Irish Border Stance Is Driving Libreal And Hardline Unionists Together

 

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier at the All-Island Civic Dialogue on Brexit in Dundalk

In the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum result, there was shock and dismay across Irish nationalism, which feared the return of a hard border and a more nationalistic UK moving further from the rest of Europe.

That feeling lingers, although it appears to have been somewhat lessened by the Irish Government’s robust stance in the Brexit negotiations, and the willingness of the EU to endorse that stance, putting the issue of the Irish border at or near the top of the talks process.

In the referendum, unionism voted largely to leave the EU, but there was sizable pro-remain unionist vote. But, just as there is a unity across nationalism to Brexit, so there is emerging a unified unionist front in opposition to the ‘backstop’ option which Mr Barnier articulated again yesterday.

That option – which only comes into play if the UK and the EU cannot agree on other solutions to avoiding a hard border, such as the use of technology or the entire UK remaining in a customs union – would involve regulatory alignment across the island of Ireland and customs checks between Northern Ireland and GB.

Last week DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds characterised such a stance as “almost the annexation of Northern Ireland”.

Although there are unionists who are fervently pro-EU, almost none of them have come out to support of the EU’s suggestion of an Irish Sea goods border.

Unionism increasingly united against EU stance

Yesterday the liberal UUP MLA Steve Aiken, who backed the remain side, used the same word as he denounced the EU’s stance.

Two months ago Lord Empey, one of David Trimble’s key negotiators during the talks which led to the Good Friday Agreement, wrote to Mr Barnier to express “deep concerns” about an EU approach which he said “undermines the Belfast Agreement and the constitutional integrity of Northern Ireland”.

In a pan-European negotiation about trade, security and constitutional principle, Northern Ireland is in some ways an insignificant area.

But with the Irish border an issue of emblematic significance to both sides, it has become critical to the talks.

Unionist unease will not stop Brussels endorsing the stance of one of its members, Ireland.

But the fierce unionist-nationalist split in Northern Ireland means that the EU stance is in effect almost indistinguishable with the stance of Irish nationalism – from the Irish Government to Sinn Féin and the SDLP.

That is undsurprising, given that Mr Barnier is representing Dublin, and the other EU members, in these talks.

But in adopting a stance which is that of one side of the political divide in Northern Ireland, it makes it more difficult for the EU to present its solution as a neutral attempt to save the Good Friday Agreement or even peace itself.

With many thanks to: E News for the origional story.

THIRD VOTE LEAVE WHISTLEBLOWER REVEALED

Lawyers acting for whistleblowers have released further evidence they say shows the Vote Leave campaign broke EU referendum spending rules.

The material allegedly shows how closely the campaign worked with youth group BeLeave.

It comes from Mark Gettleson, a web designer, the third person to make claims about Vote Leave’s spending in evidence to a select committee.

Vote Leave has rejected claims of illegal co-ordination with BeLeave.

Legal Firm Matrix Chambers argues, in a 50-page legal opinion, that Vote Leave should have declared payments of just over £625,000 to Canadian data firm, AIQ.

Facebook suspends Brexit data firm
If included in the campaign group’s overall spending return, the payments would have pushed Vote Leave over the £7m limit.

Vote Leave says the £625,000 doesn’t count as its own expenditure, as the money was a donation to Darren Grimes, who set up the group, BeLeave.

He says he spent the money on services provided by AIQ, although the money went directly to AIQ from Vote Leave, for “services in kind” to BeLeave.

The Electoral Commission has said this would have been within the rules, provided that Vote Leave and BeLeave were not working together – a decision that is the subject of a separate legal challenge by the Good Law Project.

Former Vote Leave activist Shahmir Sanni and Christopher Wylie, who worked for controversial data firm Cambridge Analytica, have already claimed that Vote Leave used BeLeave to get round spending limits.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a key figure in the Vote Leave campaign, has claimed that the allegations are “ludicrous” and that the Leave campaign won the poll “fair and square and legally”.

In the Matrix Chambers legal opinion, Mark Gettleson – who is referred to as J – adds further details of alleged working together.

It also reveals that he met Darren Grimes when they were both working on MP Norman Lamb’s Lib Dem leadership campaign.

The Fair Vote group, which campaigns for another EU referendum, has published some of Mr Gettleson’s evidence on its website.

It includes an email from Mr Gettleson, who worked for Vote Leave between February and April 2016, that says that Vote Leave was responsible for the BeLeave campaign concept and website.

It also shows Mr Gettleson introduced Vote Leave to AIQ, saying he “headhunted the successful digital team,” the campaign group says.

Another email between Mr Gettleson and Cleo Watson, Vote Leave’s head of outreach, is about another group, Veterans for Britain, which donated £100,000 to AIQ. Campaigners claim Veterans for Britain was also used by Vote Leave to sidestep the rules.

Kyle Taylor, director of the Fair Vote Project, said: “This new evidence, on top of Shahmir Sanni’s and Chris Wylie’s, should without a doubt force Parliament to take immediate action and show the British public that it cares about protecting one of our highest ideals – democracy.”

Mr Gettleson’s lawyer, Tamsin Allen, of Bindmans solicitors, said he had hoped to remain anonymous but realised the details in the legal opinion might have led to him being identified and had taken the decision to release the emails.

The legal opinion was submitted by Matrix Chambers as evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s inquiry into fake news.

“We consider that there is a prima facie case that… electoral offences were committed by Vote Leave in the EU referendum campaign,” the opinion says.

The Electoral Commission, which is investigating Vote Leave’s spending, declined to comment.

Former Vote Leave officials and Veterans for Britain have been contacted for a response.

With many thanks to: BBC England for the origional story.