Arlene doesn’t know what the union is

Posted By: July 20, 2016

Brian Feeney. Irish News (Belfast). Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Poor Arlene: She doesn’t get it. She was positively purring with pleasure after Theresa May’s carefully prepared ‘impromptu’ doorstep soliloquy a la Mrs. Hacksaw [Maggie Thatcher] when she mentioned the ‘precious, precious bond’ of the union. Arlene thought she was including The North.

Oh dear. As the ever-insightful Newton Emerson has pointed out elsewhere, she meant Scotland,  and to prove it she headed off post haste to Edinburgh to meet her nemesis, Nicola Sturgeon. Then on Monday to Cardiff to meet the Welsh first minister. Then to meet Merkel and Hollande. That left Arlene positively begging on BBC that she hoped Ms. May would visit the north. No doubt she’ll get round to it but her priorities are clear and here’s why.

For an English prime minister, and that’s what she is, the union with Scotland is what makes Britain. If she loses Scotland then Britain becomes a geographical expression. It was the union with Scotland in 1707 which enabled people to speak of ‘Great’ Britain meaning big Britain. Without Scotland, it’s Little England with Wales as ever on the hind tit.

There are other important differences. Some of them were laid out by Duncan Morrow of Ulster University, a man who wears several hats. A couple of weeks ago in his capacity,  as chair of the Scottish government’s expert group on sectarianism,  he explained that while Scotland has to have a referendum on independence which Westminster will oppose, here it’s different. The Good Friday Agreement made the people of Ireland, not parliament, sovereign on the matter of the border. If the people of Ireland, north and south, vote for a united Ireland the British government is obliged by international treaty to legislate for that.

There’s more. Since everyone here has the right of dual citizenship they have the right to remain a citizen of the EU after Brexit.

That’s also in the Good Friday Agreement and the treaty between the UK and Ireland. The GFA was ratified by a referendum in both parts of Ireland. Does the EU referendum cancel that? No, because it was ratified by the treaty. Since the GFA and the Northern Ireland Act require that EU law is upheld,  then the EU will retain in Morrow’s words, ‘direct, live and permanent ongoing responsibility in the internal affairs of a geographically defined part of the UK’.

Now the problem is,  Arlene it seems is a Manichaean. For DUP voters’ benefit, that means she sees things in black and white, light and darkness. No subtlety, no nuance. Whatever a UK minister says goes. Thus she keeps intoning, ‘Brexit is Brexit. The UK is leaving the EU.’ Exactly the same mantra as our appropriately named new proconsul.

One good sign is that she hasn’t ruled out some special arrangements for The North. She doesn’t know what they are, but it’s a start. Still, her stance is a mistake like her decision to support a Leave vote. She needs to listen to Martin McGuinness who points out first, that no one knows what Brexit means. The British government hasn’t decided what it wants, a Norwegian relationship with the EU or a Swiss one or a go it alone? So how can Arlene sensibly support something that doesn’t exist? As McGuinness says, ‘It’s early days.’ Who knows when Article 50 will be triggered?

Start with the next scheduled British election in 2020 (though it could be an English and Welsh one,  heh, heh) and work backwards.

The deal will, therefore, need to be in operation by 2019. During this time Arlene will need a lot of coaching in how to sing Forty Shades of Green. At present, it’s hilarious to hear her talking about being flexible and imaginative but in the same breath repeating the UK is leaving the EU. How, and with what safeguards and caveats? Does she want it to be like Gibraltar, the Aland Islands, the Channel Islands, or maybe West Berlin which was in the EEC from 1957-90 but not part of West Germany?

She doesn’t know, so she needs to stop being so dogmatic and start thinking how she’s going to explain to farmers why they’re losing the Single Farm Payment or why the A5 won’t be built. A first step would be to join an all-Ireland forum.