Ireland has just saved the UK from the madness of a hard Brexit

Fintan O’Toole writes: Let’s not understate the import of what Ireland has just achieved. It has not just secured an outcome that minimises the damage of Brexit on this island. It has radically altered the trajectory of Brexit itself, pushing that crazy careering vehicle away from its path towards the cliff edge.

This saga has taken many strange turns, but this is the strangest of all: after one of the most fraught fortnights in the recent history of Anglo-Irish relations, Ireland has just done Britain a favour of historic dimensions. It has saved it from the madness of a hard Brexit. There is a great irony here: the problem that the Brexiteers most relentlessly ignored has come to determine the entire shape of their project. By standing firm against their attempts to bully, cajole and blame it, Ireland has shifted Brexit towards a soft outcome. It is now far more likely that Britain will stay in the customs union and the single market. It is also more likely that Brexit will not in fact happen.

Essentially what this extraordinary deal does is to reverse engineer Brexit as a whole from one single component – the need to avoid a hard Irish border. It follows the Sherlock Holmes principle: eliminate the impossible and whatever remains, however improbable, must be the solution. The Irish Government, by taking a firm stance and retaining the rock solid support of the rest of the EU, made the hard border the defining impossibility. Working back from that, the Brexit project now has to embrace what seemed, even last Monday, highly improbable: the necessity, at a minimum, for the entire UK to mirror the rules of the customs union and the single market after it leaves the EU. And this in turn raises the biggest question of all: if the UK is going to mirror the customs union and the single market, why go to the considerable bother of leaving the EU in the first place? [Continue reading…]

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Not much remains of Theresa May’s red lines after the Brexit deal

Dan Roberts writes: If the EU referendum was the moment the British electorate clashed with the establishment, 8 December 2017 was the day that the legal and economic consequences collided with its political promises. The joint divorce agreement hammered out in the intervening 528 days makes clear that little remains of the many red lines set out by Theresa May in her Lancaster House speech or party conference address of 2016.

The first, and biggest, concession is buried in paragraph 49 of the 15-page report published early on Friday morning. Its implications will be anything but quiet in the weeks to come, for it undermines the prime minister’s previous insistence that Britain will be leaving the single market.

It states clearly: “In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the internal market and the customs union.” In other words, the UK may not be a member of the single market, or have any direct ability to shape its rules in future, but it could yet have to play by them in perpetuity.

Much will be made of the “in the absence of agreed solutions” caveat, yet what it means in practice is that the UK hopes to flesh out this pledge through a wider free trade agreement with the EU. If the other 27 members were reluctant to allow any wriggle room in the first phase of talks, they are even less likely to budge now that this principle is established as a back-stop.

When the agreement was first drafted on Monday, there was much concern that the promise of maintaining regulatory “alignment” might only apply to Northern Ireland, but the Democratic Unionist party has succeeded in removing any ambiguity and forced Downing Street to spell out that alignment stretches right across the Irish sea. [Continue reading…]

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Irish warn Theresa May: Change course or risk Brexit chaos

The Observer reports: Ireland’s European commissioner has urged Theresa May to change her Brexit plans dramatically to prevent a mounting crisis over the Irish border from derailing her hopes of an EU trade deal.

The threat of a hard Irish border has emerged as the major obstacle to the prime minister’s aim of securing the green light for Brexit trade talks at a crucial summit only weeks away. She has effectively been handed just days to give stronger guarantees over the issue.

Phil Hogan, the EU’s agriculture commissioner, told the Observer that it was a “very simple fact” that remaining inside the single market and customs union, or allowing Northern Ireland to do so, would end the standoff.

Hogan warned there was “blind faith” from some UK ministers that Britain would secure a comprehensive Brexit free trade deal. He warned that Ireland would “continue to play tough to the end” over its threat to veto trade talks until it had guarantees over the border.

