The breakup of Britain?
What a blow to British pride, said James Crisp in the New Statesman. Theresa May attended her first European Council summit last week only to find that Brexit was “small potatoes” on the menu. The other 27 EU leaders had more pressing things to talk about. May herself didn’t even get a chance to speak until 1am, and then was given only five minutes to talk on Brexit. (“Pffft,” replied EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker when asked his view of her speech.) Small fish, big pond. So perhaps May now grasps how the heads of Britain’s devolved governments – Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon, Wales’s Carwyn Jones, and Northern Ireland’s Arlene Foster – feel about being shut out of negotiations at Westminster. This week was the very first time since the “seismic vote in June” that they have been able to sit down at a table together and talk to the PM. It didn’t go well, said The Guardian. The first ministers left complaining bitterly about May’s lack of transparency and her failure to make any concession on their key demand of continued access to the single market. Scotland, remember, voted by 62% to 38%, and Northern Ireland by 56% to 44%, to remain in the EU; yet May insists that her Government alone controls the Brexit process. Rather than engage them in that process or agree that any proposed negotiating package be subject to a vote in the devolved parliaments, she merely offered the ministers the dubious benefit of a “direct line” to Brexit secretary David Davis – “a recipe for confrontation that could lead to a constitutional crisis”. Oh please, said Tom Harris in The Daily Telegraph. It is an uncontested part of the devolution settlement, a settlement endorsed by the Scots when they rejected independence, that foreign affairs and international treaties are matters reserved for the UK Parliament. In May’s words: as “we voted in the referendum as one United Kingdom, we will negotiate as one United Kingdom”. So for Sturgeon now to insist the Scottish parliament should have a veto over Brexit is outrageous. No, what’s outrageous, said Siobhan Fenton in The Independent, is the “arrogant recklessness” with which the concerns of the UK’s constituent parts are being set aside. To Northern Ireland – the only part to share a land border with an EU nation – Brussels isn’t a faceless bureaucracy but a welcome neutral force in the island’s fraught community relations. Withdrawal from the single market – the “hard” Brexit May seems to envisage – and the consequent erection of an external border with the Republic would be catastrophic: it would undermine the peace process. Single-market access is the litmus test for Scotland’s First Minister too, said The Times. Unlike May, Sturgeon has been “commendably clear” on her position: provided No. 10 opts for “soft” over “hard” Brexit, she won’t seek a second vote on independence. She may be bluffing – it’s far from clear she’d win any such vote – but the PM must take her concerns on board. May “has a duty to respect the vote of the British people in the EU referendum, but she also has a duty to keep the United Kingdom united”.
Sturgeon: “commendably clear”