The end of the first phase of Brexit negotiations is neither the restoring of Theresa May's fortunes nor an indication that the Irish situation is stable argues Lindsey German
The Tories are no doubt breathing a sigh of relief at the end of the first phase of the Brexit talks. On Monday, Theresa May was subject to yet another public humiliation as the DUP leader Arlene Foster forced her to reject a deal brokered by the EU and supported by the Irish government. This was both politically damaging, showing the armlock that the awful DUP has on this minority government, and damaging to the whole agreed Brexit process, which needed to succeed in its first stage by last Friday.
Cue a week of diplomacy coupled with a pre-dawn dash to Brussels by May on Friday to seal the deal with the European Commission. Now there is agreement on the Irish border, the rights of EU citizens, and the cost of Brexit, presently put at around £40billion. This brings an agreement before this week’s EU summit and allows movement on to the next stage of talks on trade.
The DUP claims that it is pleased there is no hard border in Irish Sea - i.e. between the mainland of Britain and Northern Ireland, but actually there is no hard border anywhere, either between north and south in Ireland or between Ireland and Britain.
In addition, the term 'full alignment' which is contained in the final agreement means sticking pretty close to the single market and customs union, something which effectively negates Brexit, and especially a hard Brexit. Soft Brexit now looks much more likely, as it also has become clear over the past week that neither May nor the EU27 really want a no deal exit, so further compromises will be happening.
But to see this as restoring May’s fortunes - as arch Blairite turned Tory Dan Hodges does - is pure fantasy. There are still major questions in the Tory party over the cost of leaving and the Irish deal. While Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are for the time being backing May, no one should regard this as meaning anything longer term. Meanwhile, in the wings, the figures of Farage and Rees-Mogg will batten on to any sign of a soft Brexit in order to rebuild support for the right in the face of establishment backsliding over the referendum result. The EU leaders have also made it clear that there are much choppier waters ahead when it comes to the actually considerably more difficult issues of trade.
Nor should we assume that the Irish situation is stable. Already May’s advisers are briefing the press that full signing clause means nothing - something designed to infuriate the Irish government. The DUP’s entirely unwelcome and unjustified role in parliamentary politics means there is a constant pull on the Tories to appease them - and given the history of Tory and Unionist politics, they don’t need much encouragement.
It is ironic that so much is made of EU membership and the Good Friday agreement as a means of protecting the North from a return to armed struggle when the main barrier to peace in the north has long been the intransigence of hardline unionism. Foster’s deal with May gives the DUP much too much control in British politics and we have not seen the last of the problems in this direction.
Amazingly, given all the talk about the need for a soft border (and there has usually been a soft border between the north and south of Ireland) there is very little about the need for another poll - this time on the Irish border itself. The Good Friday agreement has provision for such a border poll. Only this week a survey in Northern Ireland saw a slight majority for being in a united Ireland if this meant staying in the EU.
Maybe there could also be a poll here in Britain on whether we want to continue links with the DUP or whether here too a majority of people might think that now is the time for a united Ireland.
Labour has to go beyond the narrow arguments about Brexit to win support
If it looks like the Tory government will deliver a soft Brexit then it becomes harder for Labour to put a distinctive and clear position, especially when its main spokesperson, Keir Starmer, is so keen on keeping the policy as close to the remain position as he can. Labour’s strength is that, unlike the Tories, it actually has new ideas about how British society could be improved for the better, and positive demands for how jobs could be created and for a Brexit based on equality.
Jeremy Corbyn’s Geneva speech on Friday showed some of this potential. He talked about issues such as inequality, tax evasion, climate change, military intervention, migration and much more. There might be individual issues that people wouldn’t all agree on, or issues that might be given different priorities. But it was a very serious and wide-ranging speech which dealt with some of the most important issues and deserved to be widely reported and discussed.
Was it? Don’t hold your breath. It was either ignored, or at least one journalist accused him of talking about irrelevances when the real action was around Brexit. This reflects the very narrow political scope of what passes for debate in this country, as well as the establishment's obsession with the Brexit question. But Jeremy Corbyn came much closer to expressing the concerns of ordinary working people in that speech than the endless editorials and pompous opinion pieces which are supposed to guide our thinking.
Reality check: there are other things in life than Brexit.
Trump is conducting foreign policy for a domestic audience - and it’s dangerous
Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to move the US embassy there is a breach of international law and UN agreements, a deliberate provocation towards the Palestinian people, and a policy designed to antagonise millions of people worldwide. Even Trump’s close allies, the Saudis, who are moving towards closer alignment with Israel, are extremely worried about this development which puts a city regarded as holy by Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths at the centre of a new storm.
Western governments, including the British, have criticised Trump, who has responded with contempt. So far there have been substantial protests among the Palestinians, in Jordan, Yemen and across the Arab world. There have also been very big emergency protests in Britain and elsewhere, with 3000 outside the US embassy in London alone.
Trump must have known this would be the case, so what motivated him? Firstly, both he and Israeli prime minister Netanyahu are mired in serious scandals and political problems at home. This is a way of placating their own supporters while taking people’s minds off these domestic problems. Trump also sees this pledge as something of an easy win for him politically. He is keeping an election pledge - an almost unique experience for him, and playing to the Christian fundamentalist right which is part of his base of support.
He may also gamble that despite disquiet there will be little long-term opposition to his plans. Here he is making a mistake. And it is a dangerous mistake. Trump is only the latest in a long line of US presidents who have gambled on certain outcomes in the Middle East. They nearly all fail, often at great human cost. But they also have unforeseen consequences which are still being played out.
Opposition to Trump is widespread in Britain as we saw from demos earlier this year. There is talk of him visiting in February next year, which will occasion huge protests if true. The issues of war and Palestine have been pushed up the agenda by Trump, especially as he has adopted an increasingly belligerent stand for a domestic audience. It is welcome that Emily Thornberry has criticised the Jerusalem move. But every Labour MP has to see this as an issue which impacts on domestic politics here too - and on the possibilities of success for Labour.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
More articles from this author
- Born to rule over us? – weekly briefing
- Lip service to the left, but moves to the right - weekly briefing
- Do not be fooled: Trump is the problem
- Soleimani assassination is an act of war
- Past mistakes, future opportunities - weekly briefing
- What we should take from the election and what we do next
- Where do we go from here? – election briefing 13 December