September 07, 2017
Northern Ireland and Brexit - a diplomatic nightmare
A diplomatic incident about Northern Ireland showed how easy a derailment could happen between Ireland and the UK. The UK Foreign Office jumped the gun quickly on remarks of the Irish foreign minister Simon Conveney, who said "there can be no British-only direct rule". Was this just a blunder or a calculated remark? The UK obviously did not think it was innocent, and shot back saying in a statement they never agreed to arrangements such as a joint authority.
To give a bit of a context to our readers: Northern Ireland’s government collapsed in January and there is pressure from all sides for Sinn Fein and DUP to overcome their differences, as otherwise British direct rule returns. Sinn Féin claimed in January that the alternative to devolution was not direct rule but "a form of joint authority". This goes back to an agreement between Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair in 2006, stating that if there is no government London and Dublin would use their “joint stewardship of the [peace] process” to develop "British-Irish partnership arrangements along the functions and functions of the Belfast Agreement". DUP voters, on the other hand, would have no problem with a British only rule.
The British government’s hasty reaction might be linked to its dependence on the DUP. There are also questions about Coveney’s motivation to state something like this. Dublin could be siding with Brussels to use Northern Ireland as a Brexit bargaining chip, writes Newton Emerson. It might be political, to prepare the ground for a Fine-Gael/Sinn Fein coalition as some in the DUP suspect. Or it could be just a blunder. The point remains that Brexit and Northern Ireland are an explosive mix for the relationship between Ireland and the UK.