by Frank Schnittger
Fri Mar 8th, 2019 at 09:18:55 PM EST
After the debacle of David Davis's no show in Brussels, Dominic Raab's token appearance as a Brexiteer Brexit secretary not actually in charge of any negotiation, and Stephan Barkley's convincing impersonation of a total non-entity in the role, the UK badly needed a heavyweight negotiator to do some heavy lifting in Brussels. Enter, stage left, Geoffrey Cox, a Queen's Counsel recently appointed attorney general, to cast his legal eye over proceedings.
It is not going well. According to Bloomberg, Cox's flamboyant style is not going down well in Brussels, but at least his Commons reference to looking inside Cox's codpiece to check everything is still in full working order provided some much needed light relief. He caused consternation and incredulity in Brussels and in Ireland by his claim that the Backstop could breach human rights law and EU briefings on the progress of the talks have been uniformly dismissive and gloomy.
In what seems like utter frustration, the EU is offering to go back to their original proposal of a N. Ireland only backstop. It was Theresa May who insisted it should apply to all of the UK - at the insistence of the DUP - to avoid a border down the Irish sea. Many in the EU were actually concerned at giving such a huge concession to the UK - cost free access to the Customs Union when Norway pays dearly for the privilege of access to the Single Market. The UK were actually using the border issue as a lever to prize open continued access to the Customs Union for free - but as usual, the Brexiteers were too stupid to recognise a gift horse when they were offered it.
For the uninitiated, a codpiece is a medieval item of clothing used to cover and/or accentuate the mail genitalia. As one senior Tory ERG member observed:
"It is said codpieces were developed either to facilitate greater freedom of movement from highly restrictive hosiery or to hide venereal disease," one senior Tory Eurosceptic observed to me. "I sincerely hope Cox's is more of the former than the latter!"
In the meantime, Her Majesty's government is doing its level best to screw up community relations in Northern Ireland even further.
Having a mediocre, gaffe-prone, secretary of state responsible for Northern Ireland would be precarious at the best of times. That responsibility for Northern Ireland has been left in the hands of Karen Bradley at this crucial moment is truly reckless.
The potential for lasting damage to the North's peace process through ministerial incompetence from London has been ever present since Stormont was suspended. This week that risk became a reality.
It was shocking to hear Bradley tell the House of Commons that the killings by the military and police were not crimes but that they were all "people acting under orders and fulfilling their duty in a dignified and appropriate way".
It is difficult to understate how crass and destructive Bradley's comments were. They were, of course, insensitive to the families of those killed in such incidents. They were damaging to the delicate task of dealing with the legacy of the Troubles. Her contribution also again exposed her lack of knowledge or understanding of the complexity of Northern Ireland's troubled history and its present-day politics.
It was no coincidence that her remarks were uttered in response to a question from a Democratic Unionist Party MP, Emma Little-Pengelly. Such is the effort and instinct of the current Tory government to lean towards the DUP and its narrative, even on legacy issues, that it seems they will say anything to assuage the DUP irrespective of the harm done to the British government's capacity, limited as it was, to be a broker across the North's divide.
Bradley's remarks will have consequences which will manifest themselves immediately and in the medium term. What she had to say will be deployed repeatedly in both the political and legal realms to resist prosecutions for any of the crimes and collusion committed by members of the British forces during their long dirty war in Northern Ireland.
Even if Bradley's remarks as secretary of state don't operate to stop such prosecutions, they will be referenced repeatedly before juries by defence counsel in any such cases to suggest official government scepticism of the appropriateness of putting anyone on trial for those crimes.
As the official voice of government in Northern Ireland, speaking in parliament itself, Bradley placed a substantial load on the scales against the prospect of successfully prosecuting any security officer for murder or manslaughter in Northern Ireland, irrespective of the circumstances in which they killed.
Her remarks came in the context of a decision, due soon, as to whether British soldiers will be prosecuted for shooting and killing entirely innocent unarmed civilians and in a week when British Intelligence was implicated in plotting a massacre at a Catholic School.
An Irish Times opinion poll in Northern Ireland has found that:
Two-thirds of all voters (67 per cent) say the DUP is doing a bad job of representing Northern Ireland at Westminster, while 69 per cent of people - including 57 per cent of those from a Protestant background - are dissatisfied with DUP leader Arlene Foster.
Strikingly, the poll shows that in the event of a hard Brexit, more voters would favour checks on goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland than would favour checks on the Border.
Almost half of all voters (48 per cent) disagree with Northern Ireland leaving the EU on the same terms as the UK if it means border checks in Ireland. But 59 per cent say they want a special arrangement for Northern Ireland for no checks on the Border - even if it means some checks on goods travelling between Great Britain and the North.
But by far the biggest majority (67 per cent) is in support of a very soft Brexit where the UK stays in the EU single market and the customs union to avoid the need for checks anywhere.
Northern voters are divided on whether there should be another Brexit referendum; but if there was one, they would vote overwhelmingly (59 per cent) to remain in the EU.
It must be remembered that Northern Ireland hasn't had a devolved government in more than two years - after relations between the DUP and Sinn Fein broke down after years of perceived insults and Arlene Foster's refusal to take any responsibility for her involved in the Renewable Heat Incentive Scandal. Brexit has now opened the rift into a chasm and yet there is no ongoing process trying to resolve matters.
Sinn Fein's 7 MP's don't take their seats in Westminister, the SDLP is trying to save itself from redundancy by merging with Fianna Fail, and Northern Ireland is about to lose its three Members of the European Parliament. It was therefore a bit of a master stroke by Leo Varadker to offer Mark Durkin, former leader of the SDLP, a nomination to represent Fine Gael in the Dublin Constituency. At least the people of N. Ireland may have one representative, other than the DUP, representing them somewhere.