The breakup of Bri­tain?

The Week Middle East - - News -

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”

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