“If the UK or Northern Ireland remained in the EU customs union, or better still the single market, there would be no border issue,” he said. “That’s a very simple fact. I continue to be amazed at the blind faith that some in London place in theoretical future free trade agreements. First, the best possible FTA with the EU will fall far short of the benefits of being in the single market. This fact is simply not understood in the UK. Most real costs to cross-border business today are not tariffs – they are about standards, about customs procedures, about red tape. These are solved by the single market, but not in an FTA.”

The Irish government wants a written guarantee that there will be no hard border with Northern Ireland, something Dublin believes can only be achieved, in effect, by keeping the region within the single market and customs union. However, the Democratic Unionist party, whose support is propping up May’s government, warned on Saturday it would never accept a post-Brexit deal that would effectively see a customs border pushed back to the Irish Sea. May has repeatedly made clear Britain will leave the single market and customs union. [Continue reading…]

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‘Leadership means knowing when it is time for change,’ says Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams

Reuters reports: Gerry Adams, a pivotal figure in the political life of Ireland for almost 50 years, said Saturday that he would step down as leader of Sinn Fein, the main Irish Republican party, after more than three decades.

Reviled by many as the face of the Irish Republican Army during its campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland, Mr. Adams reinvented himself as a peacemaker in the troubled region and then as a populist opposition member of the Irish Parliament.

At a packed party conference in Dublin, Mr. Adams said that he would be replaced as its president at its next annual gathering and that he would not run for re-election to Parliament.

“Leadership means knowing when it is time for change,” he said in an emotional speech. “That time is now.”

Mr. Adams stayed on stage as the 2,500-strong crowd, some in tears, gave him a standing ovation and sang a traditional Irish song about the road home.

Mr. Adams will almost certainly be succeeded by someone with no direct involvement in the decades of conflict in Northern Ireland, a prospect that would make Sinn Fein a more palatable coalition partner in the Irish Republic, where it has never been in power.

Sinn Fein’s deputy leader, Mary Lou McDonald, an English literature graduate from Trinity College Dublin who has been at the forefront of a new breed of politicians transforming the party’s image, is the clear favorite to take over. [Continue reading…]

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Ireland will block progress of Brexit talks without border guarantee

The Guardian reports: Ireland’s prime minister, Leo Varadkar, issued a stark warning that the progress of the Brexit negotiations was at great risk of even further delay, during a day of stinging public rebukes for Theresa May as she met sceptical EU leaders at a Swedish summit.

The Irish taoiseach emerged from a frosty bilateral meeting with May at the European social summit and said: “I can’t say in any honesty that it’s close – on the Irish issue or on the financial settlement.”

Varadkar said he would not be prepared to back progress of the Brexit negotiations to trade talks at the summit in December without a formal written guarantee there would be no hard border in Ireland. Britain, he said, “wants a divorce, but an open relationship the day after”.

At the summit in Gothenburg, the president of the European council, Donald Tusk, gave the UK government an ultimatum that progress needed to be made on the Irish border and the financial settlement. Tusk also hit back at suggestions by the Brexit secretary, David Davis, that the UK needed to see more compromise from Brussels: “I appreciate Mr Davis’s English sense of humour.” [Continue reading…]

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‘Prejudice has no hold in this Republic.’ How long before that can be said in America?

Forget about Donald Trump’s uncountable failings as a human being, what he represents more than anything else is the past — his support derives almost wholly from those who desperately cling to the past, unwilling to accept and embrace the world in which we do indeed now all live.

America would do well to see in Ireland a representation of the future this country will enjoy once it musters courage to advance all the way to the present.

Scott Simon: Ireland’s center-right Fine Gael Party has elected Leo Varadkar as its leader and therefore next prime minister. He’ll be Ireland’s youngest leader at 38. He’s the son of an Irish nurse and a doctor from Mumbai. He told the party conference, when my father traveled 5,000 miles to build a new home in Ireland, I doubt he ever dreamed his son would grow up to be its leader.

