John Bruton

Opinions & Ideas

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THE LEGACY OF PARNELL

Speech by John Bruton, former Taoiseach and former EU Ambassador to the United States, at the annual Parnell Commemoration, ay 11 am in the Milestone Gallery in Glasnevin Cemetery on Sunday 7 October 2018;127 years ago yesterday, Charles Stewart Parnell died, at the age of only 45.

I am deeply honoured to be invited to speak in memory of him today, for many reasons.

I admire Parnell for his parliamentary achievements, for his ability to combine popular agitation in Ireland with inter party leverage at Westminster to make concrete gains for his country.

Politics is often about timing, knowing how far to go and when to stop.

Parnell knew when to be tough and uncompromising, and when to make a deal.

As President of the National Land League but also as Leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party in Westminster, he exploited both offices to win land reform in Ireland.

The 1881 Land Act conceded the principle of fair rents, to be settled by judicial decision, and not just by economic or market forces.

The idea ran against many of the prevailing economic doctrines of the time. It also ran against Parnell’s own economic interests as a landlord.

It was not enough for some of Parnell’s supporters, but Parnell knew that, if it was rejected, the whole cause of land reform might have been lost.

So he devised the strategy of “testing” the Act.

He had also rejected the idea of his MP’s seceding from Parliament as he knew that this would be counterproductive, counterproductive then, as it is counterproductive now.

The Land Act was the first step towards the eventual transfer of land ownership, with compensation, from landlords to tenants, giving this numerous body of people, the former tenants, a stake in the country, a sense of shared ownership of Ireland.

In retrospect, it is probably good that this was done before Ireland became independent.

Trying to solve the land question after independence would have put an immense strain on Irish democracy. It would have been either deeply divisive, or financially costly, or both.

Parnell’s personal approach to the land question was more nuanced than one might think. Unlike Michael Davitt and most of his own party, he did not favour land nationalisation. Nor did he favour what eventually happened, the outright and compulsory transfer (with compensation) of all land from the landlord, to the farmer who was already farming it.

He proposed an amendment in 1888 which would have restricted tenant purchase to holdings where the rateable valuation(PLV) was 20 pounds, a  small farm of no more than  30 acres. Later he revised the figure up to 50 pounds  PLV.

Basically his position seems to have been that he wanted to allow the survival of small residential Irish landlords (like himself), and only wanted compulsory transfer of the  holdings of the  absentee landlords.

He argued that residential landlords were “well fitted” to “take part in the future social regeneration” of a Home Rule Ireland.

It is worth reflecting on the political methods Parnell used to persuade Parliament to take the first big step towards land reform in Ireland.

In 1879, Ireland, and the young leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, faced something, with which we have unfortunately recently had to cope with again, a sudden  fall in income, partly  due to the forces of globalization.

The heavy concentration of small holdings on the western seaboard meant that, in that heavily populated part of the country, people had a very precarious livelihood.

In the 1870’s , the immensely fertile grain growing regions of the Mid Western United States gained  access to the global market, thanks to  massive railway construction and improved shipping. 

These regions were able to supply grains to Europe at prices well below those at which Irish, British, and other European farmers could produce them.

This meant an immediate fall in farm incomes in these islands, and a fall off too in the demand for migratory seasonal labour in Scotland and the east of Ireland, on which many western farmers had come to depend to supplement their incomes and to pay their rent.

And then, in 1877, 1878 and again in 1879, there were disastrous summers in Ireland, and blight again afflicted the potato crop. Potato production plunged from 4 million tons in 1876 to only 1 million in 1879. People began to starve.

Parnell saw this crisis as an emergency, but also as an opportunity.

He went to the United States himself to raise funds to relieve starvation in Ireland , AND to finance a new National Land League founded in1879 to campaign for a  change in the basis of land ownership in Ireland.

He addressed the US House of Representatives in February 1880 on the situation in Ireland and, through the New Departure, he won Fenian support for this  land campaign, by linking it with the cause of self government for Ireland.

I might add here that the New Departure removed the gun from Irish politics for 35 years, before the Ulster Volunteers landed their arms in Larne.

Parnell’s ability to turn, what was potentially a humanitarian disaster into a vehicle  for political and economic reform, marks him out as a politician of exceptional talent. 

The ideas were not all his own, but he could fuse into something potent.

It is fair to say that the disastrous fall in incomes that occurred in the late 1870s would have happened, no matter what system of land tenure, or what system of Government Ireland then had.

It took someone of Parnell’s genius to turn it into something more far reaching, and productive.

