“Brexit is all coming down to Ireland” and “We are at the very beginning of a national rage”

Commentary from The Guardian after Donald Tusk’s attention seeking comment – A special place in hell? Donald Tusk didn’t go far enough

Martin Kettle: “Brexit is all coming down to Ireland”

Not only were the Brexiters clueless: they didn’t give a stuff about Ireland. But this will come back to haunt the Tories

Donald Tusk should be criticised not for his malice, but his moderation. The European council president triggered a tsunami of confected outrage from leavers today when he observed, with some justice, that there should be a special place in hell for those who promoted Brexit without a plan. But he should have said far more. He should have added that, within that special place, there should be an executive suite of sleepless torment for those politicians who promoted Brexit without ever giving a stuff about Ireland.

Once again, Brexit is all coming down to Ireland. This was always going to happen, and rightly so. Time after time in our history, Ireland emerges as an awkward reality check that shames the fantasies of those who think the British are better and that Ireland can be ignored. So there is something both fateful and tragic about the fact Theresa May should have prepared for the final showdown by having to make a rare visit to Ireland.

It wasn’t meant to be this way. For the Brexiters, the leaving of Europe was never about Ireland at all. Brexit was about sovereignty, about greatness, or about not liking too many foreigners living here. It was about throwing off the yoke of Brussels and bringing back blue passports. Ireland barely got a look-in during the debates of 2016, save when John Major and Tony Blair pointed out from lifetimes of experience that Brexit would threaten the Northern Ireland peace agreements.

It would be foolish to assume May has no chance of marshalling a narrow Commons majority behind some version of her EU deal next week. But the odds remain long because she wants to do the right thing, more or less, in Ireland. This has always divided the Tory party down the middle, since the era of Robert Peel. And as Peel found out, it was difficult for a great Tory leader, never mind a limited one.

In 1846, Peel came to the House of Commons to propose the repeal of the corn law tariffs on imported grain. Much of his Tory party, which represented landed interests in the areas where British grain was grown, would have nothing to do with his plan. Peel was a pragmatist: he only became a repealer because events demanded it. Those events were the Irish potato blight and famine. The decision to repeal broke the Tory party for a generation.

Peel could, he admitted to MPs, have concealed the seriousness of the situation in Ireland by “rousing the British lion or adhering to the true blue colour”. But the suffering of four million people in Ireland was too serious, and would only increase. Peel read out a series of shocking eyewitness accounts. “It is absolutely necessary,” said Peel, “before you come to a final decision on this question, that you should understand this Irish case. You must do so.”

It was a speech his critics could have dismissed, if the phrase had been in currency, as “project fear”. It was, in fact, project national interest. Some time next week, May is going to face a similar challenge. Britain in 2019 is not Britain in 1846. The issues faced by Peel and May are very different. But Conservative MPs still face the same question – the need to understand the Irish case.

The Rationalist: “We are at the very beginning of a national rage”. “This is the fault of a political system which for too long we have assumed is functional, when it is transparently not.”

This problem can be resolved in any of the following ways: the DUP (and large parts of the Tory party) accept the backstop and the UK effectively remains in the EU without representation; Ireland leaves the EU and unifies with the UK; Ireland unifies with Northern Ireland; the UK leaves without a deal and therefore has political responsibility for the hard border and the ensuing return to inevitable criminality and violence; or finally, the UK remains in the EU.

None of these outcomes were presented in any form at all as consequences (far less objectives) during the 2016 referendum.

There are no other solutions. Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement was the only Brexit that was ever possible without destabilising Ireland’s peace process, which as the phrase insists, is a process which needs nurture, not a fact of life which is irrevocable.

The original ‘’negotiation’ and the present ‘renegotiation’ have been just noise, posturing, theatre and playing for time. It demeans us if we take it seriously and arouses nothing but disgust and contempt if we do not. It has allowed callow politicians like Javid and Hunt to take up ‘positions’ which they consider will advance their own careers and in which they have no conviction. It has nothing whatsoever to do with serious policy that prioritises national and global emergencies.

