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The main achievement of the Good Friday Agreement — the creation of power-sharing institutions — is not just unwell, but perhaps terminally ill. Like few places on earth, Northern Ireland lives its history. Stay at the multimillion pound Radisson Blu hotel in downtown Belfast and an Irish tricolor can be seen, stuck in a window of a flat in the “Markets” area — an Irish Catholic ghetto surrounded by Britishness and a derelict patch of grass. Politically, it is more Balkan than British or Irish. It created a land where you could be Irish or British — or both. “Politics here are based on allegiance and identity," wrote the columnist Brian Feeney in the Irish News last week, days before the shooting of journalist Lyra McKee in Derry/Londonderry on Thursday night. Look, it’s not going to happen.” The New IRA admitted responsibility for the killing on Monday — albeit with "full and sincere apologies" — a sign of the deadly tensions that are still simmering in Northern Ireland. The backstop, which aims to ensure no border controls are needed, treats Northern Ireland differently to the rest of the U.K., raising unionist fears that it is the start of the slow drift to Irish reunification — and the dominance of Irish nationalists over Ulster unionists. The old leaders who guided the peace process to its conclusion — and may have had the power and authority to save it now — are gone. Northern Ireland is not well. Sign up here.
A message on the side of a bus will inform Brexiteers that Britain has now left the EU while the rest of the country hopes they fall for it again. The original Brexit bus claimed that Britain sent £350 million a week to the EU, money we would be able to spend on the NHS instead. While that message was a load of old bobbins, plenty of people fell for it. That is why a new bus message will tell Brexiteers that Britain has now left the EU while sane and rational people cross their fingers and hope they fall for the same trick again. It appears the scheme is already working as a picture of the bus has been shared over 10,000 times on social media, with Brexiteers leaving celebratory messages. ‘Missed the big news but if it says it on the side of a bus it must be true!’ posted @AreKuntry on Twitter. The Brexit bus will tour Britain until every Brexiteer believes we’ve left the EU, the country will then return to business as usual.
European press and commentators switched on the TV, pulled out the popcorn and sat back to watch the latest preposterous episode in Britain’s Brexit psychodrama with a mixture of disbelief and resignation. So, cue uproar in the house, and the credits start running. ‘Order,’ roars John Bercow. Please do not adjust your set: we’ll be back right after the break.” After a day in which Theresa May offered to step down as prime minister if MPs backed her twice-rejected Brexit deal, and parliament failed dismally to agree on any one of eight possible ways forward, the paper’s incredulous front page headline was: “All against all, and all against everything.” Anyone blaming Britain’s present impasse on May had been proved wrong, the paper said: “Parliament is no smarter than the prime minister: lesson one. It has engulfed the political institutions and shaken the whole conventional order.” The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wondered despairingly whether “this moment of madness” might soon be behind us, “so that for all those involved, on both sides of the Channel, we can get back to talking about other important things”. Following “yet another chaotic day in parliament”, it did at least look like “the last chance for May’s Brexit deal” was approaching, the paper said. And business is growing seriously alarmed.” Thus, Britain’s Brexit impasse “has never looked more insurmountable than after this crazy day of 27 March – the day that was supposed to unblock the situation”, said France’s Le Monde. But nothing now appears less certain.” It was “another day rich in plot twists, but without a proper ending”, the paper said. On the other hand, it knows what it doesn’t want: neither the exit deal agreed with the EU, nor eight other possible ways out of this mess.” In the Netherlands, de Volkskrant also reckoned the prime minister had “sacrificed herself for ‘her’ Brexit, but is far from sure to get parliament to vote for it”. May “has now tried everything to sell her deal”, the paper said, “from handing out knighthoods to opponents to promising money to MPs from leave-voting constituencies”.
The announcement on border checks was revealed days after the British government secured a short extension that shifts the Brexit deadline to 12 April. In an information notice, the commission confirmed that in the event of a no-deal UK nationals would have the right to visa-free travel for short stays in the EU (90 days in any 180-day period), if the UK grants the same arrangement to citizens of all EU member states. In another return to the past, British travellers may be asked by border guards to provide information on the purpose of their visit and means of subsistence during their stay. Luggage would be subject to customs checks. The British government would get a longer extension only if it agreed by that date to take part in European elections on 23 May. European commission officials have visited all 27 member states to check on no-deal plans. Countries that trade heavily with the UK are hiring hundreds of customs officers and are building border inspection posts to restart checks on animal, food and plant products. While preparations were being taken “extremely seriously”, delays could not be avoided: “Disruption will occur and nothing will be smooth … There will be frictions, it’s pretty clear.” According to the EU official, national authorities and businesses wanted no-deal over quickly, if it has to happen. And so they were telling us we want certainly, and if it has to happen so be it.” If the UK crashes out of the EU on 12 April, the government will have six days to decide whether to pay its dues into the 2019 EU budget, so enabling British farmers, researchers and other recipients to receive EU funds. The government could secure short-term participation in such programmes by agreeing to pay into the EU 2019 budget.
