On Brexit, the SNP and Sinn Féin have been waiting and preparing the whole time

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14th March 2017

Theresa May and her government have had a good Phoney War over Brexit.

They have won the parliamentary votes, even if they lost a court case.

They have played to the gallery – the Brexit-supporting press and the Brexit-supporting backbenchers – getting the easy cheers.

They have had no meaningful opposition in parliament from Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, or from anybody else.  The Lords have surrendered.

So far, Brexit must seem like a doddle.

But yesterday, the Scottish First Minister made her move.

Now we wait for Sinn Féin’s move.

The SNP and Sinn Féin have been watching and waiting and preparing the whole time.

The SNP and Sinn Féin have thought hard about how to exploit this political opportunity.  Only a fool would underestimate either entity.

So soon the proper politics of Brexit will begin, with the UK government facing skilled and determined politicians taking full advantage of the power and leverage presented by the government’s policy of a ‘clean’ (ie, hard) Brexit.

And this is all in addition to the politics of UK’s negotiations with EU27.

The political Phoney War is coming to an end.


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25 thoughts on “On Brexit, the SNP and Sinn Féin have been waiting and preparing the whole time”

  1. That’s because they are professionals, David. Ms Sturgeon is a professional politician and political party leader. Mr Adams is a reformed political terorist (a special category of gangster). Both have strategic skills and the charisma of leaders.

    The skills Ms Sturgeon and Mr Adams possess are absent in the Cabinet.

  2. There’s an interesting connection between devolution politics & EU deal making. The-winner-takes-all Westminster system is mostly unused to multi-lateral processes which explains both its disdain for EU as well as its blindness to the Scottish/NI risk. In EU power is multifaceted & depends on facilitating “your favored plausible option” via “consensus building” rather than simply amassing power & grandstanding. May’s inability to recognize, prepare & neutralize the obvious Scottish “independence gambit” does not augur well for UK Government’s ability to facilitate a deal which is both favorable to UK and, more crucially, obtains enough support from different power centers to be successfully passed.

    In other words May looks like she is playing a “Westminster strategy” that simply doesn’t apply to negotiations with both devolved nations and the EU – if she continues, UK is likely to come out worse with respect to both.

    1. An astute and very pertinent comment. May seems severely lacking in capacity for consensus, typical of the kind of assertive, mediocre middle-managers that are found everywhere in the workplace. Pushing your ideas rather than selling them….

      1. What you are describing is the difference between a federalist and an imperialist mindset. Europeans have been due to historical necessity practicing a federalist approach. Whereas the British seem to hold onto Imperialism as if there life depends on it.

        It looks like Sinn Fein might teach the English a lesson. If the Irish question implodes, this time within the framework of an EU (an EU which is justifiably fed up with the UK Government) then for once the Irish might be the more powerful side. Which would of course be the ultimate irony of Brexit.

        One of the interesting little details (hardly reported by the UK press) of the past political month has been, that Northern Irland just had an election. The turnout in that election was very strong and the pro remain parities gained votes. Sinn Fein has a stronger and more “up-to-date” mandate in this scenario than the unelected UK Prime Minister.

      2. Spot on analysis in my opinion. Listen to her interviews. Every sentence starts with ‘I want’.

        Whilst I do have some admiration for taking on the difficult job, Mrs May does not seem to understand, and consifer differing opinions.

  3. Sinn Féin have ever played the long game. The ‘retirement’ of Martin McGuinness due to ill health was, I suspect, delayed to maximise its influence on NI politics. The refusal by Sinn Féin to appoint a successor to the post of Deputy First Minister thus triggering the elections, is an object lesson in timing in politics as born out by the results. The move, when it comes will be timed to cause maximum devastation to Westminster’s plans.

  4. “watching and waiting and preparing the whole time”

    So many businesses have prepared contingency plans – and will relocate part or all of their operations to the EU if it suits their models to do so.

    6,000,000 Brits are entitled to Irish citizenship. It is in their interests to to take it.

    Nobody will wait to see if the hopeful promises of Brexiteers of sunlit uplands within our grasp will be fulfilled. People will make their own judgments; people already have.

