After months of claim and counterclaim, deadlines coming and going and Cabinet resignations, it’s hard to keep track of exactly where the Government is in its attempts to achieve a Brexit transition deal.
And as I write, there are just 139 days on the countdown clock until the Article 50 notification is activated, whether a transition deal is signed or not.
The unavoidable trouble for the Prime Minister is that she must somehow satisfy two opposing demands simultaneously, and with the clock ticking down she has still shown precious little evidence that she can. Of course, we are being told repeatedly by the Government that the transition deal is 95 percent done, even when this is flatly contradicted by the EU negotiators, the Irish Government and, erm, the Prime Minister herself, who has stated repeatedly nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
Everyone knows that the Chequers Deal is as dead as a dodo, but the Prime Minister continues to talk about it as if there is the slightest possibility of it living and flying. Her impossible task is to move one way from this position to satisfy the EU – and this is apparently to be through having the entire UK remain in a customs union with the EU, whilst moving some distance in the opposite direction to satisfy her own extreme Brexit backbenchers – and, of course, the implacable DUP whose support she needs to govern.
By Steven Paterson, former Stirling MP
Last week’s Tory conference in Birmingham did not quite explode into open warfare over the succession to the Tory leadership, but only just.
That’s not to say some didn’t stray perilously close to the line of course. Bombastic Boris Johnson is so obsessed with being seen to be the heir apparent to the Tory crown, and is so utterly lacking in the self-awareness that is characteristic of most human beings that he just could not help himself. His careful manipulation of an ever-willing media ensured that when he showed up at the conference to a celebrity welcome, it was in the guise of the champion of the one true Brexit, and his exuberant and well-rehearsed speech ensured that he dominated the airwaves for the 24 hours before it was the Prime Minister’s turn in the spotlight. Pressure successfully cranked up to maximum.
It is probably incumbent on Boris to keep himself in the headlines though, since his unpopularity amongst the parliamentary Tory party may prove a fatal weakness to his leadership ambitions. Conservative Party rules mean that in any forthcoming leadership contest, the 316 Tory MPs would have the power to select the final two candidates in any leadership selection process. By eliminating the candidate with fewest votes round by round until only two remain, aspiring Prime Ministers can be whittled down, and Boris may find it hard to escape the cull unless he can somehow broaden his appeal in the parliamentary party.
By former Stirling MP, Steven Paterson
The next few weeks and months promise to finally answer some of the many questions hanging over us since the Brexit referendum in June 2016 in which Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain but was outvoted by other parts of the Union.
They will reveal to the expectant nations of the UK whether we are indeed entering a brave new world in which global Britain once again rules the waves unencumbered by plodding, pedantic EU bureaucrats, or instead will demonstrate that voters have been sold a pig in a poke by the likes of Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg, and Nigel Farage.
First up will be the details of any deal the Prime Minister can secure with the EU; if any such deal can be done that is. The prospect has ignited a bizarre campaign by the Tory UK Government in which the potentially catastrophic consequences of a no deal failure are played up, whilst implying that it will be the unreasonable and dastardly EU side which will be to blame if driving licences are invalidated, passports rejected and trade pulverised.
By Steven Paterson former MP for Stirling
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, was remarkably candid and refreshingly honest when discussing her knowledge of Northern Irish politics in an interview in The House magazine this week.
She was happy to admit having had no real knowledge or understanding of Northern Ireland’s tangled politics before being appointed to oversee the governance of the province in January, where devolved governance remains collapsed and with the official line being that civil servants are taking care of the day to day running of the devolved responsibilities in lieu of politicians elected to do this.
This situation will remain for as long as the DUP pulls the strings of the Tory Government at Westminster thanks to the current precarious parliamentary arithmetic in the House of Commons. The DUP’s nine votes (with Ian Paisley currently serving a 30 day suspension after admitting to failing to declare luxury holidays gifted by a foreign government) prop up the minority Tory government, and their calculation is that this situation is significantly more palatable to them than having to deal with Sinn Fein at Stormont.
I must admit to having been a wee bit surprised when news outlets began previewing this week’s visit to Belfast by Prime Minister Theresa May, and reporting hopeful noises about the prospects of the successful resolution of the current stalemate over power-sharing arrangements at Stormont.
By Steven Paterson, Former Stirling MP
It’s official: Scotland’s voice is finally being heard in the remotest corridors of power!
The BBC has finally presented the UK map in correct proportions ….but it is all a matter of perspective.
Yes, after a thirteen-year wait, the BBC’s Weather Forecast Department has finally relented to complaints from their distant licence-fee paying customers north of the border that Scotland is actually in reality somewhat bigger than Cornwall. In future, BBC weather forecasts will be presented on a map that accurately reflects the size of Scotland as compared to other parts of the British Isles, instead of being as a grossly-distorted virtual image of Britain as if filmed from a hot air balloon flying somewhere above Bordeaux, with Stirling appearing a billimetre above the Solway Firth in that wee speck at the top.
