2007 - 2021

Yellowhammer on the Border. Brexit Meets Devolution

Two critical events are coming down the track which put Westminster, Holyrood and the Northern Ireland Assembly in direct conflict. The developments force Ruth Davidson and the Scottish Tories into a corner and face the Precious Union into a new phase of crisis.

First, a majority of Northern Ireland Assembly members have signed a joint letter to Donald Tusk confirming their support for the backstop. The letter, supporting the backstop is signed by 54% of NI Assembly members. The letter is signed by Sinn Féin, SDLP, Alliance & Green Party leaders. There are no unionist signatures on the letter.

Second, SNP, Labour, the Greens and the Lib Dems are all set to back a motion which would make clear the Scottish Parliament’s opposition to “No-deal” in all circumstances. The Scottish Government is planning to hold a landmark Scottish Parliament debate on a “No-deal” Brexit, when the Scottish Parliament returns from its summer recess.

Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations Michael Russell said he hoped a motion which would make clear the Scottish Parliament’s opposition to “No-deal” in all circumstances could be agreed unanimously, given the damage such an outcome would cause to Scotland and the UK as a whole.

Subject to agreement by other parties the debate could be held in the first week of the new Parliamentary session, which begins next week.

Labour, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats have all indicated support for such a debate, with the motion expected to say:

That the Scottish Parliament agrees that the UK should in no circumstances leave the EU on a no-deal basis.

Michael Russell said:

“When the new session starts we will be less than two months away from a catastrophic No-Deal which the UK Government appears now to be actively pursuing.”

“It is essential that the Scottish Parliament has the opportunity to have its say while there is still time to stop this disaster from happening.”

“It is more important than ever for politicians and parties to work together in Scotland and across the UK  to do as much as we can to make the new Prime Minister change course.

“For the Scottish Tories this could be a defining moment.  Their leader in the Scottish Parliament says she is opposed to a No-Deal Brexit.  This is an opportunity to make that opposition crystal clear and unambiguous. Do Tory MSPs support taking  Scotland and the UK of the cliff-edge whatever the costs to jobs and living standards – or are they going to join with other parties to send a message to the UK Government that this reckless plan must be halted now?

“Crashing out of the EU without a deal is in no one’s interest and I hope the Parliament can come together and unanimously agree that a No-deal Brexit should be ruled out in all circumstances.”

Poileas Alba

Now normally both Scotland and Northern Ireland would just be disregarded – after all this isn’t really about democracy at all, is it? Even if there is evidence of exceptional cross-party support and a majority agreements, Northern Ireland, Ireland and Scotland will be treated with the contempt that they think we deserve. Recalcitrant Jocks and Paddies are pretty much the same thing after all, aren’t they?

But as the Sunday Times reports, Scottish police are to be deployed to Northern Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit to quash civil unrest, or terrorism, which aren’t really the same thing are they?

Despite the headline it looks like 300 Police Scotland officers will be deployed first. “Geographical proximity & political sensitivity surrounding English officers” given as reasons.

This is a new development that should alarm event the most complacent armchair Brexiteer.

As former army officer Nicholas Mazzei has written:

Ok this is a really, really bad idea for so so many reasons. Police from mainland UK are not trained or equipped to deal with many issues in NI, especially along the border in a no deal Brexit scenario. When I was in 38 Irish Brigade in 2009/10 we had very serious concerns about the growth in dissident violence and an expectation it would get worse leading up to the 2016 Easter rising centenary. It didn’t, because the whole Ireland effect of the GFA and economic growth north and south meant the nation moved on A hard border splitting the two nations will bring all the dissidents back (with lots of weapons and explosives they didn’t declare) and mainland Police are not geared up for it. PSNI officers carry handguns; GB police do not unless they are specialists. This is a very, very precarious situation and is likely to lead to the deaths of police officers. Let’s not forget; many police will be needed in GB due to civil unrest here.”

Now the operational difficulties of policing a No Deal GFA breaking Brexit are one thing, and I have no doubt of the problems as laid out by Mazzei. But the other problem is clearly political and potentially constitutional. Policing is a devolved matter, but Nicola Sturgeon will presumably be left helpless if this plan is enacted.

