While the nations of the UK are snowed under by the Beast from the East, the bumblin from London is getting mired in the shit from Brexit. On Wednesday the EU published the first draft of the terms of the UK’s exit from the EU, which was based on things that the UK government had agreed to last year in order to progress negotiations to the next stage. Predictably, the British government has reacted to the draft treaty with yet another illustration of the origins of the phrase “Perfidious Albion”.
Theresa May, doing an extremely convincing impression of a Prime Minister who has no clue what has been going on for these past eighteen months or so, reacted with umbrage, outrage, and just plain old harrumphage. No British Prime Minister could possibly agree to the things that Theresa had agreed to in December, and she has no idea why Michel Barnier might imagine that the British government would agree to a guarantee to Ireland that it had agreed to last year. She might not be clear about many things, especially not when she says she’s been very clear, but she’s definitely clear about that.
The Prime Minister has no idea why the EU might all of a sudden and entirely unexpectedly bring up a guarantee to the Irish that the British government had signed up to several months ago just because it was now publishing its draft of the terms of the UK’s exit from the EU. That Irish guarantee thing was so last year, back when David Davis was still dissembling about the existence or non-existence of the impact papers, and those were totally different circumstances unrelated to what’s happening now. We’re in a different political landscape nowadays, one in which the Irish border looks very much like the London Congestion Zone.
Last year, in order to ensure that the Brexit negotiations could progress further than Michel Barnier rolling his eyes at David Davis while David fumbled with the egg and cress sandwich he’d got from Greggs in preparation for the talks, the British government had agreed that in the absence of any alternative deal on the Irish border issue, the British government would ensure that Northern Ireland would remain a part of the EU Customs Union after Brexit. The UK’s negotiating position is now that while this issue was being discussed, David Davis was not in fact fumbling in his briefcase for his egg and cress sandwich, he was in fact crossing his fingers, which as everyone knows means that he doesn’t have to abide by what he promised. So there. Nyah, nyah, nyah. Take that, Brussels bureaucrats. This is Great British negotiating. These are the skills that the British government will use to negotiate super-dooper trade deals with Burkina Faso and Belarus.
Not surprisingly, the Irish government is less than best pleased that the British government is trying to renege on what it agreed to last year. After all, in the past 800 years or so, the attitudes of governments on the Thames towards Ireland have always been characterised by respect, honesty, and an abiding concern to do the right thing. That is, if you define colonialisation, theft, land-grabs, mass slaughter, ethnic cleansing, and famines as respect, honesty, and an abiding concern to do the right thing, which even less surprisingly is precisely how some British nationalists define them.
What Theresa was very certain about was that no British Prime Minister would permit the EU to draw a border down the middle of the UK. It’s only the UK that’s allowed to draw borders down the middle of countries, like it did with Ireland and India. But the EU hadn’t actually said that. All the EU was saying was that the UK has signed up to a treaty guaranteeing that there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland, and it had reiterated that promise last year during negotiations with the EU. The UK can leave the Customs Union if it wants, but it has signed up to ensuring that there can be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland, and that means that Northern Ireland must remain a part of the Customs Union. If Theresa May thinks that it is unacceptable that Northern Ireland is treated differently from the rest of the UK, that’s not Michel Barnier’s problem.
As far as the EU is concerned, it’s entirely up to the UK to come up with solutions that can square that particular circle, solutions which the UK has so far failed to detail other than Boris Johnson’s wittering about congestion zones and meaningless waffle from the British government about technological solutions. Time is running out, Brexit is looming in a mere 13 months and so far the UK has done diddly squat. It’s taken the Dept of Work and Pensions eight years to come up with a technological solution to Universal Credit, and that’s still a disaster zone, so the signs and portents are not looking good.
At Prime Minister’s Questions, Thatessempee’s Ian Blackford asked Theresa if she believed that the four nations of the UK were equal partners in the Union as she’d claimed that they were back when she was trying to persuade Scotland to vote no to independence. The correct answer is of course, “Don’t be foolish you silly little Celtic person, it’s only people who lose referendums who need to be held to account.” Uncharacteristically Theresa was unable or unwilling to lie and claim she really believed they were, possibly because there was no handy egg and cress sandwich from Greggs to disguise her crossed fingers. Besides, if she’d said that they were, people in the lesser nations might hold her to it, and she had had quite enough of the mess that causes from the uppity Celtic types in the Irish government. She certainly didn’t need any more snash from the Scots and Welsh, and certainly not when she’s got former Prime Minister John Major biting her ear as well. It’s like being savaged by a bichon frise puppy, and losing badly.
There are only three ways to solve the Irish border question, a united Ireland, a special deal for Northern Ireland involving customs checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, or for the entire UK to remain inside the customs union. None of these are palatable to Theresa May because she lacks the support within her own party in order to enforce any of them. The only way to solve the looming constitutional crisis between the devolved parliaments and Westminster is for Westminster to concede that all devolved powers currently exercised by the EU must return to the devolved parliaments. That’s not palatable to the Conservative government either, because Theresa May lacks support within her own party in order to enforce it and the hard Brexiteers would rebel if she tried.
The UK is mired in confusion and political incoherence because the first, and only, political imperative of the British government is to keep the Conservative party together and to placate its frothing fantasists who still dream of empire. Ireland, Scotland, and Wales are all to be sacrificed on the altar of Tory Brexit fantasies. The real reason that Albion is perfidious is because it is governed in the interests of a small and selfish elite and not the interests of Albion. The price of keeping the Conservative party together will be the the failure of the British government to keep the UK together. There are more and more of us who won’t mourn its passing.
The Wee Ginger Dug has got a new domain name, thanks to Indy Poster Boy, Colin Dunn @Zarkwan. http://www.indyposterboy.scot/ You can now access this blog simply by typing www.weegingerdug.scot into the address bar of your browser, the old address continues to function, the new one redirects to the blog. The advantage of the new address is that it’s a lot easier to remember if you want to include a link to the blog in leaflets, posters, or simply to tell a friend about it. Many thanks to Colin.
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