Last week’s submission by Boris Johnson to the EU on Brexit was the colliding of our two political impasses in spectacular fashion, and will likely have long term implications.
The proposals were a. for the North of Ireland to leave the Customs Union, thereby introducing a border in our country; b. to retain regulatory alignment in the North, thereby introducing a border down the Irish Sea; and c. make the continuing arrangement regarding the Single Market dependent on a “consent” vote in the Assembly.
The Assembly that is currently not sitting partly, but in no small measure, because of the disgusting abuse by the DUP of the Petition of Concern on matters pertaining to the rights of local citizens.
Apparently in the Talks arena where there was progress on our local Assembly between the parties, there was common ground on the matter of the Petition of Concern. It would have meant human rights proofing any Petition to prevent its future abuse. The negotiators quite rightly did not wish to remove the Petition of Concern as at its heart it is a mechanism to prevent the abuses of Unionist majoritarianism.
Of course, there are some who think the Petition of Concern should be removed entirely. To give an imperfect example of why that would be a bad idea look at the decision last week in Belfast City Council not to allow Irish language signage in the new West Belfast leisure centres. That was a majority vote, including the Alliance and Green Parties. Had there been a Petition of Concern Sinn Féin and the SdLP might have been able to change the unfortunate direction of travel.
But the discussion last week mentioned the “consent” of the Assembly, as understood via the Petition of Concern but did not mention it by name. It is constructed as “Unionist Consent” to the continuation of the border down the Irish Sea. If Unionism did not give majority consent via their Assembly team, then the arrangements will go to the English arrangement of leaving the Single Market. Clearly this was a gift to the DUP of continued power mongering, even after the forthcoming General Election when the DUP will lose its Westminster influence.
It is a deliberate choice of language. The idea of Unionist “parallel consent”, was introduced into the contemporary discourse in relation to the Border Poll. A notion dismissed by most constitutional commentators, and all of those who actually read the Good Friday Agreement, this idea hasemerged now that a Border Poll is coming at us like a train and the future arrangements on this island are likely to change. The Good Friday Agreement states clearly that the constitutional status quo can only change with a vote of 50% of the electorate plus one more. That is also what retains the constitutional position.
Unionism has of course seized on commentary that suggested that there be a majority of both communities wanting change, before a United Ireland could be achieved. Johnson’s cobbled together proposal last week is about the Border Poll as much as it is about Brexit arrangements. It sets a precedent for unionism’s continued abuse of power even when they are in a clear minority.
All of the proposals are problematic, but in that additional sop to the DUP we see the most important foundation stone of the Good Friday Agreement being vandalised.
This article was written before the Varadkar Johnson talks… sops May now be off the table, terms and conditions apply