These days, only a fool would write about Brexit or British politics even a day in advance, let alone almost a week out. So here goes.
Speaking of fools, as I write this on Friday, Northern Ireland Secretary of State Karen Bradley, has apologised for her spectacularly stupid claim that killings carried out by security forces in the North of Ireland during the Troubles were not crimes. Bradley claimed what she had said was “a slip of the tongue” and “not what I believe”.
She had said: “Over 90% of the killings during the Troubles were at the hands of terrorists. Every single one of those was a crime. The fewer than 10% that were at the hands of the military and police were not crimes. They were people acting under orders and under instruction and fulfilling their duties in a dignified and appropriate way.”
Bradley seems on course to receive the grudging benefit of a fool’s pardon. She doesn’t deserve one.
Bradley is most assuredly a fool, even by the dismal standards of Northern Ireland Secretaries past. Her admission on receiving the job that she didn’t know that 'people who are nationalists don’t vote for unionist parties and vice versa', marked her out as a dunce even amongst the Tories.
You’d nearly long for poor old Peter Brooke, singing “Oh My Darling Clementine” on The Late Late Show, hours after seven people were killed by an IRA bomb.
Bradley is probably safe, because – as with Theresa May – nobody else wants her job just now. But to grant Bradley a fool’s pardon would be to accept that she mis-spoke out of ignorance or innocence, and that would be to miss the point entirely. Bradley read from prepared notes, and she knew exactly what she was saying, and she knew too the precise significance of the timing of her response to a question from Democratic Unionist Party MP, Emma Little-Pengelly.
On January 30, 1972, 14 unarmed civilians were shot in Derry by the British Parachute Regiment. 13 died that day, and a 14th person died later due to his injuries. The events of Bloody Sunday are seared into Irish history.
The Bloody Sunday Inquiry (also known as the Saville Inquiry) was established in 1998 by then UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair. It issued its report in 2010.
The Saville Report is unambiguous, finding, inter alia, that all of the victims of Bloody Sunday were innocent civilians; that paratroopers had fired the first shot; that paratroopers had fired on unarmed, fleeing civilians; and that paratroopers had shot and killed an already wounded man.
As a result of the Saville Report, and in what was a historic speech, then Prime Minister David Cameron apologised unreservedly on behalf of the British Government.
That was then, of course, and this – in the wake of Cameron’s cataclysmically foolish decision to appease the Tory right with a Brexit referendum – is now.
It is expected that this Thursday will see a decision by the Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service on whether soldiers of the Parachute Regiment will be prosecuted for murder for their actions on Bloody Sunday. (Or, as Susan McKay called it, witheringly, in the Irish Times, “Dignified and Appropriate Sunday”.)
That is the context of Bradley’s comments, and what she said came hot on the heels of former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s Daily Telegraph column, of which he tweeted: “We mustn’t let politics trump justice in this travesty of a Bloody Sunday trial. What signal does it send out to our brave armed forces?”
(SDLP leader Colum Eastwood replied: “It says, ‘if you murder 14 unarmed civil rights marchers you should expect to be prosecuted’.”)
As a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the British Government made a solemn commitment to “rigorous impartiality”. Theresa May’s confidence-and-supply arrangement with the Democratic Unionist Party spits in the face of that promise, at the worst possible time for the North, which has been adrift without a devolved government for two years. The sleep of reason that is Brexit is already producing monsters, and dissident activity – which definitely hasn’t gone away, you know – is bubbling to the boil again, with violence on the streets and letter-bombs in the post.
Bradley’s comments were red meat to the Tory right, in these Brexit End Times. That they mollified the Creationist bigots in the DUP propping up the Conservative minority government is no accident either.
With barely two weeks to go to Brexit, and ahead of Tuesday’s planned latest 'meaningful vote' on May’s withdrawal agreement – rejected last time by a staggering 230 votes – only a fool would try to predict the future. So here goes.
Barring a last-minute, column-ruining miracle, Tuesday’s proposal will likely be rejected, again, and Wednesday should then see a vote on whether MPs are prepared to see Britain leave on 29 March without a deal. It seems certain the Commons will reject no-deal, and May will then ask for an extension on Article 50, extending the Brexit deadline. Quite what she hopes will change during that extension, is anyone’s guess.
Former Prime Ministers John Major and Gordon Brown, were last week suggesting a one-year extension to Article 50 (and Tony Blair was calling for a second referendum,) but any extension beyond three months runs into a serious legal problem. The European elections are in May. July 1 is the last day before the new parliament convenes. If the UK is planning on staying in the EU beyond July 1, it will have to participate in the EU elections.
It seems unlikely – fantastical, even – that Mrs May (or Labour leader Comrade Lentil Jesus, or any other party leader, bar perhaps whichever escapee from the Beano is running UKIP this week) would run candidates for election to a parliament of which the UK no longer intends to be a part.
If the UK is an EU member beyond July 1, and if it has not participated in the elections, and if it has no MEPs, there is a strong legal possibility the new parliament could be judged to be illegally constituted. If the parliament is illegally constituted, then its every decision is invalid.
Thus – absent the UK partaking in the EU elections – July 1 looks to be the last cliff edge. If the UK fails to secure a Brexit deal by then, it’s whoops apocalypse.
Something which was a foolhardy attempt to prevent a Tory split may yet result in the death of the United Kingdom itself.
Meanwhile, Ireland – south of the backstop – is facing a catastrophe entirely of Britain’s making. The ESRI projects an immediate hit of 1.4% to Irish economic growth if Britain crashes out of the EU at the end of the month. The Department of Finance estimates Brexit will cost Ireland 55,000 jobs by 2023.
And that’s without taking into account the millions Ireland has been forced to spend in preparation for Brexit. We didn’t cause this mess, but here we are. How many hospital beds, how many homes, how many smear test results, how many Garda overtime hours, how much of the daily fabric of normality in our country have we been forced to sacrifice to pay for contingency plans against the rolling breakdown being experienced by our nearest neighbour, our closest friend and our oldest enemy?
Brexit has destabilised British politics, endangered the Peace Process, and set Irish-British relations back a generation. And it hasn’t even happened yet.