    Two years from now, even before we have formally left, the UK could be a wasteland of abandonment.

  5. Everything you write is correct except:

    “The SNP and Sinn Féin have thought hard about how to exploit this political opportunity. ”

    Sturgeon and Adams are not exploiting anything, they are responding to the monumental arrogance and incompetence of what is now for all intents and purposes the English Parliament and the blatant Imperialism of the May Regime.

    History will tell if you can get away with Hail to the Empire in the 21st Century.

    Anyone who has exchanged more than a sentence with people living in Scotland and Northern Ireland could see this coming. Given Ms May’s diplomatic skills combined with her unique superiority complex, I must admit that I am increasingly looking forward to seeing her having to face the reality of European politics.

    She and her rogue public school bullies on the Tory right wing have most likely achieved something few thought remotely possible: the political unification of Europe.

    Europeans are really fed up with this British side show and Sturgeon and Adams have decided to side with the stronger partners in this battle.

  6. And it seems the Welsh, despite the majority supporting Brexit, are also queuing up and looking at their options if a hard Brexit seems inevitable. The unravelling of the United Kingdom is at hand as a result of a paltry majority achieved by downright lies and obfuscation. And the best May can say to Sturgeon is don’t play games with politics! The irony is profound.

    The real games have not yet even begun to be played. At the best, the end of the beginning is at hand with the final wilting of the British Parliament to May’s cabal while yearning after a long past imperial dream.

  7. I have a strong political (though not personal) respect for both Ms Sturgeon and Mr Adams; both behave as though they’re fighting for the best interests of their respective countries. This appears to be in sharp contrast to Mrs May, who seems to be acting in the best interests of a vociferous element of the Tory party, namely the eurosceptics.

    I wonder which, in the end, will prove the strongest motivator, patriotism or partisanship?

  8. I suspect the common reaction in England and Wales to the reunification of Ireland is that it can’t happen fast enough. It would be a significant saving to the Treasury, remove a security headache and somebody else will have to deal with the intransigent, divisive politics and religious bigotry. Of course, the Ulster Unionists will be livid and not doubt bang their drums and parade, but they don’t really have many friends in England and Wales save a few traditionalists in the Conservative and Unionist party. There are some commentators in the Republican of Ireland who are somewhat less keen as, whatever the romantic and nationalistic elements, they realise they will be inheriting a province with a long history of trouble and, perhaps more important, a financial liability.

    GDP per capita in the Republic of Ireland is $61.3k and that of Northern Ireland is $23.7k on a PPP basis (the UK as a whole is about $38.9k). The NI economy is also disproportionately public sector at over 30% compared with less than 20% in the UK as a whole.

    I suppose, put another way, the Republic of Ireland is more able to afford Northern Ireland albeit that the former is very much a low taxation, low state spend economy so it might be a tricky merger.

    nb. despite Ireland’s stellar economic performance, it only became a (modest) net contributor to the EU budget in 2016, such is the weird way that the system of calculation works.

      1. I too would take the actual numbers with a pinch of salt. They were so astonishing that I double and triple checked the numbers. However, even if the absolute numbers are questionable, there’s little doubt that the Republic is doing considerably better than NI and, almost certainly, the UK, albeit to a lesser extent.

        In any event, NI is a net cost to the Treasury. Not enough to induce bankruptcy, but enough to be noticeable. My guess is that if NI was absorbed into the Republic, it would be gradual using a devolved assembly and, as with the UK, on a budget.

        I think the main point remains – most people in England and Wales would be happy to see NI taken on by the Republic of Ireland.

        nb. I should add that, for all the shouting and hollering, both a unified Ireland and an independent Scotland are historically inevitable given that the reasons they were otherwise are gradually fading from history. What matters is the relationship between the countries afterwards, and whether it will be dictated by the EU.

        1. If Scotland retreats from the UK and remains in the EU an interseting situation arises. There never was such a thing as an EU dictate. EU-rules are the result if negiciations of governmentleaders and ratification in the national parliaments. So why speakmof a dictate. The UK government has acrively contributed to the EU decisions. After a Brexit I suppose the UK will be the victim of EU dictates. Bonne chance, Britons.