Mr. Varadkar is also gay. He was a doctor like his father before entering politics and was elected to Parliament, then minister of health. Leo Varadkar is considered a free market economic conservative who says, I want to dedicate ourselves to building a republic of opportunity. The next prime minister of Ireland is a 38-year-old Indian gay conservative. Only in America – oh, wait.

 

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In a unified Ireland, the north could automatically join the EU

The Guardian reports: European leaders may be preparing to recognise a united Ireland, in a declaration that would pave the way for the north to swiftly rejoin the European Union. At their first Brexit summit on Saturday, the EU’s 27 leaders are expected to discuss a text stating that if Ireland unified, the north would automatically become part of the EU.

The inclusion of the text is a victory for the Irish government, which had pressed for the inclusion of a “GDR clause”, a reference to the integration of the former east German state into the European Community after the fall of the Berlin wall. The declaration is bound to raise fears that Brexit could trigger the unravelling of the UK, although there is no majority in Northern Ireland for unification.

EU diplomats are braced for a fierce reaction from the UK, given the angry tabloid headlines that followed speculation about the status of Gibraltar. After lobbying from Madrid, the EU agreed that the Spanish government would be able to exclude the Rock from any EU-UK trade agreement if it was not satisfied with the status of the territory.

The Irish clause is informed by the Good Friday peace agreement, which states that north and south of Ireland have a right to unify if a majority agree north of the border. Enda Kenny, the taoiseach, has argued that it is important for the north of Ireland to have “ease of access” to rejoin the EU if reunification were to occur. [Continue reading…]

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Theresa May to rule out return of border checks between UK and Ireland

The Guardian reports: Theresa May will reassure the first minister of Northern Ireland that there will be no return to border checks for people entering the UK from the Republic of Ireland despite Britain’s vote to leave the EU.

The prime minister will make the pledge to Arlene Foster during a visit to Belfast on Monday, during which she will also promise to engage with the region’s devolved administration in preparation for Brexit negotiations.

Speaking ahead of the trip that completes a tour of all four parts of the UK within the first two weeks of her premiership, May said: “I made clear when I became prime minister that I place particular value on the precious bonds between the nations of the United Kingdom.

“I want to assure the people of Northern Ireland that I will lead a government [that] works for everyone across all parts of the United Kingdom, and that Northern Ireland is a special and valued part of that union.”

May said she wanted to underline her commitment to the Belfast agreement, arguing that “peace and stability in Northern Ireland will always be of the highest priority for my government”.

She added: “I have been clear that we will make a success of the UK’s departure from the European Union. That means it must work for Northern Ireland too, including in relation to the border with the Republic. We will engage with all of Northern Ireland’s political parties as we prepare for that negotiation.”

It is understood that May will support the position of the Irish prime minister, Enda Kenny, that there will be no “hard border” between the two countries, which have a common travel area. [Continue reading…]

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Ireland could see ‘reunification referendum’ says opposition leader

Press Association reports: The leader of Ireland’s main opposition party said he hopes Brexit will move Ireland closer to reunification.

Micheál Martin said a reunification referendum should be called if it becomes clear a majority want to see an end to Irish partition over the UK decision to leave the EU.

The Fianna Fáil leader added that Northern Ireland’s 56% majority vote to remain within the bloc could be a defining moment for the region. He made his remarks delivering the annual John Hume lecture at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co Donegal.

“It may very well be that the decision of Northern Ireland to oppose the English-driven anti-EU UK majority is a defining moment in Northern politics,” he said.

“The remain vote may show people the need to rethink current arrangements. I hope it moves us towards majority support for unification, and if it does we should trigger a reunification referendum.

“However, at this moment the only evidence we have is that the majority of people in Northern Ireland want to maintain open borders and a single market with this jurisdiction, and beyond that with the rest of Europe.” [Continue reading…]

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Why the Irish political elite is terrified of Syriza

Fintan O’Toole writes: Irish 10-year bond interest rates were trading at under 1.1 per cent at the beginning of this week, while Greek 10-year bond interest rates are close to 9 per cent. There’s a strong financial incentive for Ireland to place as much distance between itself and Greece as it possibly can, all the more so because it is hoping to replace some of its expensive IMF loans with cheaper money raised on those international markets.