What Tusk is pointing out here, and what Martin Kettle obviously understands but doesn’t emphasise, is that these were ALWAYS the only solutions. Tusk’s objections (and he has made them colourfully so they will be heard) are that these were not compulsorily stated as part of a post-Brexit plan. People did not know what they were voting about, and whether it was at all achievable. Therefore, oddly enough, Donald Tusk is making a constitutional and procedural point.

Although people like Leadsom and Farage are indeed ‘confecting outrage’, as if they are personally offended by all this, the real critique is of the British constitution, which has allowed a party political infight to become a national crisis. Tusk is therefore looking to the future, in which, after Brexit, when the UK will be diminished (whatever happens next, it already has been) we must have a debate about our constitution and change it, so that decisions of national significance are not ever taken or resolved again without proper debate along established legal pathways.

Pandora’s box has been opened. There are now no answers to this national crisis that will resolve the fury that will be unleashed when a proportion of the population senses ‘betrayal’.

We are at the very beginning of a national rage.

We can personalise this, and blame Cameron, but he did it because he could and because he thought it the best way out of a difficult problem of party management. He is a trivial man, entitled, arrogant and entirely lacking statecraft, but so are many world leaders, not least the American President. The key is to assume that they WILL do damage in pursuit of partisan interest if they are allowed – and then to limit their capacity to do so.

Whoever ‘wins’ the current conflict, we (the body politic) have managed to create a situation where politics for many years hence will be defined by betrayal, bitterness, anger and resentment. Public figures are already positioning themselves to point fingers and locate blame as if the whole thing can be localised to an individual or group and, even worse, that locating blame resolves anything.

This is the fault of a political system which for too long we have assumed is functional, when it is transparently not.

JulesKahnBrown:

Donald Tusk has been calling on the UK government to engage on the Irish border since Article 50 was triggered, but they ignored him till the eleventh hour and have offered nothing but chaotic brinkmanship. As you say, it was always going to come down to this. The EU and Ireland have had a solid plan for it from the word go. Britain had nothing, and the architects of that nothing deserve, at the very least, the venting of Tusk’s understandable frustration.

The UK has far more than Brexit to resolve, and it looks a long way from doing it..

Tusk: Brexiters without a plan deserve a special place in hell…

…may be a bit over the top but Donald Tusk does have a point. It was madness to have a binding vote on Brexit without having any clear plan of how it could happen. And madness to call an election to get a mandate. And mostly a mad mess since.

 

This won’t be encouraging for Theresa May and her Government, but apart from the strong language this European condemnation is not a surprise.

BBC – Brexit: Donald Tusk’s planned outburst

They weren’t off-the-cuff remarks, but a planned outburst.

The softly-spoken politician who holds the authority of all EU countries has just completely condemned a chunk of the British cabinet, wondering aloud: “What that special place in hell looks like for those who promoted Brexit, without even a sketch of a plan how to carry it out safely”.

Sure, for a long time the EU has been frustrated with how the UK has approached all of this.

And sure, plenty of voters in the UK are annoyed too at how politicians have been handling these negotiations.

But it is quite something for Donald Tusk to have gone in like this, studs up, even though he sometimes reminisces about his time as a football hooligan in his youth.

Be clear, he was not intending to talk about voters who wanted to Leave, but politicians who were involved in the campaign.

He also had pretty stern remarks for those who’d been on the other side of the argument, accusing those who still want the UK to stay in the EU of having “no political force, and no effective leadership”.

But if you strip away the planned flash of temper, also in his remarks was an invitation to the prime minister to come forward with a different version of the backstop – a “believable guarantee”, a promise that a “common solution is possible”.

That is, on the face of it, in tone at least, more of an opening to the UK to put something new on the table than we have seen from the EU side.

It seems an odd way of encouraging a new approach, but at least it attracted attention.

Guardian: Brexiters hit back at Tusk after he says they deserve ‘special place in hell’ for failing to have a plan

One thing seems clear – Brexit has become a hell of a mess for May and the UK.

May’s trade assurances to Ardern cannot be taken seriously

Jacinda Ardern has just visited Theresa May in London, and statements and assurances were made, but according to Hamish Rutherford these cannot be taken seriously.

Given that May cannot give her own country assurances over the outcome of Brexit and what that will mean for their trade agreements I think he is right.