          1. The specific issue will be whether the EU dictates that there will be a “hard border” with customs checks after Brexit. That is in the power of the EU, hence the wording.

    1. Also worth noting that Ireland’s GDP/capita is artificially inflated by tax tourism, with companies choosing to locate their profits there to take advantage of the low corporation tax. This resulted in a ludicrous 26% “growth” in the economy in 2015. GNP/capita is 20% lower: with a much smaller population to absorb the difference, that doesn’t bode so well for an economic merger.


      1. Thanks for explaining that, and it does make me question the value of GDP as a measure of national wealth, especially with an economy set up the way Ireland’s is. However, I still think it’s reasonable, on the basis of average pay, if nothing else, to say that the Republic of Ireland is notably wealthier than is Northern Ireland.

    2. Steve, possibly you are right about the “common reaction in England and Wales”, but from a government & establishment point of view losing N Ireland would be considered a disaster. It would undoubtedly speed up both the process and logic of Scottish independence (if Scotland were still part of UK by then). Together these two countries constitute circa 10% of UK economy – in our current devalued Sterling state that would place UK below France, India and possibly Italy in the economic pecking order – with a plausible chance that UK would drop out of top ten in the near future, Brexit would have confirmed that, rather than embracing a new global era, the UK would actually have relegated itself to the 2nd tier. It would also suggest a rather uncommitted and lax view to territorial integrity that would not go unnoticed around the globe – not least in Madrid and Buenos Aires.

      1. I’m not sure why there’s the issue about the total size of the GDP. It’s surely the GDP per capita that matters as far as the individuals are concerned. Indeed, one of the things that people seem to have missed is that GDP per capita has been increasing at a lower rate than total GDP. I see much nonsense about the UK being the sixth richest country whereas, by any rational measure, it’s somewhere round the number 37.

        We also have a really serious structural issue with productivity as the UK economy seems to be addicted to cheap labour.

        1. GDP per capita will increase more slowly than GDP if the population increases. All that GDP per capita increasing more slowly than GDP means is that the population has increased.

  9. I’m surprised more hasn’t been made of the relationship between Brexit and Sinn Fein’s forced collapse of the NI Executive.

    It seems fairly obvious that the RHI scandal was convenient political cover for a party that was deeply uncomfortable with the prospect of being in a devolved administration over-seeing the introduction of a hard border. They can now fight for an accommodation more suited to their aims under cover of defending the Good Friday Agreement.

    You can’t under-estimate the deep concerns that Brexit is raising for nationalists of all stripes in Northern Ireland. The comfortable arrangement in which both parts of the island were EU members and the border was irrelevant has now been taken away, leaving a harsh choice between a mainly English nationalism and Irish nationalism. The choice, even for the most moderate Irish nationalist, is an easy one to make.

    It may take a generation or more – but Brexit will inevitably lead to the end of Northern Ireland. Ironic that is has been instigated by the Conservative Party.

  10. Also worth noting that Scottish independence would see the end of the UK as a nuclear power. The Scots won’t have another country’s nukes, and there’s nowhere in England or Wales where the locals would tolerate them.

    1. Really? Both Barrow in Furness (which has strong nuclear conections) and Devonport (with strong naval connections) have been considered and it appears most of the locals would welcome the jobs. However, both would require a lot of money spent and neither are ideal.

      Milford Haven would be most naturally suitable location, and the jobs would be welcome there too. However, I suspect the government would want to avoid another spat with nationalists and as a major gas and oil terminal there are obvious downsides to that too.

      Of course, wherever a base was placed there would be some local opposition, but I think the jobs would outweigh that.

      1. It’d be really interesting to see how that argument played out in the event of a move: there was a certain amount of consternation in 2012 when MoD documents revealed that rather than the 6,000-11,000 jobs often claimed, only 500 civilian jobs at Faslane are related to the nuclear submarines — and many of those are IIRC specialist out-of-towners. Even those numbers certainly aren’t to be sneezed at, but at a cost of £2bn per year, or £4m per job per year, that’s one expensive employment programme.

        Recognise of course that it’s not *just* an employment programme, but “jobs” tends to be a mainstay of Trident’s defence, so I think it’s worth interrogating on that point.

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