“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.

EU leaders agree to UK Brexit proposal

RNZ: UK’s Brexit deal agreed by EU leaders

EU leaders have approved an agreement on the UK’s withdrawal and future relations – insisting it is the “best and only deal possible”.

After 20 months of negotiations, the 27 leaders gave the deal their blessing after less than an hour’s discussion.

hey said the deal – which needs to be approved by the UK Parliament – paved the way for an “orderly withdrawal”.

Theresa May said the deal “delivered for the British people” and set the UK “on course for a prosperous future”.

Speaking in Brussels, she urged both Leave and Remain voters to unite behind the agreement, insisting the British public “do not want to spend any more time arguing about Brexit”.

The UK is scheduled to leave the EU on 29 March 2019.

The EU officially endorsed the terms of the UK’s withdrawal during a short meeting, bringing to an end negotiations which began in March 2017.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said anyone in Britain who thought the bloc might offer improved terms if MPs rejected the deal would be “disappointed.

The UK Parliament is expected to vote on the deal on 12 December, but its approval is far from guaranteed.

Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP, the DUP and many Conservatives MPs are set to vote against.

Mrs May has appealed to the British public to get behind the agreement – saying that although it involved compromises, it was a “good deal that unlocks a bright future for the UK”.

At a news conference in Brussels, she said the agreement would:

  • end freedom of movement “in full and once and for all”
  • protect the constitutional integrity of the UK, and
  • ensure a return to “laws being made in our country by democratically elected politicians interpreted and enforced by British courts”.

The agreement, she added, would not remove Gibraltar from the “UK family” – a reference to a last-minute wrangle with Spain over the territory.

The EU leaders have approved the two key Brexit documents:

  • The EU withdrawal agreement: a 599-page, legally binding document setting out the terms of the UK’s exit from the EU. It covers the UK’s £39bn “divorce bill”, citizens’ rights and the Northern Ireland “backstop” – a way to keep the Irish border open, if trade talks stall
  • The political declaration, which sets out what the UK and EU’s relationship may be like after Brexit – outlining how things like UK-EU trade and security will work

There was no formal vote on Sunday, with the EU proceeding by consensus.

UK & Europe

UK-EU

 

More trouble within the European Union.

Guardian: Poland reacts with fury to re-election of Donald Tusk

Donald Tusk has won a second term as European council president, overcoming bitter opposition from Poland that has left the country isolated in Europe.

Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, was re-elected on Thursday with overwhelming support to lead the council, the body that organises EU leaders’ meetings, for a second term lasting two and a half years. His reappointment until the end of 2019 means he will play a crucial role in Britain’s negotiations to leave the EU.

The Pole, from the pro-European centre-right Civic Platform party, overcame strong resistance from his own government, led by the Eurosceptic Law and Justice party (PiS). The outcome was never in doubt, but is a blow for the Warsaw government, which responded with fury.

“We know now that it [the EU] is a union under Berlin’s diktat,” the Polish foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, told Polish media, echoing persistent claims by PiS that the EU is controlled by Berlin.

Despite its anger, however, Poland was left isolated as other countries including traditional central European allies lined up to back Tusk, a popular choice to guide the EU through difficult Brexit talks and tense debates on migration.

Trade negotiations with Europe

Following on from the yet to be ratified Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement between twelve Pacific Rim countries comprising 40% of the world economy, trade attention has turned to Europe.

Stuff reports New Zealand and Europe inch towards free trade negotiations.

A free trade agreement (FTA) with one of the world’s largest trading blocs is a small step closer, with New Zealand and Europe to lay the groundwork for negotiations “as soon as possible”.

In a joint statement released late on Thursday night (NZ time), Prime Minister John Key, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, and European Council President Donald Tusk agreed to start discussions on how to negotiate a “deep and comprehensive high-quality” trade deal.

“We believe that a FTA will support sustainable growth and investment, opening up new trade and business opportunities and generating new employment for our peoples,” the joint statement read.

In mid-October the EU Commission released its new trade and investment strategy, with New Zealand singled out as a country where it wanted to “open the door to new negotiations” for a free trade deal.

In a statement, Key said there was desire on both sides to progress a deal.

As with the TPPA this isn’t likely to be quick or simple, or without opposition.

Striking a deal may not be easy, with greater access for New Zealand’s primary products likely to be opposed by Europe’s powerful farming lobby.

When the European Commission announced its trade strategy it warned that a deal  with New Zealand would need to take into account the EU’s “agricultural sensitivities”.

‘Sensitivities’ always play a part in trade negotiations.

But it’s an important mission for New Zealand.

I hope that Labour bans their bottom line bull and gets back to cross party efforts to improve our trading terms with Europe.