Stuff:  Ardern seeks assurances on Brexit as Britain prepares for chaos

When Jacinda Ardern’s visit to Europe was officially announced last week, the prime minister’s office surely knew it was setting impossible expectations.

Although it appears the main purpose of the trip is to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, the visit also included an awkwardly timed visit to London.

Very awkwardly timed – the UK is facing a crisis over being unable to agree on how they will leave the European Union.

Ardern’s meeting with UK Prime Minister Theresa May was a chance to “reconfirm the understanding that New Zealand will be left no worse off, including in respect of its trade interests” following the UK’s decision to leave the European Union.

If only it were that simple.

Surely, if the British prime minister does not know the terms under which her country will leave the world’s largest trading bloc, then her assurances of how things will look for Britain’s other trading partners cannot be taken seriously.

Being prepared for dealing with post-Brexit Britain is worth doing, but all we really got yesterday were photo ops and pointless platitudes after a one hour meeting between Ardern and May.

Ardern in the UK

Jacinda Ardern has had a number of meetings on her visit to London, in particular with Theresa May but also tickling the celebrity coverage with a ‘secret’ meeting with Princess Megan.

Ardern’s official release:  NZ UK trade relations advanced in Prime Ministers’ meeting

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May have advanced trade and a range of other issues during a one hour meeting held in London today.

The key areas of discussion were a mutual commitment to the rules-based international system and the future of the trading relationship between New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

“We very much value our relationship with the UK. It is our longest-standing relationship, and still one of our closest,” Jacinda Ardern said.

There has been cooperation on some things, but the UK dumped New Zealand in preference of the European Union on trade in the 1970s, and is looking at repairing that with their exit from the EU.

“The clear message we imparted to Prime Minister May today was, whatever the outcome of the Brexit process, we will have an enduring relationship with the UK across trade and the full range of interactions our two countries share.

Another clear message is that until Brexit is sorted closer trade talks can only be talked about as future possibilities.

“The constant movement of people between our countries, the vitality of investment and business interests between us, and the significant links between our citizens and governments demonstrate the ties between our populations, making us natural partners in a post-Brexit environment.

“Our shared values allow us to work together to address global challenges such as the urgency of addressing climate change and defending the international rules-based system from those who would undermine it.

“New Zealand appreciates the close cooperation we have with the UK on defence and security matters.”

Jacinda Ardern confirmed she has spoken to PM May about New Zealand’s interests that will be affected by Brexit, the priority placed on continuity and stability, and New Zealand not being left worse off as a result.

“Both sides welcomed the signing today of the Veterinary Agreement and Mutual Recognition Agreement on Conformity Assessment Bodies. These will assist in ensuring trade continues to flow freely between our countries, once the UK has left the EU

“These agreements mean current trade-facilitating arrangements covering the export of products into the EU are maintained with the UK.

“They help to ensure New Zealand exporters will not be worse off in the immediate aftermath of Brexit and there will be a continuity of the existing rules. This is a very important arrangement for our exporters.”

The Prime Ministers also reaffirmed the commitment of New Zealand and the UK to launch negotiations on a free trade agreement when the UK is in a position to do so.

“The FTA will be a high quality, comprehensive and progressive agreement that delivers for all of our citizens, contributes to addressing global and regional issues of concern, such as environmental issues and labour standards, and supports sustainable and inclusive economic development.”

New Zealand also welcomed the UK’s interest in acceding to the CPTPP.

“New Zealand supports the expansion of CPTPP to parties willing and able to meet the high standards of the agreement.”

The Prime Ministers also discussed the importance of immigration policies that facilitate the flow of skilled migration.

“New Zealanders continue to contribute to the UK economy and we welcome large numbers of UK citizens to New Zealand, including on our popular working holiday scheme. I welcomed the recent announcement that New Zealand citizens will soon be able to use e-gates in the UK.

“We also discussed a range of domestic priorities where both countries will benefit from learning from each other’s experiences, including through better regulation.

“Today’s meeting was very warm. It was proof of the depth, breadth and longevity of our countries’ relationship and the ongoing importance of our shared history and friendship to both countries’ success in a post-Brexit environment,” Jacinda Ardern said.

