Category: Brexit

Protocol, policing and polls.

Back after a summer with more conversation around issues hitting the political headlines, and some bubbling.  Events have moved quickly over the past week since this was recorded, but still very relevant by way of what lies behind some of the current news.

Anticipated in this podcast recorded on the 2 September, the Protocol ‘grace’ periods and delays are bumped down the road to maybe closer to Christmas. More likely more delay will then be generated going into 2022, until after the Assembly elections due in May. It would be highly embarrassing if the ‘rigourous implementation’ demanded by some were to actually happen before the election. Bad enough they’ll be eating beans on toast in Cherryvalley this Christmas.

Unremarked in that story from M&S was a warning on the likely impact of rules being applied to goods from all EU countries – the UK Government has so far not implemented import rules as it ought. Archie Norman is quoted as noting:

“This is not a one-way street. At the moment, the Irish Government is following EU guidelines and implementing their draconian controls. But by contrast, the UK has allowed EU products to continue to flow into the country, no veterinary checks, no border inspection.

“Starting in October, that is going to change when UK Government rules are set to mirror those of the EU. So in a mutual act of self-destruction, we risk lumbering French cheese producers and Spanish chorizo manufacturers with the same costs as we have faced trying to export food to the EU.”

He said “delays, driver shortages and paper mountains could be spectacular”.

A sigh of relief all round today with the extension of ‘grace’ periods in respect of the NI Protocol. That relief will be short-lived in the Republic as the full impact of Brexit on imports into the UK are to start soon, with the biggest changes in January.  From Dublin, with a very subdued Leo Varadkar commenting on UK news outlets about the delay in implementation of the Protocol: Leo of course knows that the food will hit the fan on exports Republic of Ireland to GB (East-West) around the same time as he takes back control of Leinster House.

Meanwhile, the Simon Byrne, PSNI Chief Constable, looks less and less in control of anything much. Just a week after a row about failure to address open displays by paramilitaries he finds himself ‘explaining’ when the PSNI undertook survey work, using a group associated with a convicted terrorist with whom his previous engagement wasn’t a PR success.

This can’t be a problem for the Chief Constable alone. As Suzanne Breen points out, there is an army of advisers that are either ignored or fairly useless if the path taken in this Report on policing was considered credible.

It is a presumption of incredible naivety that survey work undertaken by the Community Restorative Justice Ireland would lend credibility to determining recommendations on policing. That the Strategic Management Board of the PSNI thought this was a Report worth accepting in principle is astounding – either not knowing or not being remotely curious on what basis the recommendations were made.

Other Surveys and Polls have also been in the news. The Let’s Talk Loyalism survey is what it is, and doesn’t pretend to be anything more. The group generated a means of expressing views from within a specified community and used bit of online software to do that. The published report doesn’t hide its methodology or the limitations.

Some have been very quick to attack this on the basis that it called for the “collapsing of Stormont.” That missed the point by a mile. The survey didn’t pretend to be scientific and simply provided a snapshot on thinking with a particular community. It is a contribution on what is happening on the ground, on the street, in conversations around the country. Better trying to articulate views than have them played out on the street. The initiative should be commended and by all means address the issues raised, but don’t shoot the messenger.

Lucid Talk. If anyone had background doubts on how Lucid Talk conducts online polling in Northern Ireland the interview on the Stephen Nolan Show won’t have eliminated those questions.

At best, anyone out and about over the summer, speaking to actual people, can’t have been surprised at the headlines around the poll. They indicate what those very observant dogs in the street are all talking about. The DUP needs to show some capacity to deliver on promises, and an uncomfortable and despairing shift to Alliance by some UUP voters seem to have been reversed.

The TUV strength are no surprise. While there are many who doubt Jim Allister as a future First Minister, or would agree with policies of the TUV outside ‘Unionist’ issues, he is hugely respected as a person of principle. On the dominant issue of the day, he is head and shoulders above the others – he was one of the three instigators of the Judicial Review of the Protocol winding its way through the legal system, to which the others joined. The basis of that JR was covered in a previous podcast. Jim Allister acted while others talked.

Of course the only poll that matters is the electoral poll. The next Assembly Election is due in May 2022, which maybe sooner, or later, if ever at all.

The DUP is unlikely to roll-over between now and election, and may even endeavour to trigger one sooner than later.

Time will tell. Looks like there will be plenty to talk about with @3000Versts as we head into what promises to be a lively Autumn.

Calculating risk

The Protocol was always intended, as the backstop was before that, to tie the UK to a relationship dominated by the EU.

The tensions in NI with respect to the operation of the Protocol will only intensify while the UK Government resists the EU in efforts to lasso the UK back into the subservient relationship.

