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Could this be the new UK flag?

Flag without Ireland

Talk of a break-up of the UK has focussed on Scottish independence. But could Northern Ireland be the first to leave?

Although Northern Ireland voted to remain the chances of the six counties with their unionist tradition has always looked unlikely to leave the UK. But might that change if there is no Brexit-lite deal, no access to the free-trade area and border posts along the border with the Republic of Ireland?

It would not present many of the problems Scotland would face have membership of the EU. Northern Ireland would not become independent but transfer its allegiance from London to Dublin. And so remain in the EU.

The Irish Republic already claims the six Counties, there is an apparently good relationship between the NI administration and Dublin, legal ties and citizenship rights as well as strong trade relationships.

Sinn Féin has called for a border poll but is probably putting down a marker rather than expecting anything to happen quickly. Nothing will change quickly but if Brexit negotiations do not go well the prospect of a united Ireland will grow.

Farage speech in Euro parliament makes Brexit-lite deal harder

Whether we like it or not Nigel Farage has joined Nicola Sturgeon in filling the vacuum that is Westminster politics after last week’s EU referendum.

His nasty, rude, ill-mannered rant in the European parliament yesterday looks like an astute move to ensure there are no concessions on offer in negotiations following the triggering Article 50.

Farage wants out to mean out — no Brexit-lite deals for access to the free trade area which would also mean freedom of movement. Yesterday he did his best to alienate his fellow MEPs who will have a final say on any deal on offer. Who would want a deal with a county where Farage has emerged as a significant leader?

But he probably did not mean to advance the chances of a break-up of the United Kingdom. The standing ovation for Scottish MEP Alyn Smith can only improve the climate for talks in Brussels today between the Nicola Sturgeon and the parliament president Martin Shulz.

Boris Johnson and the Poisoned Chalice

Slowly the shape of what will happen after the Brexit vote is emerging. There are unlikely to be any negotiations before Article 50 is triggered and the leaving talks can start only then.

The EU will make a take-it or leave-it offer on future arrangements which must be approved by all EU members. The words coming out of Europe suggest this will, at best, be along the lines of those given to Norway. They could hardly offer anything better so the UK could be faced with probably making a similar contribution to EU funds and joining the Shengen area.

The alternative would be operating outside the free market on WTO rules which include tariffs.

If those options continue to look likely there is one other course the new prime minister could take: an announcement that Article 50 would not be invoked. Some in Europe might not like that very much but it would preserve the status quo, albeit with less bargaining power than before.

It was noticeable how often David Cameron answering questions in the Commons this afternoon said: “That will be a matter for the next prime minister to decide.” You could almost hear him adding “thank God”.

Whoever becomes prime minister will be accepting a poisoned chalice. Is Boris Johnson up for that?

Is Merkel trying to give UK time to reconsider Brexit vote?

I may be reading more into the words coming out of Berlin this morning than are really there but they seem to hint that Angela Merkel want’s to give the UK a chance to reconsider Thursday’s Brexit vote.

This comment is from Peter Altmaier, Mrs Merkel’s chief of staff (Guardian):

Should we just be saying: we’re sad that the referendum has ended this way, but now you have to go? I am not sure that would be the right step. Because at this referendum something has happened that I never imagined: on the hand, the sad result is that there were 52% of said they wanted to leave.

But on the other hand –and that’s something that I as a European find deeply moving – even in this country that we often thought of as deeply eurosceptic and not truly European, there has been an incredible turning towards Europe by millions of people … As a European, I feel a responsibility towards those people.

This contrasts with the draft resolution to be put to the European Parliament which demands immediate triggering of Article 50.

Personally I am not turning towards Europe because I have always faced that way. I just hope everyone in the UK we will have time to reflect on the implications of the referendum result. For some reason many went into the polling stations without realising they were partaking in one of the most momentous decisions in British history.

An appealing plan to defeat Brexit from Lord Heseltine

It is good to see Michael Heseltine still has the spirit to swing the Mace even if today it is a virtual one. His idea is appealing: Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage must lead the Brexit negotiations because if others did this the trio would campaign against any outcome as being unsatisfactory.

So they would have to negotiate and present the outcome to the Commons which would inevitably reject it as a big majority of MPs are pro-Remain. Then there would have to be a general election or a second referendum.

Lord Heseltine’s argument is appealing (BBC)  but we could not reach that stage without triggering Article 50. I would prefer it if Article 50 was never invoked.

