The mechanics of a border poll

Even if a change is accepted in principle, it will often founder on the details. The principle of a united Cyprus has been accepted by both sides for decades, and yet still they cannot agree. The principle of a united Ireland is not yet accepted by both sides, so what chance have we of agreeing a radical change, or any change at all? If there is to be constitutional change, three things need to be done in sequence. Continue reading...


A handbag

Handbagging results in diminishing returns - Thatcher achieved a rollback in the form of the rebate, while Major and his successors achieved merely a standstill in the form of opt-outs. David Cameron's attempt to negotiate an even more favourable deal from the EU, one that had eluded both Thatcher and Major, was an exercise in milking the dry cow. Who now remembers the meagre drops that he extracted? Continue reading...

Biscuits and gravy

We have all heard the aphorism that Britain and America are two great nations divided by a common language. Gas, fall, biscuits, fanny packs. When we hear the accent we automatically run the words through the universal translator, and then hold them up to ridicule as appropriate. But we often forget that even though the Irish and the British are linguistically closer to each other than to their transatlantic cousins, there are still entries in the dictionary, particularly in the ethnopolitical section, that remain false friends. Continue reading...

Squaring the backstop circle

Complaints that the UK has resiled on its commitments are somewhat overblown. In most democracies, a deal is not a deal until it has been ratified, and the UK Parliament reserves the right to overrule the executive. The real problem is that, nearly three years after the referendum, Parliament still has no idea what price it is willing to pay for the thing that it never really wanted. The furore over the backstop is merely a symptom of this contradiction. Continue reading...

Preface (the Commonwealth of NI)

This is the second of a (very!) occasional series of posts providing background notes for the Basic Law of the Commonwealth of Northern Ireland. In this post we will walk through the preface, which introduces some basic principles and sets out a declaration of intent. Preface We, the people of Northern Ireland, believe: that no… Continue reading Preface (the Commonwealth of NI)

The nightmare scenario

Both the British and Irish Governments have this week warned their people of the dangers (however seemingly remote) of a no-deal Brexit. No doubt there have been junior staff on both sides beavering away in basements to plan for the possibility, whether or not their superiors took them seriously. And the probability of those contingency… Continue reading The nightmare scenario

The Rorschach Test

I argued in an earlier piece that the word "Unionism" should be handled with extreme care, because it has become overloaded with far too many overlapping yet inconsistent meanings. For slightly different reasons, we should also avoid using the phrase "United Ireland". "Unionism" refers to a collection of existing things that can, with effort, be… Continue reading The Rorschach Test