Arlene faces the music and prepares to dance

As we stumble from the haze of food and booze that was yesterday and face into today, the start of a six-week lock-down with (horror of horrors) our nearest and dearest, are you not entitled to shed a small tear or two?  Not if you’ve got backbone. Straighten up, there, and face tomorrow with a steady gaze.  Model yourself on First Minister Arlene Foster.

As word of the UK-EU deal filtered through, Arlene elbowed her way to the waiting microphones and cameras, and did some straight talking.  Sort of.

“We have consistently urged both sides to achieve a deal. We will, of course, examine the details both of the trade deal itself as well as other issues such as security where agreement will be particularly important from the Northern Ireland viewpoint”.

All of this delivered with smiling lips and a twinkle in her eye.

Let’s skip that coded security reference (‘The IRA is still a threat, so stick tight to us!’) and look at the rest of what she has to say.  

Some of it is indeed true. Arlene and the DUPers (well some of them anyway) did want Britain to form a trade deal  – but the last thing she and they wanted was the trade deal they’ve got. Which is? That North-Eastern Ireland  (NEI) can continue to trade with Britain (with, um, just a bit of extra paper-work and some border checks in places like Larne. )

NEI will also have to match EU standards so that seamless trade can continue between Ireland north and south.  In a nutshell, NEI gets the advantages of trading with the EU as though it were a member state, and with the rest of the UK (via that Irish Sea border, of course). So was Arlene really happy? Or merely faking her climax of joy?

Well, maybe this from a BBC interview on 2 October 2018 will clarify things. Here’s Arlene then:

“There cannot be a border down the Irish Sea, a differential between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. All along we have said ‘No new regulatory alignment’. The red line is blood red.”

Crikey. Let me whisper, Arlene, in your shell-like ear: there now is new regulatory alignment. There now is a differential between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.  There now isn’t a red line, blood-red or otherwise, because it’s been drowned in the grey depths of the Irish Sea.  

Arlene may smile for the cameras but this is serious stuff for DUPers. More and more they will find themselves trading with the south. More and more they will benefit from foreign direct investment in ways that the rest of the UK cannot. So when the border poll comes in about five years’ time, it will find an NEI that has experienced the benefits of all-Ireland trade, the costly disadvantages of extra paper-work involved in NEI-Britain trade, and the happy advantage of being effectively part of the EU.

 It’ll also more than likely be faced with a choice between sticking with an amputated United Kingdom, with independent Scotland finding a receptive home in the EU, or seeing where its best interests lie.

There are a lot of rational unionists who’re going to realise that all that dog-whistle stuff about blood-red lines was about a bogeyman that self-dissolved some twenty years ago. In short, NEI is going to stop looking east, begging bowl in hand, and start looking south so that together, once and for all, blood-red lines and border forgotten,  we learn together the many benefits of being a respected Irish nation in a twenty-first century EU.  

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