But beyond this, there is a deeper terror — the fear that Syriza might actually succeed. The strategy adopted by both the governments that have been in office since 2008 has been one of strict obedience to the demands of its lenders. Everything has been sacrificed — up to and including national sovereignty during the so-called bailout by the Troika — in order to place Ireland as the Eurozone’s exemplary pupil.

There has been a mutual interest at work here. Angela Merkel and the Eurozone leadership need a success story in order to prove that the dual policy of socialising private debt and imposing austerity is both legitimate and effective. The Irish government needs to be able to show its own electorate and international lenders that it is indeed a great success, that the imposition of so much private debt on citizens has made both moral and economic sense.

Hence, Ireland does what it is told and gets in return the gold star for diligence, effort and perseverance. Just last week, the IMF’s Christine Lagarde told The Irish Times that Ireland has “set standards” for other indebted nations to follow — Greece was hardly far from her mind.

If Syriza succeeds in getting major concessions on debt, this whole strategy will be exposed as folly. The Irish political and technocratic elite is deeply invested in an essentially religious narrative: Ireland sinned, Ireland confessed, Ireland did penance, Ireland has been forgiven, Ireland will be rewarded. But if Greece stops doing penance and is nonetheless rewarded, this begins to look like what it almost certainly is — a rather childish view of how power works in the world. [Continue reading…]

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Irish FM warns Israel against violent interception of Gaza flotilla

Haaretz reports:

As the second “Gaza Freedom Flotilla” gets ready to sail this week, Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore urged Israel to avoid any repeat of last year’s actions against the convoy, Irish media reported Sunday.

“Israel must exercise all possible restraint and avoid any use of military force if attempting to uphold their naval blockade,” Gilmore, who also holds the post of trade minister, said after meeting with Israeli Ambassador to Dublin Boaz Moda.

“In particular, I would expect that any interception of ships is conducted in a peaceful manner and does not endanger the safety of our citizens or other participants,” he added, reiterating the country’s position that the Gaza blockade was “unjust and counterproductive” and that the violence that marked last year’s flotilla venture was “completely unacceptable and unjustified.”

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Remembering the dead and the Rachel Corrie‘s mission

Humanitarian aid workers, a firefighter, a politician, a taekwondo champion, a photojournalist, a student who hoped to become a doctornine Turkish men, mostly fathers who leave behind children and wives.

Even while their deaths are at the center of an international crisis that is rocking the state of Israel, these individual lives lost have scarcely gained attention — firstly because the Israeli government resisted revealing any information about who died and in what circumstances, and then, while maintaining a stranglehold on the facts, Israel’s propaganda machine has worked furiously to portray the victims as villains.

The world has largely viewed Israel’s efforts to conceal its brutality with a mixture of skepticism, contempt and outrage. Yet in one regard the hasbara has worked: it has effectively sold the idea that the organizers and participants in the Freedom Flotilla were intent on picking a fight. This was an act of provocation and where opinions differ is on whether the provocation was justified or not.

As MJ Rosenberg wrote:

The first thing you need to know about the Gaza flotilla disaster is that the intention of the activists on board the ships was to break the Israeli blockade. Delivering the embargoed goods was incidental.

In other words, the activists were like the civil rights demonstrators who sat down at segregated lunch counters throughout the South and refused to leave until they were served. Their goal was not really to get breakfast. It was to end segregation.

Yes and no.

The Freedom Flotilla is part of a movement that aims to end the siege of Gaza, but delivering humanitarian aid is not incidental.

Israeli officials and the Israeli public who see themselves as victims of a campaign designed to make Israel look bad, fail to recognize that what cements Muslim solidarity and what has turned Gaza into a global issue, is not a global conspiracy against Israel or against Jews; it is a heartfelt response to human suffering.