The (almost) triggering of Article 16 at the end of January showed how little the EU cared, not even with a passing thought, for the Good Friday Agreement or for its ever faithful member of the EU27 the Republic of Ireland.

Not hard to understand how those who demanded the NI Protocol be ‘implemented rigourously’ to assure NI’s Special relationship should demand a UK/EU SPS agreement to soften the Protocol; just like Switzerland? What that means, in essence, is more Europe. A step towards a sequence of agreements that would in effect take the UK ever closer back towards Brussels.


The podcast at the top of the page discusses how the Protocol was never about the Good Friday Agreement, or ‘best of both worlds’ but a desire for the EU to create a Trojan horse to be a thorn in the UK’s side , and by a Conservative leader desperate to move out of the Brexit mess he was bequeathed by the previous Prime Minister.

There is no doubt the EU believes anything entering Northern Ireland is a risk to the Single Market – a absolutist legal hold – a M&S ready meal could bring down the German economy in one thoughtless purchase at Sprucefield.

Risk, however, is relative. That idea needs to gain a lot more currency to break through what seems at present to be an impasse.

Not that the idea of absolutism is too far from the thinking of the Northern Ireland Department of Health. Despite indications that the vaccination programme is already having a positive impact on the number of over 80 year old Inpatients, the Chief Medical Officer was reported to believe that restrictions would stay in place until 2022. If vaccines are to be of little impact on restrictions, what will see an end to the confinement that is increasingly frustrating and damaging to the economy and personal sanity.

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Borderline ClusterF#£€!

The question is not whether or not there is a trade Agreement between the UK and EU in the first week of December. Rather it is a question of preparedness for either scenario.

This episode looks at the monumental scale of unpreparedness for any level of Trade Agreement, by just about everyone – it isn’t just the UK Govt struggling with the reality of it all. There has been some general media reporting on this in recent weeks, but print and broadcast media sometimes avoid specifics to save baffling the reader, listener, or viewer.

On CapX the broad shape of what the British Government is trying desperately to avoid calling a border is emerging, and the contradictions between intent, policy and implementation laid bare. This is the article mentioned in the podcast.

The Devil, however, is in the detail, and this episode explains the current hell into which hauliers are staring.

The point is made that this is not just about Northern Ireland and trade with the rest of the UK. The underlying software needed to make trade work smoothly post-transition, is for all trade with the EU.

Of course in the Withdrawal Agreement (and Protocol) Northern Ireland is for customs purposes within the UK Customs territory, we are told. Goods will move seamlessly, unfettered, we are told. The detail suggests otherwise.

The Protocol arrangements means the cost of doing business for Northern Ireland traders, the ability to complete as equals within the UK Internal Market, will be much reduced. Those added costs will also weaken competitiveness in other markets too, such as in the Republic of Ireland and rest of the EU. Best of both worlds? Hardly.

Worse, there is a whole different level of complexity for the smaller trader, that might in time be resolved by the tech wizards of the big multiples and major manufacturers well used to managing complex logistical processes. For now no-one has a close where or what will be required for the 1st January, and that is regardless of any trade agreement, because not matter the scale or nature of the agreement there is a bureaucrat in Brussels who will insist on the paperwork.

In the wake of Covid, NI business needs this debacle like a hole in the head.

In the final analysis the only certainty is that it will be the Northern Ireland consumer who will ultimately pay.

Groundhog Days.

When the podcast below was recorded it felt like groundhog day, another moment in a long series of stories on repeat.

Once again renewable energy had hit the headlines. This time, because the funding is covered outside the Stormont budget, the schemes don’t seem to have managed the level of public interest and general outrage that RHI attracted.

Also in the news are voices expressing concern about the NI Protocol on Northern Ireland business (particularly retail) and on the consumer. Oddly these same voices supported Theresa May’s backstop, which entailed many of the same pitfalls and could have been far more damaging arguably. The issue of the outworking of the Protocol will be a major point on the next podcast as the deadline date for end of transition looms in less than two months.

Finally, in the outworking of the NI Executive response to Covid, policy implementation neither seems fully ‘thought-through’, nor is there much substance beyond the immediate headline number and sounds of panic from the Health Department. How can messaging be clear? Consequences?

As we are now almost out of the four-week period of tighter restrictions, which will end on 13th November, the same underlying fault-lines in the way in which decisions are being made is apparent. The general sense is that decisions are not being made on any particular science.

It isn’t obvious that there are any significant data sets and evaluations eminating from the Department of Health that might be relied upon.

Looking at the daily published NISRA data there are significant gaps in understanding what they mean, and little by way of explanation from the Department that assists public confidence in the numbers. The one big area in which there is a complete lack of transparency, beyond the appalling headline number, is the incidents of Covid outbreaks in the country’s Care Homes – as of 9 November twice the level of the first wave earlier this year. That needs a blog post all of its own.

