Trump, the back-stop and a border poll: words matter. Oh yes they do.

One thing you can say about President Trump is that his words carry weight. In fact yesterday they carried not just weight but several US candidates for the House of Representatives and the Senate. The states where he visited, the Republican candidate won. States where he didn’t visit, Republicans did less well. And we’re all well accustomed by now to rallies where Trump whips up the crowd so they’re chanting “Build the wall!” or “Lock her up!” or whatever nasty slogan he comes up with. Last time I saw him on TV, he was saying “You know, barbed wire is a beautiful thing!” and the crowd roared its support.

This side of the Atlantic, the word of significant individuals matter too. The one glaring mistake of the Good Friday Agreement was to give the British secretary of state the right to say when it’s time to call a border poll. There are no checks or balances, no mention of prediction polls: simply that the secretary of state will decide if there is sufficient reason to call a border poll and that it will be won by those seeking a re-united Ireland. Can you imagine how tight-lipped Karen Bradley or whatever other stooge may later fill her shoes will be? Except they’re totally, absolutely, no-way-to -go but a poll, they’ll keep their mouth shut. Because signalling a border poll will be as good as to say “My belief is the unionists will be defeated in this poll.” Not a call s/he will take lightly.

The third voice of influence that I note this morning isn’t really that of an individual – it’s of two governments. I’m referring to the terms of the back-stop. Theresa May has sounded loud and definite about there being no hard border in Ireland OR in the Irish Sea. Leo Varadkar now appears to be softening his position to say that he’s prepared to negotiate matters around the back-stop but not the back-stop itself. But the constant line he and Europe have taken is that the back-stop will stay in place unless and until a better arrangement becomes available. You see the scope that gives the British government? Because we haven’t been told what criteria will be used to measure ‘better’ or ‘worse’, Theresa May or her successor, Leo Varadkar or his successor, can simply say “Oh OK, this is a better deal, let’s scrap the backstop.”

Now it may be possible some new arrangement would be superior to the backstop, but short of a re-united Ireland, I can’t think what it might be. My main concern is that the meaning of ‘better’ has been left open. You say tomayto, I say tomato. The word is prey to all sorts of interpretations, given that no criteria for using it have been established. A dangerous word, better, when it appears naked and unashamed, without a stitch of criteria attached.

Likewise the criteria for a border poll: there are none. It’s all down to Karen or the latest proconsul to grace our shores: their word will decide everything. Which is worrying, given the level of insight Karen Bradley has shown so far.  A woman like that shouldn’t be allowed out with a highly powerful word in her possession.

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