Northern Ireland remains an obvious sticking point after yesterday’s agreement

Labour Party

While Brexit Secretary, David Davis, grinned like a Cheshire cat following the announcement of yesterday’s agreement with Brussels on the transitional proceedings for Brexit, one fact remained: The uncertainty over Northern Ireland.

Although both sides seemed happy to announce the progress which had been agreed upon, the lack of agreement over the border issues between Northern Ireland and Ireland was the elephant in the room. This is a sticking point which all sides know only too well cannot simply be kicked into the long grass. Any future talks beyond what was agreed yesterday won’t progress unless this issue can be resolved.

Writing about yesterday’s developments, The Guardian’s editorial juxtaposed two significant European meetings which took place yesterday. The first concerned the joint position of EU foreign ministers in the wake of the Skripal poisoning and its editorial said it was: “sensible and constructive”. The second meeting was, concerned the Brexit negotiations and it said it was: “foolish and destructive”. The editorial continued: “Taken together the meetings illustrate the international wound the modern Britain is inflicting on itself and on Europe because of the Brexit vote.”

While some will be relieved that, seemingly, there is some progress, significant issues which cannot be underestimated remain: The question of the border in Northern Ireland is an obvious problem, already discussed above, which was no closer to being resolved. The other problem is the question of Britain being a reliable ally to its European neighbours, which was central to the Guardian’s argument.

As the Guardian pointed out Britain requires support from its allies more so now (after the Skripal poisoning) than it has for a long time. But as we embark on the road to Brexit, the concern turns to how Britain has weakened its own position in terms of its international strategic relationships.

The relationship between allies, by their very nature is dependent on responsibilities and trust which must be shared and the relationships equal, but as the Guardian states: “The principle of all for one and one for all is a reciprocal principle. That’s why Brexit is such a threat not just to Britain itself, but also to Europe’s essential and shared security interests.”

Draft withdrawal agreement shows the government is gambling with Britain’s future

Labour Party

Today’s publication of the legal agreement that could underpin the UK’s withdrawal from the EU confirms that the government’s cake-and-eat-it strategy is as alive and well as ever.

Despite the last-minute fudge agreed by the UK and the EU in December, today’s document makes clear that the government’s preferred strategy for the border in Northern Ireland is pie in the sky. Indeed, the only workable solution appears to involve keeping Northern Ireland in the customs union; something which Theresa May has consistently ruled out.

With only six months until the deal needs to be ratified, we’re yet to see any evidence that the government’s proposed plan to withdraw from the single market whilst simultaneously avoiding a hard border is a workable solution. Though the EU is open to this in principle, the UK has so far failed to produce any proposals that would solve the problem.

Instead, today’s document seeks to establish a “common regulatory area” in Ireland that covers a range of areas such as agriculture, energy and VAT rules, amongst others. It also grants the European Court of Justice (ECJ) jurisdiction over Northern Ireland and proposes customs arrangements that are strikingly similar to the existing customs union, thereby breaking Theresa May’s red lines on Brexit.

The prime minister has defiantly rejected the EU’s proposal but is yet to offer an alternative vision for how the border could work in practice post-Brexit.

So what now? Leaked correspondence from Boris Johnson to Theresa May shows the Tories are still prepared to gamble with Britain’s peace and prosperity by even contemplating a hard Brexit. This would be catastrophic for the future of the country and put jobs, standards and stability at risk.

Peace is Northern Ireland should not be taken for granted and being part of the customs union is the only realistic way to preserve the Good Friday Agreement, which brought an end to 30 horrible years of bloodshed and sectarian conflict. That’s why Labour’s commitment to keeping the UK in the customs union, as Jeremy Corbyn outlined on Monday, is the only sensible basis on which to discuss Britain’s future with the EU.

But we shouldn’t stop there. The draft withdrawal agreement published today also outlines the terms of the so-called transition period. This would see Britain subject to all EU legislation without any decision-making powers, with no clear trajectory for what would happen next.

It would be an act of unbelievable recklessness to leave without knowing where we’re going at the end of the Brexit process. Moreover, it would be simply foolish to swap our existing deal for an inferior one. Unless or until the government can guarantee that Britain will get a better deal than our existing relationship with the EU by leaving, it would be an unquantifiable act of self-harm to do so.

EU negotiations facing further fragility

Labour Party

The Financial Times reports that the already fragile EU negotiations are in further jeopardy. Concerns have been raised after the European Union announced it was to publish the legal text of December’s Brexit divorce agreement which will stipulate unambiguously how it sees its future relationship with Northern Ireland i.e. how it would align with the Union’s single Market.

I’m sure we all recall the furore between Theresa May and the DUP’s Arlene Foster who four days before the meeting on the 8 December rejected language which was to be used in the Brexit Divorce meeting which would essentially see Northern Ireland remain under the EU’s regulatory orbit- and it was this which was wholly unacceptable to the DUP.

Admittedly May was in a rock and a hard place politically – to avert the walkout of the DUP (an alliance Theresa May rely on to ensure she has a parliamentary majority) some wording was hastily drawn up and vaguely agreed. However, it was as the FT article reminds us, somewhat of a fudge – the wording was deemed so ambiguous as to not have any real meaning and it is unlikely to be coherent enough to be replicated into a final legal document concerning the UK’s withdrawal.

The publication of the official legal text in the next few weeks could seriously hamper the situation domestically. But May will not be able to advance on the next stage of negotiations concerning the transitional period either unless the UK Government is prepared to fully accept that which was agreed on the 8 December – as we know this was a pre-condition to moving to the second stage.

The problem with the legal document which is set to be published imminently is that it will contain much of the detail, something that the UK Government has so far avoided where possible! This is such a delicate and fragile situation that it risks jeopardising many areas politically and May really must tread very carefully.