More on that later. For now, another groundhog day.

 

Was Government messaging wrong, or just rubbish?

It is reasonable to presume that Brandon Lewis’s response to the ‘Urgent Question’ from Sir Bob Neill in the House of Commons was pre-prepared. It used a very specific phraseology, and an example of something done before was even on hand. It may not be a good example, but it was there and hardly an off-the-cuff recollection.

A planted question is a common means for governments to gain an opportunity to make a pre-prepared response. It is hard to believe this particular government would cue-up Sir Bob, viewed as an arch pro-EU lawyer, to ask a question on the EU. That the minister’s response was on hand does, however, raise a number of questions, not least “why”?

Read more… »

Health status, Executive stasis, and Boris’s strategic manoeuvres on Brexit.

Despite many ‘Reports’ on Health reform (2011, 2014, 2016) Northern Ireland has seen little critical or  cultural change in frontline delivery of services. While the easy option for politicians is to demand and even offer more money, the current situation has arisen because of budgetary decisions taken in 2014. If it was pay or XX in 2014 it will still be pay or XX in 2019. Though our politicians are reluctant to talk about XX.

While it might seen that a new Executive is a possibility in the New Year, there doesn’t appear to be any public confidence that an Executive would have the will (or ability) to undertake difficult decisions that will be required on Health, or any of the other issues piled up on Ministerial in-trays. Last time there were major and difficult decisions to be made, Sinn Fein insisted they be sent back to Westminster.

It is Welfare Reform and the consequential impact on welfare recipients that might mean Sinn Fein needs an Assembly far more than any other Party. Yet despite the pressures on Sinn Fein there is a worrying trend in Stormont “negotiations” that enough is agreed to keep the show on the road while setting the path for the next crisis. Everyone does everything to keep Sinn Fein on board, while it does everything it can to wreck the train.

Finally, Boris’s plans for trade arrangements between GB and NI are an enigma – somewhere between what people read in the Withdrawal Agreement pages and believe to be likely, and then Boris’s view that that is all tosh. No idea, and all to some extent subject to what is decided between now and probably July in respect of a trade agreement between the UK and EU. With NI inside the UK customs union (the major difference between backstop and frontstop) there has been a shift in the dynamic of negotiation that isn’t much discussed.

All this in a handy 20 minutes or so, on this latest PoliticalOD podcast.

Back in the New Year. Have a great break. Merry Christmas.

Continuity at provisional Remain

The latest PoliticalOD podcast is a week behind our initial schedule. Waiting a week was a good idea  to see how the electoral contests would like up. Though of course there is a risk that until all nomination papers are submitted and the campaigns are fully on ‘go’ some of the comments may quickly fall out of date.

That said, the broad sweep here should stand up. Even if the opening comment on Upper Bann might quickly age, the proposition that this is likely a DUP hold would need a political earthquake to shake.

Neither the SDLP nor UUP have made decisions that reflect well on their respective leaderships, with strategies that are neither coherent or face up to the political realities. The most they should have done is set out a stall for a future Assembly election (whenever), avoid the dangers a First Past The Post election brings for smaller parties, and been brave enough to stick to their own Party interests. Brexit was so 2017, they should have been looking ahead, not backwards.

Many of the seats where Greens and SDLP and Sinn Fein are nobly standing down are little more than a gesture, a willingness to beat the DUP, and a hope to be more transfer friendly among each other when it comes to the Assembly.

The announcement by the Greens not to stand any candidates in Belfast would seem to be a calculation that few Unionists would transfer to them anyway – or that such votes are worth discounting in the future. It marks an unwelcome point where virtually the entire political landscape can be painted green or orange. Not quite what the Good Friday Agreement anticipated, and not entirely clear what that means for the future.

Whatever is happening locally, the likelihood of influence on the Brexit debate nationally is notional should Boris win, and irrelevant if Corbyn wins. Whatever happens the Commons timetable before the 31st January is tight, and we’ll either have an unscrutinised Withdrawal Bill rushed through Parliament, or at least a year of more Brexit dither although that might be the least of the country’s worries at that stage.

if a week is a long time in politics, the next five weeks may feel like a lifetime…

We’re learning that it is hard to update a podcast so check @thedissenter and @3000Versts for comments on stuff before our next podcast.

The numbers matter

Recent days has seen analysis of the recent Local Elections in Northern Ireland almost exclusively in outlined in terms of percentages. Statistical summaries. These focused on percentage shares of the vote, and the number of seats gained/lost by the parties.

The general view is that this was an election where the centre ‘broke through’. This was the ‘Other’ face of Northern Ireland politics.

Looking at the numbers and that isn’t quite the whole story. Read more… »