“Policing should be above politics” people will earnestly explain, as the most political policing decision is imposed on the officers of Poileas Alba and the PSNI.

This is like watching the Memory Hole ‘live’.

Memory and Ireland have long been a problem. As Gordon Guthrie explained:

“Our history as a victor, or at least being on the winning side, in both the main phases of the 20th centuries long European wars means that many of these lessons are unlearnt in our political tradition. Ireland is not seen as just another successor state of 1918 because the UK is not seen as just another empire that collapsed. The myth that we graciously dissolved the Empire persists. In the 1920s the UK refused the idea that the Minorities Treaties should apply here – and so the collapse of the Northern Ireland government over the issue of an Irish Language Act is treated as some special event – instead of a ghostly throwback to a hundred years ago – fighting old wars.

And critically the British constitution has remained archaic and unexamined. For all my adult life there has been continuous change at the periphery, new parliaments, old ones in Ireland collapsing. But the pretense has always been that the centre is unchanged, unaffected.

This refusal to take responsibility is a major part of the problem – if the UK is a beacon of tolerance, loved across the world, then the local British nationalists in Northern Ireland can’t really be British – it was not an unnoble sentiment back in the killing years – but there are practical consequences – the North is British. But 40 years of No Good Briton mastering Irish politics has its consequences.

In that world the Good Friday Agreement could be seen as just another regional adjustment to one of the broken peripheries, instead of what it was supposed to be: the final bookend on 100 years of unresolved history.

The fact that the UK-Irish border was the last border in the EU to be recognised by both parties is a non-fact, not even forgotten, or unthought, but unthinkable. The UK didn’t split, there weren’t successor states, we won in 1918. Nothing happened to us.”

The myths and illusions of Britain and the post-colonial hallucinations of England are coming home to roost.

But if Nicola Sturgeon and whoever isn’t running Northern Ireland don’t matter at all, then Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi surely do.


There will be no US-UK Trade Deal if the Good Friday Agreement is undermined. And it will be.

None of this is survivable.

Comments (30)

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  1. David Howdle says:

    If policing is a devolved matter (and it is) why can the Scottish government not refuse to allow Police Scotland officers to go to NI?

    1. Well because people will say that is “political” for Sturgeon to stop that. Which is crazy. That’s the point I was trying to make.

      1. David Howdle says:

        Understood thanks.

      2. Jo says:

        People can say what they like. This is too important to just roll over.

        It should be discussed in the Scottish Parliament. I can’t think why any Scottish MSP would back this insane idea. Let’s put it to the vote.

      3. Craig P says:

        I certainly hope that Scottish police aren’t sent to the NI border, certainly not ordinary bobbies untrained in counter-terrorism. The UK government might make a fuss about it, but I reckon the Scottish electorate will overwhelmingly consider that prioritising the lives of Scottish police officers is *not* a political move.

      4. graham ennis says:

        OK, if the Sottish Polis are sent to Ireand, without Holyrood consent, it is clearly illegal. Sturgeon could go to the Scottish high Court, and get a stop order, but she will not. She will meekly refuse to act…..I weep, I really do.

  2. Welsh Sion says:

    Awaiting a similar motion in the National Assembly.

    First Minister Drakeford has been arguing previously for a no-deal Brexit – indeed has gone further than ‘Big Boss’ Corbyn to say that ‘Welsh’ Labour should campaign as a Remain Party in a second referendum. Time for Plaid Cymru – the strongest pro-Remain party in our National Assembly – to ensure Drakeford to put his money (not, as is usually the case, his foot) where his mouth is and secure common purpose with our friends in Scotland the North of Ireland.

    Mealy-mouthed platitudes exchanged with Nicola don’t really wash, Drakeford. Let’s see some real action and co-operation. Jocks and Paddies are showing the way – don’t leave us Taffies in the slow lane, at the mercy of the rapacious Anglos.