You can read the excellent full and detailed article here.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

It emerged over the weekend that David Cameron will be teaming up with Kenneth Clarke this week to make the case for Britain’s continued membership of the EU.

In a speech ahead of next week’s G8 meeting of world leaders in Northern Ireland, Cameron is planning to say that the country faces a battle for its economic future, involving major domestic reforms and greater foreign ambition.

He’s planning to support Britain’s membership of the EU, describing it as part of a “desire to shape the world” by sitting at the “top table” of major international institutions. And he will urge the country to nurture a “sense of opportunity” that was “lacking for too long”.

Cameron’s staunch defence of Britain’s EU membership, a month after Michael Gove and Philip Hammond said they would vote to leave now, will be reinforced by Clarke who will warn that Britain will be “reduced to watching from the sidelines” if it leaves the EU.

The prime minister will indicate his sympathies lie with Clarke and not with his friend Gove when he outlines how Britain can improve its standing in the world.

The prime minister plans on saying: “Membership of these organisations is not national vanity – it is in our national interest. The fact is that it is in international institutions that many of the rules of the game are set on trade, tax and regulation. When a country like ours is affected profoundly by those rules, I want us to have a say on them.”

It’s hard not to feel that Cameron has let this issue completely run away from him within his own party.  I agree with his assessment of the importance of continued membership of the EU, so I have to ask him why he and his party have put it in such jeopardy.

Last week there was much discussion of the state of gender equality as people marked the 100 year anniversary of the tragic death of Emily Wilding Davison.  A lot of the discussion centered on our failure as a nation to properly venerate important and influential women from our past.  In the Observer yesterday people wrote in with their observations about the lack of Blue Plaques to women, including the extraordinary revelation that the plaque on the house of Millicent Garrett Fawcett reads “Henry Fawcett … lived here with his wife and daughter, 1874-1884.”

David Cameron’s attack on the European Court of Human Rights is baseless

Labour Party

David Cameron has made the knee-jerk statement that the European Court of Human Rights should not make judgements on cases that have been dealt with by the courts in Britain.  He also asked for a better filtering system for cases that are tried in the court.

Cameron’s comments come after last weeks decision by the ECHR to stop the extradition of Abu Qatada to Jordan on the grounds that evidence at his trial may have been obtained through torture.  There have also been numerous mutterings from within the Tory party about the UK’s current relationship with the ECHR and many extraordinarily misinformed articles in the right-wing press.

Now the UK government is in a position to do something about their perceived problem as they have taken over the six monthly chairmanship of the Council of Europe, which oversees the ECHR.

This seems like another example of Cameron’s populist tendencies coming through.  The idea that the ECHR should not look at cases that have already been dealt with in Britain is absurd beyond belief.  That is exactly what the court is designed to do and has done effectively in the past.  We should not forget that it was the ECHR who ruled that the highly controversial interrogation methods used during the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the seventies were in breach of the Convention on Human Rights after the UK had dismissed the case.

I would also advise Mr Cameron to stop reading the Daily Mail and the Telegraph so much, as their anti-European bent leads to a great deal of misinformation being published in their pages.  Both papers made the extraordinary and unfounded claim that the British government is defeated in three out of every four cases brought against it in the ECHR.  Given the fact that, as published by the ECHR which you can read here, 84% of all cases brought to the court are deemed inadmissible, that 75% claimed by the Mail and Telegraph is probably more like 2%. 

The fact is that if Abu Qatada would have been tried using evidence obtained through torture then we are obligated not to send him to Jordan.  We can’t have a set of rules, but ignore it if the person in question is really awful.  That is not how free and open democracies work

ABORTION RIGHTS FOR WOMEN IN NORTHERN IRELAND

Women's Rights
 
Louise Hutchins, Abortion Rights Campaign
Louise Hutchins, Abortion Rights Campaign

I believe that women must have the right to choose and access safe, legal and free abortions throughout the United Kingdom. It is unjustifiable that the Abortion Act which covers England, Wales and Scotland has not yet been extended to Northern Ireland. This leaves women in Northern Ireland unable to access a basic service afforded to other women in the UK.

The Abortion Act 1967 was never extended to Northern Ireland, which means that women in Northern Ireland do not have the same access to abortion as women in the rest of the United Kingdom. The present situation, with women in Northern Ireland treated as second-class citizens is unjustifiable and has real and serious consequences: thousands of women are forced into motherhood, illegal abortion or debt each year because they do not have the same reproductive rights as women in other parts of the UK.

Hackney North’s MP Diane Abbot has tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM) 625 which calls on the Government to relieve this burden and provide funding for women in Northern Ireland to access NHS abortion services in Britain. I support this and hope you will ask your MP to support it too. I recently met with Louise Hutchins from the Abortion Rights campaign. I have met with Louise before and she is a livewire, full of energy. We regularly bump into each other at Women’s events. She told me all about the work the campaign has planned to give this bill every chance of passing. Abortion in Northern Ireland is unlawful in most circumstances – it is only lawful where there is a real and serious risk to the woman’s mental or physical health and the risk is permanent or long-term. Consequently most women from Northern Ireland have to travel to England to obtain a private abortion. Unlike other British women, they are not entitled to an abortion on the NHS. That is wrong and I hope Parliament will change it.
 
Abortion Rights are having a fundraiser Celebrating Obama’s scrapping of George Bush’s anti-abortion Global Gag Rule and International Women’s Day 2009. An evening of laughter and fun!
 
Friday 27th February 2009,doors open 8pm, show starts 8.30pm The Comedy Pub, 7 Oxendon Street, London SW1Y 4EE 
Tickets £10 including free raffle ticket. Please book online at Soho Comedy Club