Nearly three years after the EU referendum, I no longer feel the same connection. Then Brexit happened. People who were aware of my plan to move to Greece, people whose children are dating foreign nationals, how could they vote for Brexit? I don’t want to say I’ll never come back to the UK because I will always be British. I started to think about going back to Europe the next day. I stopped speaking to people who voted leave. Everyone keeps saying we don’t know what people voted for. We’re lucky – some of our friends here have only British passports and are worried that they will be told to go home. They are sad about Brexit, but have moved on. We’re sorry we asked you to do the same thing every other country was doing!” Maybe now the politicians will realise the world is bigger than Great Britain.
While a Brexit extension is a near-certainty, the official departure date is still 29 March. While British officials remain involved in discussions, the UK will hang back on strategic questions about how the EU should approach China. A government spokesperson said: “The UK will continue to take a full part in discussions at the [Foreign Affairs Council], focusing on those issues that matter most to the UK and EU.” Other day-to-day EU business provides a jarring contrast with the government’s Brexit strategy: one of Theresa May’s last acts as an EU leader will be to sign a routine communique on strengthening the single market – the one she insists Britain must leave. “A politician’s life is always uncertain, you never know if you are going to come back for the next mandate.” MEPs who back the government also acknowledge the uncertainty. He was speaking last month before May suffered a second humiliating defeat on her Brexit deal. British MEPs have been told to clear their offices by 29 March, as their passes will stop working soon after. “It’s uncertain, it’s unnerving that we still don’t have an answer,” one assistant said. I will be fighting this thing until the very end.” He was speaking last month, after voting on the future of the common agricultural policy – and dismissed the suggestion this is a waste of time for a British MEP. The UK continues to speak out on crises or short-term business, whether that is the war in Yemen, or the EU’s 2018 budget. Officials are now thinking hard about how to preserve British influence, when there is no British voice or vote in the room.
After the chaos, contradictions and incompetence in the UK’s handling of Brexit, European media have spotted a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. On past form, of course, it will soon be extinguished, but the endgame seems – at least for now – to be approaching. “At long last, MPs now have to decide where they stand,” said Die Zeit in Germany after the Commons voted in favour of a short extension to article 50 on Thursday evening, having earlier in the week rejected both Theresa May’s Brexit deal and no deal. “Empty promises to voters and pithy speeches in parliament will no longer cut it. The drama currently being played out in Westminster represents, at long last, the painful intrusion of reality into Britain’s Brexit debate.” Party discipline had gone, arguments were mutating and majorities were switching, the paper said. It is loud and it is painful, but it is bringing much-needed clarity.” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reckoned the UK’s “battered prime minister may perhaps have slightly more reason for hope than before. However, Le Monde warned that the “apparent bright spot” masked “a weakening of May’s authority that is alarming not just for her political survival but for the democratic functioning of the country”. In Dublin, the Irish Times said that after the “chaos and humiliation of a double defeat in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Theresa May had a relatively good day” on Thursday. Neither May’s Conservative government nor parliament had “a clear picture of where Brexit might end up”, it said. “Brexit Day was supposed to be in two weeks.
before the result of yesterday's vote on Theresa May's Brexit Deal was announced, one could be forgiven for thinking it was just an ordinary day in the British parliament. This time by 391 votes in favour to 241 against - a defeat by 149 votes. When the unimplementable promises made by the Leave campaigners before the referendum turned to dust, May's government still persevered in trying to make Brexit happen. Both parties are riven by splits on EU issues - 75 Conservatives refused to back May in yesterday's vote, with the majority of those opponents favouring a "no-deal" Brexit instead. On the Labour side, about half of the MPs do not back Corbyn's Brexit line and want the UK to hold a second referendum and stay in the EU. Meanwhile, three Conservative and eight Labour MPs have recently left their respective parties to form The Independent Group, a proto-party in the House of Commons, to try to force the idea of a second referendum onto the agenda. Throughout all of this, May and Corbyn, both of them steeped in party politics - they have each spent more than 40 years in their respective parties, refuse to seriously seek solutions collaboratively. So, the House of Commons cannot move forward. But lacking a solution, in the next fortnight the UK will crash out of the EU without a deal, with major economic and political consequences. While that idea might appeal to enough MPs, the EU side is not keen.