 

Tricky time for Ardern for trade talks in Europe

In the UK Brexit is in disarray, and this mess will cause difficulties working out future trade alliances there and in Europe. But all this up in the air Jacinda Ardern is going to try.

RNZ: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern heading to Europe with a focus on trade

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern heads to London this weekend where she’s expected to meet with British Prime Minister Theresa May in the wake of her surviving a no-confidence vote.

While there Ms Ardern will push for certainty that New Zealand will be left no worse off in respect of trade following the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union (EU).

I doubt that trade with New Zealand will be much of a priority for May or for the UK right now. They don’t know what they are doing for themselves let alone what they might be able to do with countries on the other side of the world.

She will then head to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, along with the Finance Minister Grant Robertson, where the focus will be progressing a free trade agreement with Europe.

The prime minister will then head to Brussels for high-level meetings.

“My visit to the UK is an opportunity to underline New Zealand’s position as a natural and long-standing partner for the country as it redefines its global role post-Brexit,” Ms Ardern said.

What ‘post-Brexit’ will look like is anyone’s guess right now.

“I will be using my engagements to enhance New Zealand’s profile as a likeminded partner to the EU across a wide range of issues, including climate change, social policy, trade and our commitment to the rules-based system,” she said.

“There is still much progress to make in trade talks with our European partners, so a key focus of this whole trip is to speak to European Commission and individual country leaders to shore up support for our ongoing negotiations and ensure New Zealand exporters achieve a great deal.”

Ardern is probably on the mark saying “There is still much progress to make in trade talks with our European partners”.

She has too make the most of her trip to London and Europe, but it is going to be difficult making much progress on trade deals.

Unless Ardern can sort out Brexit for May and the EU while she is there.

May loses Brexit vote badly, now faces no confidence vote

As expected the Withdrawal Vote (Brexit plan) was defeated in the UK parliament, the only surprise being how badly the loss was:

  • Ayes 202
  • Noes 432

That’s the worst defeat by a Government in Britain in 95 years. In normal times that degree of humiliation would result in a rapid resignation by the Prime Minister, but these are not normal times. Theresa May is hanging on defiantly.

Soon after the loss Jeremy Corbyn and party leaders tabled a vote of no confidence:

This will be debated and probably voted Wednesday in the UK (Thursday NZ time). It is predicted that May may survive this, but her Government and the Brexit plan (or lack of) are both in tatters.

Telegraph:

Theresa May’s future rests in the balance after Jeremy Corbyn tabled a no-confidence motion on Tuesday night, just minutes after the Government suffered an unprecedented defeat over its Brexit deal.

With MPs voting by 432 to 202 to reject the draft withdrawal agreement, Mr Corbyn raised a point of order requesting that a vote be held on Wednesday,  after Prime Minister’s Questions.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Corbyn highlighted that the defeat was the largest inflicted on any Government since the 1920s, adding that Mrs May had “lost the confidence of this House and this country.”

We may find out by morning, NZ time.

Morning update from BBC:

  • Government faces vote of no confidence after PM’s huge parliamentary defeat on Tuesday
  • The Commons rejected Mrs May’s EU withdrawal agreement by 432 votes to 202
  • MPs now debating Labour’s no confidence motion ahead of vote at 19:00 GMT
  • Government expected to survive, with DUP and Tory Brexiteers backing PM
  • Labour says further no-confidence votes could follow if this one fails
  • European leaders have reacted with dismay at the voting down of the deal

Guardian – Brexit: MPs debate no-confidence motion after May’s deal defeat

MPs should be given indicative votes on what happens next, says Brexit committee

Next move ‘has to come from London,’ says EU

It isn’t just the Conservatives who are divided.

John Woodcock, who was an elected as a Labour MP but who now sits as an independent after leaving the party because of his opposition to Jeremy Corbyn, has told the Commons that he will not be voting for the motion of no confidence in the government this evening. He said he thought Corbyn and John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, were not fit to hold high office.

Here is the full transcript of what Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, told the European parliament this morning about the Commons Brexit vote. He said “the risk of a no deal has never been so high.”

Withdrawal Vote expected in UK today

The vote in the UK parliament on the Withdrawal Agreement, which is crucial for Brexit, is expected this morning New Zealand time (after 7 pm Tuesday evening UK time).