The Freedom Flotilla carried thousands of tons of aid, not to poke Israel in the eye, but to help those in need. The many thousands of people who engaged in fundraising, made donations, gathered together supplies and readied the ships — a grass roots effort spread mostly across Europe and the Middle East — believed, naively or not, that the fruits of their efforts would be of real and practical assistance to the population in Gaza.

But, the cynics will ask, how could a few hundred people in a small flotilla of boats hope to successfully defy Israel’s military might? Firstly, simply on the basis that other vessels had completed the same mission. But more importantly, because courageous acts are invariably undertaken in defiance of the odds. The heroic imagination is enticed by what seems impossible.

The Freedom Flotilla as David, is not challenging the Goliath of Israel in order to give the mighty Jewish state some bad headlines. This is about defeating an agent of oppression. It is not about destroying Israel, but about challenging and overcoming the injustices which Israel sustains.

As the MV Rachel Corrie now approaches Gaza, Israel’s Foreign Ministry Director-General Yossi Gal says: “We have no desire for a confrontation. We have no desire to board the ship. If the ship decides to sail the port of Ashdod, then we will ensure its safe arrival and will not board it.”

A conciliatory gesture should receive a similar response, should it not?

Don’t be fooled. Israel and the United States are now working hand in glove to try and “moderate” the oppression of the population in Gaza. While the world calls for the siege to be ended, the Obama administration is calling for it to be “new approach.” Benjamin Netanyahu is reported to be “softening” his position.

This is about moving pressure from the heel to the toe, but it still means the Palestinians remain under an Israeli foot. It’s about taking Gaza out of the spotlight in the hope that global outrage can be replaced by global indifference.

For the Rachel Corrie to sail into the Israeli port of Ashdod under its own steam would be to capitulate to the power that claims it withdrew from Gaza even while it persists in maintaining absolute control over its population, its borders, its airspace and its economy.

The Rachel Corrie must reach Gaza, but if it is thwarted, more ships will come. Israel cannot win.

(Note of thanks to Lawrence of Cyberia for compiling information on those who died in the Flotilla Massacre and creating a page where new information is being added.)

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MV Rachel Corrie due to reach Gaza within hours. “The world is watching” — Mustafa Barghouthi

The MV Rachel Corrie, a cargo ship in the Freedom Flotilla whose passage from Ireland was delayed by mechanical difficulties, is now hours away from its destination.

“I commend this courageous action of brave international civilians who are carrying essential medical, education and construction materials denied by Israeli suffocating and illegal siege on Gaza. It is vital that they have maximum support by the international community!” a Palestinian political leader, Dr Mustafa Barghouthi, told Nobel Peace laureate Mairead Maguire today. She and other activists on board the cargo ship carrying humanitarian aid from the Republic of Ireland to Gaza, said they hope to reach their destination by Saturday morning.

The world is watching,” said Dr Barghouthi, calling upon the international community to ensure the safe passage of the Rachel Corrie; he urged the EU representatives to take immediate and concrete steps in pressuring Israel to refrain from blocking the ship.

An appeal has gone out calling on Irish Americans to support the effort to end the siege of Gaza. Lorna Siggins, reporting from the Rachel Corrie for the Irish Times, writes:

Former UN assistant secretary general Denis Halliday has called on the [Irish] government to highlight the situation of the Gaza-bound Irish aid ship Rachel Corrie with US president Barack Obama’s administration and the EU.

Speaking by satellite phone on board the Rachel Corrie yesterday several hundred miles from Gaza, Mr Halliday said it was imperative that the Obama administration and the EU supported Ireland’s call on the Israeli authorities to ensure safe passage for the ship, which is carrying aid supplies.

“We feel that, like the UN, the EU has failed the Palestinians and we feel that the EU could exert more pressure in terms of trade links, which the Israelis are very dependent on,” he said.

Mr Halliday, a Connemara resident, confirmed that Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin had been in phone contact with the ship over the past two days .

“We are very grateful to the Minister, who has been completely supportive, but we need more,” Mr Halliday said.

