Thursday 2 March 2023

Deeply-held principles


Fair play to Rishi Sunak. He’s truly an amazing character. Not quite up there with the Queen of Hearts, though, who could believe six impossible things before breakfast, but clearly working towards it. Having been utterly convinced for some years that membership of the European Single Market was a disaster for the UK, he’s now discovered that being part of that market whilst also being part of the UK is a truly unique, world-leading position for Northern Ireland. He still, apparently, believes that it would be disastrous for England, Wales or Scotland, all of which enjoyed precisely those advantages before he and his mates came and took them away. All he has to do now is convince his own party that close alignment with the Single Market is simultaneously a huge advantage and a disastrous constraint, depending on where he happens to be in the UK at the time. Schrodinger’s PM.

His real achievement, though, is the so-called Stormont brake. Under his predecessors, the basic plan was that the UK government would take unto itself under UK law the right to abrogate its treaty obligations under the Agreement with the EU, and then stand back and watch the EU apply sanctions and start a trade war. Under Sunak’s new, improved, operating manual for the Brexit deal, the NI Assembly can unilaterally disapply any new EU rule (but not, apparently, any pre-existing rule) if enough members from two different parties can agree so to do, and if the new rule can be shown to be non-trivial and have a significant impact on the lives of people in Northern Ireland. If the DUP manages to jump through all those hoops, then the matter will be discussed between the EU and the UK Government, a discussion from which there are three possible outcomes. The first is that they agree to disapply the rule, the second is that they agree not to disapply the rule, in which case the UK government overrules Stormont (power devolved is power retained…), and the third is that they disagree, in which case the UK can unilaterally disapply the rule and stand back and watch the EU respond with sanctions and a trade war. Sunak’s next mission is to convince the DUP and the extremists in his own party (two groups not used to dealing in rational argument at the best of times) to agree that this is a huge change from the position from which he started. It isn’t, of course; but Sunak’s ‘success’ depends on those groups having an equally flexible approach to their deeply held principles. By a lucky ‘coincidence’, that may even turn out to be a valid assumption.

1 comment:

Gav said...

It's cynical but may be the case that the trick of negotiating an agreement between parties holding irreconcilable positions is to find a form of words that is capable of totally different interpretations depending on who's reading it. Storing up problems for the future maybe, but, hey, peace in our time O Lord. Success in these circumstances would depend not so much on what was actually agreed but on the desire of the parties to be seen to agree to, er, something, and on their ability to brush nit-pickers aside in the short term.