Belfast Telegraph

Tom Kelly: Northern Ireland citizens, trade bodies, businesses and farmers hung out to dry by May

Prime Minister Theresa May during her visit yesterday
Prime Minister Theresa May during her visit yesterday

By Tom Kelly

Watching the Prime Minister speak in Belfast, a song came into my head which seems to sum up her position on Brexit.

'We're busy doing nothing, working the whole day through. Trying to find lots of things not to do. We are busy going nowhere, isn't it just a crime'.

This seems to be the Government's strategy - filling time, finding lots of things not to do, then doing nothing and going nowhere.

Of course, Arlene Foster doesn't help. She talks about removing the toxicity of the backstop though her party introduced the toxicity about the backstop.

It's a simple truism, the Tory Right can never be placated. The ERG are the most cannibalistic political grouping in modern British politics. It didn't matter so much when they were tearing their own party apart but it matters now because Mrs May is sacrificing the economic fate of the United Kingdom to satisfy their insatiable appetite.

The Prime Minister can't be faulted for trying to sell her deal. She is to blame for the prevarication and getting impaled on the DUP hook.

According to the DUP, Mrs May needs to respect 'unionism' but in reality it's they who are showing contempt for people across the political spectrum.

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David Trimble won a lot of respect for understanding that the time had come for compromise when he signed the Good Friday Agreement. He should understand the same need for compromise now. The principle of consent is unaffected by the backstop and as May now confirms the backstop won't be removed.

Arch-conservatives love to 'Paddy' bash. They seem incapable of seeing the Irish Republic as others do - as pluralist, modern, diverse and confident.

A no-deal scenario is unthinkable and, yes, it would do huge damage to the Irish economy.

But it will also damage the British economy - the Nissan decision proves that.

Britain says it want to take back control but its own customs officials, fearful of unmanageable queues at ports and airports are already signalling that all EU goods could enter the UK unchecked for up to a year.

The infrastructure simply doesn't exist to deal with a whole-scale no-deal scenario. That's why remaining in a customs union, having close regulatory alignment and access to the single market remains the best option for the whole of the UK.

The DUP ruled out the EU-approved option of Northern Ireland having the best of both worlds - unfettered access to markets in the EU and UK. It didn't matter that this was just as bespoke a deal as the Good Friday Agreement was for the governance of Northern Ireland.

The DUP also ruled out part of an ERG proposal that could have protected some Northern Ireland agri-businesses.

They also rule out the idea of a mini referendum on the backstop within Northern Ireland.

The joint letter from the late Martin McGuinness and Arlene Foster in August 2016 spelt out in detail why Northern Ireland needed a bespoke arrangement post Brexit - an arrangement that looked like what the EU actually offered. An arrangement to protect the status quo - which is what the backstop is about.

Sinn Fein abnegated their political responsibility for Brexit saying Westminster has nothing to do with them.

Mary Lou McDonald, by her own words, labours under the misunderstanding that Ireland has two parliaments to justify her MPs not taking their seats.

But Ireland doesn't have two parliaments - it has one. The other is a non-functioning devolved UK regional assembly.

Northern Ireland citizens, trade bodies, businesses and farmers who supported the Withdrawal Deal have been hung out to dry by the Prime Minister and she offered has nothing new.

Mrs May knows the real threat to the Good Friday Agreement posed by Brexit has been the poison of identity politics - shoving more and more people into sectarian silos of green and orange.

She has contributed to this by fawning over the DUP.

None of this puts a penny in the purse or a loaf on the table of any household in Northern Ireland. As demonstrated by Theresa May, British political interests are using Irish divisions for their own ends. Meanwhile we are busy going nowhere and it's a crime.

Tom Kelly is a political commentator

Belfast Telegraph


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