- Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales (and London) all excluded from permanent positions in Brexit Cabinet.
- Cabinet committee dominated by Leave campaigners as PM May tries to keep a tight rein on Brexit talks.
- Ireland’s own all-island consultative initiative to start on 2 November
By Bernard Purcell
British Prime Minister Theresa May’s special Brexit cabinet committee has excluded Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and even London while ensuring at least half of the posts go to prominent Brexit voices. Although Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire is a highly regarded and trusted ally of Mrs May, under whom he worked at the Home Office, there is no permanent place for him at the Brexit table despite the disproportionate sensitivity of Brexit to the Border.
Just last week Mr. Brokenshire revealed talks are underway for Ireland – which shares a land border with the UK and will be the start of the Eurozone to police migration into the UK. This is all the more disturbing, say some observers, given the moribund response to date of Stormont’s DUP-Sinn Fein power sharing administration to Brexit since 23 June.
Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster leads the DUP which campaigned to leave the EU. She scuppered an early attempt by Taoiseach Enda Kenny to convene an all-island, north south forum to respond to Brexit. Political website Politico last week obtained a leaked government list of ‘who’s who’ on PM May’s Brexit cabinet committee leading many to speculate there can only be a so-called ‘hard Brexit’.
Every Tory politician who campaigned to leave the EU is on the committee including not just the thre most prominent – Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Brexit Secretary David Davis and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox – but also Development Secretary Priti Patel, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling and even Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom.
Mrs May will be acutely aware of the need for any Tory Prime Minister to keep her party’s Eurosceptic wing ‘inside the tent barking out’ having seen them hound Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major and David Cameron. But the exclusion of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Secretaries (David Mundell, Alun Cairns and James Brokenshire) relegating them to consultation “as required” is pointed and guaranteed to cause unease in London, Edinburgh, Belfast and, by extension, Dublin.
In Dail Eireann Fianna Fail Foreign Affairs spokesman Darragh O’Brien said it was clear Northern Ireland is not even on the British cabinet’s radar”.
Mayor of London, where the City’s financial centre has a huge interest in the negotiations extending far beyond the so-called financial passports which allow trades within the EU’s internal market, is also not deemed central to the negotiations.
In London, where 37 per cent of the population in non-British, businesses are worried about the impact of an immigration crackdown and exclusion from the single market to the extent that banks have been threatening a Brexodus – although no individual bank has detailed how and when it might leave. Business leaders have been pleased with what they see as Mayor Khan’s positive and sympathetic approach to them and say he must be granted a place at the negotiating table.
May’s Brexit committee – the precise membership of which was, until last week, kept secret – has reportedly met at east three times since 26 July.
The Cabinet Committee, half the size of the Cabinet, has the same authority as a full cabinet. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, angry at what she says are broken promises to consult closely with Holyrood last week threatened to move for another independence referendum to keep Scotland in the EU.
Meanwhile, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan will launch their all-island “civic dialogue” in Dublin on 2 November aimed primarily at churches, trade unions, business groups, non-governmental organisations, and Northern Ireland’s main political parties.
The DUP has criticised Ireland for going ahead with its plan saying it is driven by party politics. But Mr Kenny has insisted that Ireland’s priorities are the economy, trade, the peace process, the common travel area and the future of the EU itself and that it therefore must take action to prepare itself and respond – especially given that Prime Minister May has indicated she will “trigger Article 50” by the end of March.
“Now that we have clarity from Prime Minister May regarding the timetable, we will intensify our engagement and preparation for the negotiations.
“Ireland faces unique challenges from Brexit, not least given the all-island issues that arise,” said Mr. Kenny earlier this month. Stormont’s North South Ministerial Council (NSMC), will meet in Armagh two weeks after the first civic dialogue event.
The Irish government says the civic dialogue’s report and recommendations will help form its negotiating position in Brussels on the UK’s exit negotiations.