  3. Morag Williams says:

    I don’t understand how anyone in the Scottish Police could be sent to Northern Ireland. I can understand why Boris would want to send the Scottish police to N Ireland but would appreciate an article with more detail on same.

    1. What do you need to know Morag?

    2. Jo says:

      If you can understand why Johnson would do this maybe you could explain to the rest of us.

  4. Tom Parkhill says:

    If the mainland police are sent in and they come under attack – as they will – the next step is sending in troops to support the police. This will not end well.

    1. lordmac says:

      You are correct tom, that is the way they want it to happen, once the army is back in the good Friday agreement goes out the window and also the vote for independence for united Ireland and once again the tail wags the dog, as minority controls as it has done before

  5. James Mills says:

    This scaremongering by the pessimists is not helping things .
    As Boris explained in his presser after meeting with Macron – all that is needed is a big dose of optimism , and then he clearly outlined the major elements of his well-thought out , cunning plan , and I quote : ” Where there’s a will , there’s a way ! ”

    So why all the doom and gloom ?

    1. John mooney says:

      Are you for real, the lunatic tory brexiteers could not care less if all hell breaks out in N.Ireland if the backstop is removed,Boris the buffoon is well prepared to see murder and mayhem return to N.Ireland if it still allows the dup to keep his coterie of unhinged proto fascist in power at Wasteminster.Wake up and smell the coffee!

      1. James Mills says:

        ”Are you for real ? ” — clearly not ! ( Or so I thought when writing – must be using too much sarcasm !)

  6. bringiton says:

    The main purpose of Brexit for the Tories is to get out from under the European courts’ jurisdiction,as they see it.
    The peace in NI has been kept by the perception that everyone was getting a fair shake from the political establishment, backed by the rule of law.
    When it becomes clear that Catholics are returning to London/DUP rule,no amount of policing will contain the resulting reaction.
    This,as you say,is a result of indifference in Westminster to the wishes and needs of the other nations that constitute the UK state,which challenges their right to continue to represent us.

  7. H Scott says:

    Enforcing a hard border in Ireland is not normal policing and, given its nature, any Scottish politician responsible for the wellbeing of our police officers should resist Scottish police officers being deployed as much as possible.

    1. Jo says:

      That’s why I believe that if Johnson tries this, the Scottish Parliament should debate the matter and vote on it. We need to know who, if any, of our MSPs would consider abusing Scottish police resources in such a manner, with all the potential consequences.

    2. Northern Irish cynic says:

      There never was a “hard border” in Ireland and there never will be, as it is geographically, logistically and above all politically impossible to create and sustain such a concept. During our “troubles” over here there was a security border, which meant there were security installations on all the main arterial north/south routes, but the rest of the 300 mile long frontier was open, all you had to do was walk across a field, jump over a stream, or pass through a house. The I.R.A. and others crossed it at will to carry out their operations, the U.V.F. crossed it to plant deadly car bombs in Dublin and Monaghan. The I.R.A., in particular, regarded it as a useful asset, keeping most of their major arms, ammunition and munitions dumps in the south, periodically transferring just enough to the north to maintain their campaign. The G.F.A. only mentioned the border in the context of the arterial security installations, expressing the hope that they would be removed and, of course, they all have and they won’t be coming back. So when people refer to the return of a “hard border,” they refer to the return of a mythological entity.
      Like the “hard border” the Good Friday Agreement has been cited and used in the most cynical manner by people who appear never to have read it. The backstop is supposed to be there to prevent the return of something which never existed : Leo Varadkar has said repeatedly that even in the event of a no-deal Brexit he’s not going to put checks on his side of the border, let alone create a mythical “hard border.” In addition, the backstop drives an express train through the G.F.A., as it changes the status of Northern Ireland, something which the G.F.A. said should not happen without the approval of the people of N.I.. Nationalists love the backstop for obvious reasons, Unionists hate it for the same reasons, it has created the very opposite of the agreement and consensus, which the G.F.A. was supposed to foster. So forgive me a cynical laugh when I hear people talk about the G.F.A. being undermined, when it suits your political agenda you’ll ignore it’s violation, when it doesn’t you’ll jump up and down about the sacred document being undermined.