Missy reports:


The vote on the Withdrawal Agreement will take place sometime after 7.00pm local time.

Yesterday the PM presented to Parliament letters from Donald Tusk and Jean Claude Juncker stating that the intent is that the Irish Backstop is not meant to be permanent. This has not appeased those against the agreement as it is not a legal document but rather a political assurance, meaning that if there is a dispute the letters will not hold up in court.

Some of the MPs that will be voting against the agreement believe that the EU will come back to the UK with last minute concessions to the agreement. They point to precedents set by the EU where they have agreed to concessions in international agreements at the last minute making way for the agreements to be passed. The most recent example being the Canadian FTA where they agreed the day before Canada was due to walk away.

The EU do respond to brinksmanship, that the UK Government and Remain MPs are not willing to do that is cowardice. They have been brainwashed by the fear mongering, most of which has been debunked.

It will be interesting to note Ireland’s reaction to a vote against the deal, so far they have played the brinksmanship game the best. Ireland have told the EU they will need millions in bailouts and aid in the event of a no deal Brexit, that Ireland have been the most stubborn on the backstop has meant they have garnered very little sympathy in Britain. However, it is possible that if the deal is voted down and a no deal looks more likely then Varadkar would be more inclined to compromise. The next election for Ireland is in 2021, so two years after Brexit, if Varadkar is any sort of politician he will be looking to that as any downturn in the wake of a no deal Brexit may harm him if he is seen as the cause of it.

One of the biggest mistakes that May made was postponing the vote on the deal. If she had held the vote last December and it had failed by a very large margin then she could have used that as leverage to try and get the EU to agree to concessions.

By postponing the debate she has led to the problems of MPs trying to usurp her – and the Government’s – authority on Brexit.

 

Facing loss on Brexit vote May warns of catastrophic failure

Prime Minister Theresa May is stil trying to get enough support for a key vote in Parliament next week. She has warned that failure to support her Brexit deal could be catastrophic for Britain.

Reuters:  May warns of catastrophe if lawmakers don’t back Brexit deal

British Prime Minister Theresa May has warned lawmakers that failure to back her plan to leave the European Union would be catastrophic for Britain, in a plea for support two days ahead of a vote in parliament that she is expected to lose.

Lawmakers are set to vote on May’s Brexit deal on Tuesday, after she shelved plans for a vote in December when it became clear that not enough lawmakers from her own party or others would back the deal she agreed with Brussels.

May looks little closer to securing the support she needs, but writing in the Sunday Express she said lawmakers must not let down the people who voted for Brexit.

“Doing so would be a catastrophic and unforgivable breach of trust in our democracy,” May said.

“So my message to Parliament this weekend is simple: it is time to forget the games and do what is right for our country.”

Catastrophe shouldn’t be ruled out if the Brexit deal is passed by Parliament either.

UK House of Commons drama, impartiality of Speaker questioned

A report from Missy in the UK:


More drama in the House of Commons today after PM Questions.

Background: In December Parliament passed a motion on the Meaningful Vote for the Withdrawal Agreement. In this motion it was stated that if the Agreement did not pass the Government had to go back to Parliament within 21 days with a further proposal for leaving the EU. This motion is what is referred to as a forthwith motion. Forthwith is a technical term used, and means that a motion must be put forward for a decision by the Commons without debate or amendment. For this particular motion, whilst it is a forthwith motion it was agreed by the Commons that no amendment could be made to it by any member except a Minister of the Crown. Essentially this motion can only be amended by a Minister and not a backbench or opposition MP.

Today Conservative MP, (and former Attorney General), Dominic Grieve put forward an amendment to this motion changing the 21 days to 3 days. This was signed by MPs from across the House. The clerks advised the Speaker that this amendment was not selectable, and should not be selected for vote. The speaker had previously told another MP that amendments could not be tabled to a forthwith motion. However, despite it being precedent that the speaker takes the advice of the clerks and despite this being an amendment to a forthwith motion, the speaker selected it and tabled the motion.

For over an hour Government MPs raised Point of Order after Point of Order regarding Parliamentary precedent, and the Speaker not taking the advice of the clerks. The Speaker was asked several times what the advice of the clerks was, he refused to say (a journalist was told by a source in the clerks office which is where the information came from that they had advised against it).