And what would be the choices if we were outside the EU. It could be exclusion from the European free trade area or accepting something like the arrangement Norway has including membership of Shengen Area and rather larger payments to the EU.

What will happen in the next few months is impossible to predict but I sense that the mood in the country has changed quite a lot since Friday. Politicians are constantly telling us they “respect” the referendum vote. They would not need to say that if the they were bound by the vote. It will take time, but they might just come to exercise the sovereignty of parliament they insisted upon when drawing up the referendum laws.

Will Article 50 ever be triggered?

It is understandable that David Cameron felt he had to announce he would resign after his gamble of appeasing the Left of the Conservative party by calling a referendum had failed. He could not continue to govern with any credibility.

Yet he has also left a country, more divided than at any time since the English Civil War, with a rudderless government without authority for three crucial months in the history of the United Kingdom. That is hard to forgive.

And in making his announcement he reneged on his intention to immediately trigger Article 50 which creates a vacuum in which anything could happen. While in doing this he was accepting what Brexit campaigners wanted, the new prime minister could find that the remainder of the EU has already reached a consensus on the terms of a settlement it is prepared to offer the UK.

It also allows more time for remain campaigners to further question the validity of the referendum vote. As I write 3,167,000 people have signed the petition to parliament calling for a new referendum with more stringent rules. Those signatures come predominantly from England.

There are grounds for the argument that the referendum was neither democratic nor valid because voters were misled by lies and guesses during the campaign. Three months before the possibility of triggering Article 50 is time for these concerns to grow, especially if more businesses shift jobs to Europe and investment in industry and commerce stalls.

The Scottish government is confident that Brexit is an area which requires the Edinburgh parliament to give consent to Westminster legislation. Nicola Sturgeon made this clear talking to Robert Peston on ITV this morning: it would be likely to lead to a constitutional clash.

Another factor will be the Conservatives finding a new leader who can command the confidence of the House of Commons. This may be difficult and Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, also on the Peston show, ruled himself out of the race but had a person spec for a new prime minister: it amounted to Brexit-lite. Others in his party have very different ideas. It could be difficult to form a new government.

What will happen is impossible to predict: there are too many variables. But one possibility, opened up by Cameron’s decision not to invoke Article 50 immediately, is that it will never be invoked.

Note: Pure coincidence but this post was published half-an-hour before the Guardian article with an identical headline. John Henley raises the same question but with very different text: well worth reading.



The media as well as politicians need to reflect before the referendum campaign resumes

Today is a time for reflection by everyone in the UK but particularly those involved in the referendum campaign. The media here today is quiet, rightly not rushing to conclusions, but in mainland Europe  newspapers have been less reticent in linking the murder of Jo Cox to the referendum campaign.

Whatever the outcome of police investigations there is the perception of a link and that for the moment is what matters. As Alex Massie put in the Spectator blog yesterday:

When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged.

The media as well as the politicians need to reflect. Have editorial decisions to concentrate on the nasty parts of the campaign, the playground shouts of “liar” and the racist undercurrents, contributed to polarisation?

News value is an assessment of what will interest the readers modified by the concept of “public interest”. The question is whether the interests of the readers were subjugated to the interests of journalists living and working in the Westminster bubble?

My impression is that the coverage has inhibited public debate. Where I live in rural Suffolk I have heard no-one talking about the referendum. Is as though everyone is avoiding the subject to avoid being drawn into the nasty debate and falling out with neighbours. There are some “leave” and “remain posters in the countryside but in the village itself few are prepared to declare their allegiance so publicly. There has been no real grassroots debate.

The coverage by political journalists has been so much more like a report of a playground squabble that I have found myself turning first to the financial pages for reasoned information.

Jeremy Corbyn’s attempts to get away from the fighting mentality and have a more reasoned and politer political debate have been scorned by political journalists who would rather see blood on the floor. It is not just a tactic of the Labour leader: I sense there are many on both sides of the house, probably the majority, who would be much happier without tribal battles.

The media cannot get away from the fact that they have sustained the most unpleasant aspects of the referendum by providing the publicity which has sustained the nastiness.




Slowly realisation that next week’s referendum is non-binding is growing

The aftermath of next Thursday’s vote could be worse, far worse, than the seemingly interminable campaign of lies, half-truths and unsubstantiated “facts” that we have endured during the campaign.