  8. Alasdair Macdonald. says:

    I suspect that the metropolitan broadcast and print media will, substantially, ignore the actions by Edinburgh and Belfast. Stormont is not sitting, therefore, the action by a group of citizens will be presented as without any authority. Indeed, it might well be presented as ‘giving encouragement to terrorists and murderers’ and thus resurrecting the possibility of bombings in England. So, the patriotic card will be played. In all likelihood, the Guardian will be in the van, with the Express and Mail.

    In Scotland, I suspect that only 1 or 2 Tory MPs will continue with their opposition to ‘no deal’, but, they will be flaky, because Ms Davidson as a Colonel in the TA will be ‘obliged’ to fulfil her oath of loyalty as a soldier and she and most of the other Tory MSPs will oppose Mr Russel’s motion. The Scottish media will talk about the need to protect the state against ‘separatists’ The FM’s refusal to commit Police Scotland, will, as you say, be deemed ‘political’ and the Home Office will assume ‘emergency’ control.

    The argument that ‘we voted as a United Kingdom to leave’ the EU will be emphasised repeatedly. This will bring any wavering Tories to heel and, with Mr Ian Murray in his union flag suit, a far chunk of the Scottish Labour MPs, MSPs and party members will rally to save the country. The LibDems, will, of course, follow their leader.

    I suspect that the various Army cadet forces in the private schools and universities will be ‘mobilised’, along with ‘special constables’ to provide policing.

    The strife in Ireland will resume, with a protracted war of attrition, lasting many years, but, eventually brought to a close under American influence, with the Irish lobby having exerted itself. There might be a rump ‘2 or 3 counties’ with no border and a border in the Irish Sea. The DUP, will have been bought off, and many ‘loyalists’ will have moved to Scotland and England.

    This will shift the voting balance in Scotland towards the union. Holyrood will probably be disempowered or closed.

    Rather pessimistic and rather improbable, I admit, but not impossible.

    1. james mills says:

      I preferred Mike’s 2028 vision !

    2. Jo says:

      “Stormont is not sitting….”

      That’s the really infuriating thing Alasdair. Two and a half years now of Stormont in limbo …. with members losing only a small portion of their salaries! Sinn Fein are just as intransigent as the DUP.

      1. Dougie Blackwood says:

        Do not open that can of worms. Politics in Northern Ireland is a powderkeg driven by bigotry and fear in equal measure on both sides. We have enough of a whiff of it here and do not want any more.

        1. Jo says:


          “We have enough of a whiff of it here and do not want any more.”

          I know. That’s why I find this development so terrifying.

          1. MBC says:

            Totally agree Jo, and I do not understand why Sturgeon is not fiercely attacking it. Nor do I understand how Boris’s government could compel Scottish Police to go to Northern Ireland. This is far more serious than the poll tax experiment. Why is there not furious condemnation?

  9. Doris Johnson says:

    Unionist “think” tank:
    Hmm, these Paddies and Jocks seem to be getting a bit too friendly, how can we put a stop to that? I know, how about sending the Jock police to Northern Ireland when the sh*t hits the fan. imagine the headlines, Scottish police killed in Ireland. That should slow down any Celtic Alliance nonsense. And if the Irish don’t kill them then our undercover boys can, after all that’s what they’re trained for innit?

    Go ahead, please try and convince me that nobody in the fetid swamps of the English public school educated tax haven lover establishment is thinking like this.

  10. Moira Cochrane says:

    A thought. If the reason Stormont no longer sits is because of the DUP, a minority, can the others sit in another grand building – invite the DUP and, if they refuse,then make political decisions as a provisional government? The other politicians in NI were all elected but cannot represent their constituents because of the DUP (and of course Westminster who do depend on them),

    1. Jo says:

      If only, Moira, but as far as I am aware, such a thing isn’t possible. The power-sharing arrangements require the cooperation of the relevant Parties.

      It appears that the tearful faces presented at the funeral of the young journalist were fake.

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