The speaker admitted that he had not taken into account Parliamentary precedent, or given any thought to the implications of his decision, he was only interested in the here and now. The implications, however, could be serious in the future. He has set a precedent where the Speaker can change the rules of the debate whenever he likes, and he has also sent the message that precedent doesn’t matter in Parliament, despite it being one of the fundamental Parliamentary Conventions which is part of the uncodified British Constitution.

A bit on the Speaker himself. Last year allegations arose of the Speaker bullying staff in the Commons, and that he had been doing it for any number of years. Some in the Commons called on him to resign. Labour MPs, and some Conservative MPs who support Remain, resisted attempts to force the Speaker out, noting he has openly stated he voted Remain and does not support Brexit.

This has been raised again today as some wonder if the Speaker allowing Dominic Grieve’s amendment to be tabled is his way of paying back those MPs that have kept him in his position, I am not sure that is quite right, but over the last year or so his impartiality on matters pertaining to Brexit has been called into question.

 

Divisions in Europe and the rise of the extreme right and left

From Missy in the UK:


The political discourse in Europe is getting more intense as divisions are pushing people more and more to the extremes of left and right.

In the UK the Brexit debate has led to the divisions coming to the fore, however, this isn’t new in politics here, as many who were around in Thatcher’s time will remind you. Social Media has given a wider audience to it though, and the anonymity for some on social media has given the opportunity for language to become more and more abusive, something that is now spilling over into real life.

Those on the far left are happily calling political opponents fascists, far right, nazis, meanwhile some anti Brexit supporters are talking about killing all Leave voters, whilst others are calling Leave voters racists, xenophobes, nazis, fascist (that word again).

Some far left activists and activist groups have publicly called for Conservative politicians to be harassed wherever they go, they have sent death threats, and wished their children dead, whilst some on the far right (not as organised in groups as the far left extremists) have threatened rape and violence to those that they disagree with. This is not sudden either, several years ago when a back bench MP, the now Shadow Chancellor called for direct action against Conservative MPs calling them social criminals, he has also been filmed repeating a dubious ‘joke’ calling for violence against a female Conservative MP using the phrase ‘lynch the bitch’. When MPs are using language like this against their colleagues in the House of Commons who can blame their followers for thinking it is acceptable?

Anna Soubry, a pro Remain conservative MP has reportedly used extreme language to describe leave voters, (I have not seen any video evidence of her reported comments as I have of McDonnell’s), she also referred to her own Conservative colleagues that support Brexit as extremists and called for them to be slung out of the party. There is also a report that about 3 or 4 years ago she referred to her constituents as racists.

Yesterday during an interview on College Green Anna Soubry was shouted down by Brexit supporters and called a nazi. This has gained a lot of media coverage, which is prompting much condemnation, but also a bit of bemusement as to why the media have not covered as extensively pro Brexit MPs being shouted down and abused, or why the term nazi is suddenly so distasteful to pro Remain supporters when many of them have been using it for the last 3 years to denigrate Leave supporters. The bemusement and the whataboutery isn’t good for discourse, but it shows up the hypocrisy of many on the extremes of politics, where the language they use against those they disagree with is not okay when it is used against them.

Many on the left of politics in the UK tend to take the moral high ground on abuse against politicians, pointing to the murder of Jo Cox as evidence the left don’t do violence, only the right do. This is a dangerous position to take as we see in the violence of groups like Momentum and Antifa.

Today a story came out from Germany. Yesterday a German politician was badly beaten by three masked men in Bremen, he was saved by a construction worker who came to his aid, it was reported he was left half dead. The politician? Frank Magnitz, the leader of the AfD in Bremen.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-46792556

It is not healthy for our democracy to descend into this level of abuse, words are used to shut down debate or invalidate someone’s opinion and it becomes the loudest that are heard and considered the voice of the majority, even though they are most likely the minority on the extremes. When words like racist, xenophobe, nazi, fascist are used to describe people who want to have legitimate discussions on topics like immigration the meaning of these words are diluted, and then they are no longer listened to or taken as credible descriptors of someone’s beliefs.