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UK-EU Protocol deal stalls

Irish parties carry on an inconsequential song and dance in the background

27 January 2023

British foreign secretary James Cleverly with NI SoS Chris Heaton-Harris.

A much-hyped meeting on the Northern Ireland protocol on the 16th of January ended with a whimper.

European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefovi?, UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, and Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris met and issued a 3-line statement saying that "scoping work for potential solutions should continue in a constructive and collaborative spirit."

The impasse illustrates the continued difficulty facing the British elites as they want to continue the Brexit offensive against the workers while gaining free access to the European Union. Luckily a host of Irish actors conspired to offer entertainment.

The DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson went with an old favourite. He is ready to confront the unionist right and support an agreement as long as it passes 7 tests he has drawn up. In reality there is no universe in which Jeffrey confronts the right and the tests are meant to obscure the fact that the DUP will not join an Executive led by Sinn Féin.

More significant was the song and dance by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, with a supporting act from former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. The fact is that Leo is the main agent of the present situation. He abandoned a backstop espoused by the EU in favour of reassurances from Boris Johnson. Now that it has blown up in his face his negotiating position is that we have been intransigent with Britain and the unionists and we must make further concessions. Bertie Ahern chimes in, making it clear that the forelock tugging is on behalf of Irish capitalism as a whole.

The final act came from Sinn Féin. One aspect of their schtick is to continually pretend that the GFA involves steps towards a United Ireland and that Mary Lou McDonald is entitled to representation at Stormont meetings. That's not the case, and it gave British minister James Cleverly the opportunity to apply the toe of his boot to loud cheers from the unionists.  When it comes to policy on Brexit the Shinners had nothing to say, calling for any solution that would get Stormont up and running and pretending that it would deal with the overwhelming crises in public services. However, the prize for best one-liner went to Mary Lou for her claim that she has become ‘pen pals’ with King Charles.

All the Irish actors were unfortunate in the audience. The British are indifferent to Irish voices, only interested in winning a section of the hard right Brexiteers in order to cement a deal. When an agreement is reached only the unionists are likely to complain. Their dilemma is that, constantly complaining about British betrayal, what are they to do when the British strike a deal with Europe over their heads?

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