly, I fear most of the realists were found here, not least because most of the comments I received backed up this option:

  • “Not for me to offer any advice since I’m not there, but I don’t think the UK is staying, and I think it will leave chaotically.”
  • “Plan for the worst; hope for the best.”
  • “If you can get out I suspect it’s probably a good plan.”
  • “I’d say make plans. Waiting for other people’s decisions to shape your life is fraught with problems, as we all know.”
  • “Make sure a last minute decision can be implemented at short notice. Wait for now – but if no ref has been called, get the hell out. The UK is not fit for human habitation, and you can always come back after indy.”
  • “From a personal, selfish point of view, I really hope you stay. If Scotland loses people like you and your multi-lingual, intelligent kids, it’ll be much poorer and I hope indyref will sort it so we don’t leave. If I were actually you though…I’d be gone before 2019.”

Of course Twitter polls don’t tell you what the future will bring, but it does say something about the views of your followers. I’m surprised so many people are thinking we’ll get a new independence referendum within the next year or so, and it’s worrying me that nobody believes Brexit can be stopped. I guess we’ll need to start packing our suitcases soon.

Abolishing the licence fee

danmarks radio photo
Photo by kmardahl
Denmark used to have a licence fee like the UK. A few years ago, it was changed from applying only to TV and radio and started including computers, because it was becoming possible to watch TV programmes on them, too.

This made a lot of students very angry, because they had to pay the same licence fee as a family of four, even if they never watched any programs and only used their computer for other purposes.

As a result, the political parties are now getting very close to getting rid of the licence fee and replacing it with a tax – there’s still no agreement on the exact details, but it might involve raising the basic rate of income tax.

It remains to be seen whether being funded through taxation will make Danish TV less critical of the government than before. It might also make it more tempting for the politicians to cut the money spent on this – at least the licence fee was to a large extent out of sight when they were debating the budget.

It will be interesting to see whether it will be a success, and whether the UK will move towards funding the BBC in the same way.

The Tory grassroots want the Titanic to sail straight into the iceberg

Attitudes to Brexit amongst members of various political parties (from The Guardian).
Tory prime ministers need to keep their party members happy if they want to remain in power. Otherwise they’ll quickly get replaced by somebody who’s better at sooking up to them. (This is to some extent the case in all parties, but the way Conservative leaders get deposed and elected makes this even more true for them.) Of course it’s also important to win elections, but when they’ve been in power for a while, other things matter a lot, too.

The recent study of party members’ attitudes to various questions is therefore of great interest. Tory grassroots strongly believe that the UK should leave the Customs Union (CU) and the Internal Market (IM). They’re also adamant that there shouldn’t be a second Brexit referendum (probably because they know they’d lose it). They also overwhelmingly want the Home Office to treat EU citizens like any other foreigners, which will be a massive change from the status quo (and would be likely to make the EU reciprocate towards UK citizens on the continent).

Whereas most members of Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP would be delighted if Theresa May decided to remain in both the Customs Union and the Internal Market (as would a majority of people in the UK, I expect), it’s clear that the Conservative party wouldn’t accept this. Although I don’t believe the survey asked about it, I reckon they hold similarly tough views on ECJ jurisdiction. In other words, Theresa May’s red lines were drawn because the Tory grassroots would have defenestrated her otherwise. As as we know, those red lines lead directly to a Canadian-style deal, as demonstrated by Barnier’s famous staircase:

Many people don’t believe Theresa May would implement a solution that would be disastrous for the UK, but if the survey is accurate, she’s effectively being held prisoner by her party. The Conservatives are so convinced that there’s a pot of gold of the other side of the iceberg that they’re deliberately sailing the Titanic into it. Unless somebody manages to trigger a new election before it’s too late, the Tories will continue to pursue a hard Brexit, no matter what.

I’d like to think the Tories will be utterly unelectable two years after Brexit, but that won’t bring back the jobs they are currently sacrificing on their xenophobic and imperialist altar.