“We also feel there is a role for the Irish diaspora here, in the US and elsewhere to lobby politicians over this continued illegal blockade of Gaza, which is causing such hardship to the Palestinian people.”

As Robert Naiman notes:

The issue of the Gaza blockade has tremendous resonance in Ireland, partly because of Ireland’s high degree of engagement in international humanitarian causes — John Ging, head of the UN Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, who had called on the international community to break the siege by sending ships loaded with aid, is also Irish — but also, of course, because the Irish people have some experience with the consequences for civilians of a colonial blockade.

Between 1845 and 1850, more than a million Irish people starved to death under British rule while, as Sinead O’Connor famously noted, food was shipped out of Ireland under armed guard. A million more fled Ireland to escape starvation, many to America, including Falmouth Kearney, President Obama’s great-great-great grandfather.

Many Irish people — and Irish-Americans — take the responsibilities of this legacy very seriously.

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MV Rachel Corrie heading for Gaza — with the full support of the Irish government

This is a major development. The MV Rachel Corrie cargo ship, whose passage to join the Freedom Flotilla may have been delayed because of sabotage by Israelis, is now heading for Gaza — and it has the full support of the Irish government. This is no longer just a question of how easily Israel can trample on the rights of a humanitarian organization.

The Irish prime minister, Brian Cowen, has warned Israel that it will face “the most serious consequences” in the event that any harm comes to Irish citizens on board the humanitarian relief vessel.

The Irish Times reports:

The cargo vessel is ploughing ahead with its attempt to deliver aid to Gaza despite yesterday’s deadly attack by the Israeli navy on a Gaza-bound flotilla.

Mr Cowen called today called for the immediate establishment of “a full, independent international inquiry into yesterday’s events, preferably under UN auspices”.

He called on Israel to release “unconditionally” Irish citizens who he said had been taken to Gaza by the Israeli authorities and asked to sign papers allowing for their deportation.

Speaking in the Dáil [Ireland’s parliament] during Leaders’ Questions, the Taoiseach [prime minister] said the presence of Irish diplomatic personnel in Israel provided “better prospects” that the citizens would be released “sooner rather than later”

“But I will make this point. If any harm comes to any of our citizens, it will have the most serious consequences.”

Mr Cowen said Ireland’s longstanding position was that the Israeli blockade of Gaza was “immoral and counterproductive” and should be ended.

“Israel must listen and respond to the clear concerns of the international community on this issue. To do otherwise will only serve to reinforce the position of the extremists on both sides and jeopardise the hope of achieving some urgently needed political progress in the region, which the current proximity talks represent,” he said.

The Israeli army has warned that it will be stopped if it attempts to enter Israeli waters.

The Rachel Corrie, which has five Irish nationals and five Malaysians aboard, is due to arrive in Gazan waters over the coming days, a spokeswoman for the Irish Palestine Solidarity Campaign said. It became separated from the main aid flotilla after being delayed for 48 hours in Malta due to logistical reasons, and is currently off the coast of Libya.

Mr Martin, who called Israeli Ambassador Dr Zion Evrony to a meeting yesterday, said the boat should be allowed through peacefully.

Mr Martin said Israel was also obliged to respect its international obligations under the Vienna Convention and ensure Irish citizens have access to full consular support. He also expressed his condolences to the Turkish government and the families of the people killed when Israeli commandos raided the Turkish registered Mavi Marmara aid ship in international waters as it travelled from Cyprus, killing nine people.

Five Irish campaigners – including leading activists Dr Fintan Lane and Fiachra Ó Luain – are being held in the Be’er Sheva detention camp, from where they face deportation. Dr Lane and Mr Ó Luain were on board Free Gaza boat Challenger 1 which was boarded by Israeli forces.

Meanwhile, Haaretz reports that Colonel Itzik Turgeman, a senior Israel Defense Forces officer, speaking before the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, hinted that the IDF had sabotaged the engines of all the ships in the Freedom Flotilla other than the Mavi Marmara, saying that “they took care of them.”

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