Every journey starts with a first step, I suppose.
Unfortunately, however, a mile or so down the road from Broadcasting House in Whitehall, the Tory UK Government continues to listen to nobody except itself.
This week, Number 10’s spin machine decided to bill special meetings of the Cabinet taking place to thrash out a common position on Brexit negotiations in the most valiant of terms, describing them as meetings of the “War Cabinet”. But it wasn’t long before expectations of what the “War Cabinet” might achieve were being drastically downgraded. As The Independent’s headline on Wednesday, revealed, “Brexit: Theresa May ‘War Cabinet’ unlikely to reach agreement on UK aims, admits Business Secretary Greg Clark”.
by Steven Paterson, former MP for Stirling
The frenzied speculation about how long Prime Minister Theresa May‘s ghostly apparition will haunt 10 Downing Street reached new heights this week, as Tory MPs engaged in increasingly bitter internecine warfare over the succession.
Mrs May herself must have been grateful to be jetting off to China in pursuit of trade deals, leaving the squabbling factions to tear one another apart in her absence instead of right in front of her. She cuts a lonely figure these days, convincing nobody she has any authority left or is in any realistic sense in charge.
Instead, we have governmental paralysis, despite vital Brexit negotiations restarting this week on which the future prosperity and trading status of the country depends. The hard-Brexit brigade, amongst whose esteemed members are such noted bigwigs as Boris Johnston, Michael Gove and the hyperactive Jacob Rees-Mogg, seem to spend more of their time slagging off members of the more pragmatic majority of the parliamentary Tory party, who were against Brexit to begin with but now feel compelled to follow through with it following the EU referendum. The hard-Brexit brigade is winning though, and no mistake.
by Grant Dunnery, President of the Stirling University Scottish Nationalist Association
While the rhetoric from Downing Street has alluded to a Hard Brexit, the reality will be very different. However, in order to understand why the UK will receive a weak deal, we must first uncover how we got here in the first place.
The vote to leave was deeply skewed, and based on a mistaken understanding of European integration. The vote to leave the EU was an attack against globalisation and all of its key traits.
It was an attack against free market principles however, voters really intended to attack the injustice of neoliberalism. It was an attack against immigrants and to those who spoke a different language, however, in reality, the UK is far more divided by wealth disparity and social class that it is nationality or race.
The misunderstanding of the virtues – and I believe necessity if you evaluate our bloody past – of European integration, have been masqueraded. A dangerous combination of misinformation, rising poverty, a lack of opportunities and voter frustration have led us to this point. In addition to this, the UK government’s plans are equally as flawed in nature.
How will 2017 be remembered insofar as political developments are concerned?
Naturally, it will depend on one’s perspective, and I make no claim to be any more neutral than the next person.
Those whose goal is to frustrate the progress of Scottish political institutions and structures will no doubt celebrate a successful year in politics.
After all, although the snap General Election was a complete disaster for the Tories UK-wide, the return of 13 Tories in Scotland is the reason we still ‘enjoy’ a Tory Government at Westminster. Without them, there would not even have been the £1 billion bung of our money to buy the support of the DUP, as their ten votes would not have achieved a majority.
2017 was a crucial year constitutionally, with Brexit looming ominously in the distance, and yet month after month is going by with no measurable progress of much extent on what post-Brexit Scotland or post-Brexit UK will look like. In a year where a snap election was called explicitly because of Brexit, it is remarkable that so little has been determined and that, over eighteen months on since the EU referendum, we are still largely guessing at exactly what it is the UK has decisively and irrevocably chosen.
Comment By Steven Paterson, former MP for Stirling
It was reported at the time that when the Exit Poll was revealed at the close of polls at the General Election in June, projecting (fairly accurately as it turned out) the result that would be confirmed in the hours to follow, Prime Minister Theresa May burst into tears.
Not only was the loss of the slim Tory majority a personal humiliation for the Prime Minister who, after all, hadn’t had any real need to call the election in the first place, but it also made the intensely difficult job of negotiating a favourable Brexit deal with the EU27 much, much tougher.
It would also have been obvious to the Prime Minister at that moment that unless the Exit Poll was very wide of the mark, the remainder of her premiership would be in the gift of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party. No wonder she cried.
However, there was little time to wallow on the election failure. With so much wasted time since the EU referendum, Brexit negotiations had to be the top priority for the weakened Prime Minister once the £1 billion bung of our money was agreed to buy the DUP’s ten votes. The most pressing agreement required was over the conundrum of reconciling having a soft border between the UK and the Irish Republic with a hard Brexit that meant the UK being out with the single market and the customs union.