Slowly the realisation that the result of the EU referendum is non-binding, because to make it binding would infringe the sovereignty of the Westminster parliament, is growing. The Guardian reported this exchange at Prime Minister’s Questions today:

Nigel Adams, a [Brexit supporting] Conservative, says there has been “hysterical scaremongering” during the EU referendum. Will Cameron assure people he will follow the results on the referendum.
Yes, says Cameron. He says out means out of the single market too. He says he would say to anyone still in doubt, to anyone uncertain, don’t risk it.

Cameron appears to be saying he will abide by the result of the referendum but it is not entirely clear what he means.

If there is a vote for Brexit when would he seek to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which provides the only legal route to leaving the EU? And if he chose to put the required resolution to the Commons quickly would be able to get the necessary majority.

There are so many scenarios it is fruitless to even think too closely about them. We can be certain this horror story will go on unless there is a decisive victory for Remain.

Would you believe it?: ‘Brexit would end free movement of cabbage moths’

The Sun front page today neatly sums up the Brexit campaign.  Perhaps Boris will explain how the free movement of EU moths would be ended.


According to the story:

BRITAIN’S cabbages may be annihilated by a ­massive swarm of super-moths from Europe.
Tens of millions of the diamondbacks, said to be resistant to pesticides, have reportedly formed “clouds” two miles wide.

This incredible scare story gets worst by portraying the moths as a greater threat to Britain than the Nazi forces in France after the evacuation of Dunkirk. It does this with an evocation of Dad’s Army, plagiarising the comedy’s opening graphics to suggest they would succeed in overcoming the Home Guard of Warmington on Sea.

Illustration from The Sun, draws on Dad's Army graphics

Illustration from The Sun, draws on Dad’s Army graphics

The question is whether this rubbish is any less credible than the lies the official Brexit campaign has been peddling?

Footnote: It seems even The Sun does not think the story would be acceptable to its Irish and Scottish readers. Media blogger Roy Greenslade points out the paper had different front pages in those parts of the UK.

10 reason to vote “remain” and the question of how we identify ourselves

Ten reasons to vote to stay in the European Union:

  1. To help maintain peace in Europe. The treaty of Rome resolved that by pooling resources they would “preserve and strengthen peace and liberty, and calling upon the other peoples of Europe who share their ideal to join in their efforts”. This was signed after two world wars which had engulfed Europe.
  2. Protect the benefits the UK has gained from the free trade area. In addition to easing trade in goods and services this has encouraged investment in the UK by international companies wanting to serve the whole of Europe.
  3. The freedom to live and work in any part of the European Union and cross borders without delay or showing a passport.
  4. The freedom of people to come and live, work or study in the UK benefitting our economy and society in many ways from filling jobs which people here will not do (eg in horticulture) or boosting the standing of our universities.
  5. Law enforcement co-operation including the European Arrest Warrant which has made it much more difficult for British criminals to spend their ill-gotten gains on a Mediterranean beach or elsewhere in Europe.
  6. Structural funds which help more deprived areas including parts of of the UK. £6bn in the next five years for England, Scotland, Wales and Northen Ireland.
  7. Retain our influence the rules of trade and social policy by which we would still have to abide even if not a member of the EU.
  8. A stronger voice in the world that comes from part of a larger bloc which can meet and negotiate with China and the United States  as an equal partner.
  9. To safeguard workers’ rights not to be exploited. This includes working hours and holidays.
  10. Maintain a level playing field when British firms bid for contracts in Europe

Those are solid reasons for remaining but above these is the question of identity. Do I feel European: Yes.

For a couple of years I lived in southern Spain. Outside public building three flags flew — those of Andalucia, Spain and the EU — signifying a broader concept of identity than that which seems to drive the Brexit campaigners.

I was born in England and lived most of my life in England, but my mother was Irish and my father identified himself as Scottish. Like many children I wrote my address on the flyleaf of an atlas: New Street, Kenilworth, Warwickshire, England, British Isles, Europe, the World.

My father told me not only about the Act of Union but the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France and its continuing influence.

I don’t want my multi-tiered identity torn away by a vote for Brexit by English voters.

I could do something about this. By virtue of my mother’s birth I have dual citizenship and can get an Irish issued European passport. But I would much rather that the vote is to remain in the EU because I believe in ideals of its founding fathers.