The escape hatch

There are some who argue that disruptive change is exactly what Northern Ireland needs, and I have sympathy for their position. It does sometimes seem that politics in NI is incurably dysfunctional, and this perception is the same one that motivates support for Direct Rule among Unionism. But just as Direct Rule from London has been ruled out as lacking balance, so must Direct Rule from Dublin. That leaves a unitary state, asymmetric devolution, and (con)federalism as the possible models of a new Irish state. So let’s give the options a test drive. Continue reading...


The Overton Conveyor

Events appear to be moving simultaneously at glacial speed, but also faster than it is possible to keep up with. It might then be useful to separate the two classes of event. In the glacial category: negotiations. In the whirlwind category: everything else. It is precisely because negotiations are going nowhere that all the pent-up energy of politics is being diverted elsewhere, like a blocked pipe springing leaks at every joint. The unstoppable force of Brexit meets the immovable object of political reality, and all else is laid waste. 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...

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 vast, terrifying vista of boundless possibility.

The slippery slope argument is a well-known logical fallacy for two reasons. Firstly, it is almost universally wrong. Secondly, it is almost universally believed. This is because human beings are innately loss-averse, preferring the certainty of the here and now (however imperfect) to the unknown possibilities of change. It is only when the here and… Continue reading The vast, terrifying vista of boundless possibility.

Surf and turf

As blogger David Allen Green has pointed out, whoever produces the first draft of a legal document has the advantage. While the EU has been criticised for its backstop-Brexit draft, the UK has conspicuously failed to produce any draft at all, and shows no signs of doing so. The final transition agreement is thus unlikely… Continue reading Surf and turf