Sunday, June 11, 2017

Stormy Times Ahead For The U.K.-- Northern Ireland Particularly


Foster and May: bed news for the U.K.

Jack Bernhardt is a British comedy writer. His stuff for The Guardian is witty and well-worth your time. This week though, his most important writing wasn't in The Guardian, but in a Twitter storm about the Unionists this weekend. Actually, it all did start in a Guardian column, Feeling blue about May’s disaster? Reasons to be cheerful if you’re Tory, where he had some politically incorrect laughs at Northern Ireland's expense. "I know that to most of you," he wrote, "Northern Ireland is just where Jeremy Corbyn’s terrorist friends come from-- but it turns out it’s also a country now! Who knew? Not you guys, certainly, given that under the Conservatives power-sharing collapsed last year and you did sweet strong and stable butts about it, but now it’s suddenly become incredibly important with your new, slightly scary bestie Arlene Foster! And that means you’ll be going over there to see the sights: Titanic Belfast, the Giant’s Causeway, the populace that voted over 60% remain and is becoming increasingly concerned about the prospect of a hard border post-Brexit, and Victoria Square! It’s fancy, it’s got a House of Fraser and everything! Sure, you may have to a deal with some slightly unsavoury members of the DUP, many of whom have some pretty retro ideas about things such as same-sex marriage and abortion, but think of it more like making new friends. Who you have to get along with, and make concessions to, otherwise they’ll fire you from your job. Fun!"

OK, so what's this all about? As you know, Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May managed to lose her parliamentary majority-- down 13 seats to 317 (9 fewer than needed to elect a prime minister). Arlene Foster is the head of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP, or the Unionists), Northern Ireland's biggest party, and they managed to win 10 seats in Parliament Thursday. The party was founded by far right Protestant extremist Ian Paisley, a terrorist, in 1971. Foster took over in 2015. She has agreed to support Theresa May's minority government, something the Daily Mirror commemorated with this memorable front page:

The party is virulently anti-gay and anti-Choice, xenophobic, anti-EU and is riven with climate change deniers and religionist lunatics. Below are a series of Bernhardt tweets that began with this one: "So the DUP's inherent bigotry, homophobia, climate change and evolution denial should disbar them from mainstream politics, full stop. But." And was followed by this eye-catcher:

I sound like a broken record but please please please can we talk about how powersharing has collapsed in Northern Ireland?

It's been like this for three months. This crisis dates back to the Cash for Ash scandal involving current head of the DUP Arlene Foster.

It's a frankly unbelievable story of sleaze at the top of NI politics. It would be difficult for most governments to deal with.

Add in the inherent sectarian tension in Northern Irish politics, plus heightened fears over a hard border post-Brexit, and it's paralysing.

Sinn Fein pulled out of the executive in protest at Arlene Foster, triggering elections which eventually gave SF an increased vote share

They had six weeks after that point to form a government. SF demanded Foster quit as head of DUP, she refused. Again. Things got more tense.

The deadline for forming government passed. At that point either ANOTHER election had to be called, or you revert to Direct Rule.

At this point Westminster woke up. The idea of Northern Ireland slipping back to Direct Rule months before Brexit negotiations = NOT GOOD.

So at the end of March James Brokenshire went over to NI to generally just ask people to get along/be totally useless. It didn't work.

He said there was no appetite for another election (true) and no appetite for Direct Rule (also true). So they just extended the deadline.

Keep in mind, this is end of March. We've just triggered Article 50 and we're currently having a totally pointless argument about Gibraltar.

Should we have been having a discussion about the steady erosion of the peace process in Northern Ireland instead? YEAH MAYBE.

The deadline is shunted on further. Talks between SF & DUP are going nowhere. But at least the UK government is aware of the problem now.

Things are tense, complicated and messy. You know what the situation doesn't need? A snap general election.

Suddenly Northern Ireland is facing the prospect of ANOTHER election, for Westminster this time, while dealing with a constitutional crisis.

So the deadline gets shunted until after the election. The parties are now negotiating and campaigning at the same time. Great stuff.

And so to yesterday. SF get 8, DUP 10. The more moderate SDLP, UUP and Alliance fall away. Northern Ireland is more polarised than ever.

Before today, TM's government has been criminally negligent of Northern Ireland. Think about how little you've heard about NI this election.

It was only ever brought up in relation to Corbyn and the IRA. There was NO discussion of Stormont impasse, or even the border post-Brexit.

You'd think we'd have learnt our lesson after the EU referendum and actually thought about the consequences of a Hard Brexit in NI. But no.

So here we are, June 9th, 10 days before Brexit negotiations, with no Stormont government and mass confusion over the NI Brexit border.

We have three months of inaction. We have the DUP and SF in a stalemate. The deadline is approaching again. Direct rule looms.

These problems will only be solved by careful, strategic leadership from Westminster, working with both parties to deescalate the situation.

What Theresa May has done today has destroyed any hope of that. At one of the most dangerous times in its recent history, May has done this.

Any pretense that the UK government could be neutral in this is gone. Their entire existence is now dependent on the DUP.

Direct rule is not an option because the DUP has an unrealistic amount of sway over Westminster. It throws the balance of power totally off.

Arlene Foster, who should have resigned months ago for her rank corruption, now holds more power over the UK government than...anyone?

The next deadline, by the way, is June 29th. But now the DUP is in bed with the UK government, will James Brokenshire have any authority?

Has anyone in gov thought about what happens when THAT expires? Why should Sinn Fein treat the UK gov as a neutral arbiter after that?

Power-sharing relies on a neutral UK government. If the government is beholden to one side in power-sharing, it is fatally undermined.

It's hard to see what happens in N Ireland without power-sharing or without direct rule. Either it will float on, pushing that deadline...

...or the whole thing is irrevocably damaged and the system implodes.

For what, a two seat majority?

I may be wrong - there may be some incredible fudge that Tories/DUP/SF have planned. Maybe the DUP are hoping the SF will just accept it.

I pray TM has a plan beyond "keep the DUP onside, stay in power". If she doesn't, she's thrown Northern Ireland into chaos for nothing.
Meanwhile, Theresa May is working on a new cabinet that will be dealing with Brexit and... oh, all sorts of other important stuff governments do (or don't do, as the case may be):

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At 5:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look, the recent election showed that the UK voters are more sane and intelligent than US voters, but only by a slim margin.

Brexit will be a full-tilt cluster fuck for sure. But those same voters have only themselves to blame. That plebiscite showed that a majority of UK, mostly English, voters can be just as stupid and gullible and, yes, hateful as their American cousins. Not something they should brag about.

Teresa May may end up being just a little more erudite distaff version of the drumpfsterfire.

At 7:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How ironic it will be should the anti-terrorist May and her "surrender rights for security" policies be the match which reignites The Troubles and puts the IRA (who probably have killed more British citizens than lone-wolf Muslim terrorists could dream about) back on a war footing.

Heck of a job, Theresa!

At 11:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The UK voters had party representatives that reflect their membership. Do you think Tony Blair would have fared as well Corbyn did this election? The Labour manifesto would have been about the same as that of the Tories.

The UK basically was running an election like our Democratic primary, pitting a social, leaning traditional lefty vs. a neo-liberal scumbag and the results were the same. The right won a narrow victory and were damaged post-election. In the UK that is the end result and the neoliberal Tories now face a difficult path to governing, while here state-side the damaged Clinton then had to face another election and lost. For as much as we look at Labour's results as a victory, the party was still outvoted by Tories. How is that more sane that what Americans were faced with in November?


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