This is, I think, something that current Irish political leaders can draw from Parnell’s career.

In a crisis, and we may soon face another externally generated crisis here around Brexit, it is possible to get people to see things differently, and to agree to changes they might not undertake in calmer and less anxious times

Parnell’s other great achievement was the introduction of the first Home Rule Bill of 1886.

Like the Land Act, this was a radical departure, when seen against the background of British opinion, at the time and since, in respect of indivisibility of the “Union”, a majoritarian Union of four nations, in which England , and English opinion, always constituted the majority

One has only to reflect on the fact that it was not until Tony Blair became Prime Minister, that Home Rule for Scotland and Wales was achieved.

The fact that, as early as 1886, a century earlier, the principle of Home Rule for Ireland became the policy of the UK’s biggest political party, the Liberals, is a measure of the force of Parnell’s parliamentary influence.

I am proud to be here for a more personal reason. Parnell became the MP for Meath in 1875, and I was one of those elected to represent the same constituency less than 100 years later.

Parnell entered Parliament as a member for Meath in 1875 in a by election.

He had previously contested a by election in Dublin county, but was defeated there, by the Conservative candidate , Colonel Taylor, of Ardgillan near Balbriggan.

Interestingly, in light of subsequent events, the 27 year old Parnell relied heavily, in securing the Home Rule nomination to stand in both contests, on a fulsome endorsement from his local Catholic Parish Priest in his home county of Wicklow, Father Richard Galvin of Rathdrum.

Fr Galvin described Parnell “up to the mark” on all the great questions of the day, which meant for him,

  • Home Rule,
  • denominational education and
  • fixity of tenure.

After losing in Dublin, in seeking the nomination in Meath, Parnell also had an animated interview with the then Catholic Bishop of Meath ,Thomas Nulty in the Presbytery in Navan.

He secured the bishops support, and the highlight of his successful campaign, according to his biographer, FSL Lyons, was a great meeting in Navan, attended, inter alia, by many parish priests and curates.

As we know, Parnell did not retain this support later.

Much of his effectiveness as an Irish leader depended on his influence over Liberal and non conformist opinion in Britain.

He lost that influence because of the O’Shea divorce case in 1890, and this loss of support, and hence of his political effectiveness, created a huge dilemma, which split the Irish Parliamentary Party.

A majority of the Party wished him to stand aside, at least temporarily.

This view was influenced primarily by political pragmatism, rather than by anything else.

Although a clear majority of the Irish Party MPs wanted Parnell to step down, partially or fully, Parnell would not accept the majority verdict, something that would not happen in any Irish parliamentary party today.

Unsurprisingly the Catholic Church in Ireland supported the majority position. Unfortunately some of the things that were said on its behalf, to discourage people from voting for Parnellite candidates, were consistent neither with Christian Charity, nor Catholic doctrine.

I remember in my first campaign in 1969 meeting a neighbour, Charlie Curley of Castlefarm, near Dunboyne, who told me his father had been ardent Parnellite, who had heard Parnell speak under the Big Tree in Dunboyne village. The tree still stands, a mute memorial to the deceased leader.

Dunboyne was a Parnellite parish, but during the split, the local parish priest preached a particularly strong sermon against Parnell.

A majority of local people decided to punish the PP by resolving not to make offerings at funerals.

As a result, until funeral offerings were finally ended in the 1970s in Meath , Dunboyne was the only parish in the diocese where  they did not take place.

The Parnell split in Meath is well described in an excellent book by David Lawlor, whose own grandfather was involved.

Reading that book, I was amazed to discover how many of the descendants of  the protagonists in the split were still active in local politics. One was the longtime chairman of Meath County Council, and close political ally of my own, the late Paddy Fullam, whose grandfather had been elected as an  anti Parnellite MP in South Meath, only to be unseated as a result of  an election petition based on some things overenthusiastic priests had said in his support.  The petition was ruinously expensive for the Fullam family, even though Mr Fullam was not responsible for the offending remarks.

What then are the lessons we can learn from Parnell’s career?

We can learn of the value of discipline and unity in a political party.

Under Parnell, the Irish Party became a disciplined pledge bound party.

Without that discipline, the Party would not have won the Land Act of 1881 or the Home Rule Bill of 1886. If the Irish representation in Westminster in the 1880’s consisted of 100 independent MP’s , they would have achieved little!

Likewise, if Dail Eireann is to make difficult decisions quickly, it needs disciplined and united political parties.

We can learn the importance of turning a crisis into an opportunity, as Parnell did with the agricultural crisis of the late 1870’s, using it win land reform. Politicians need to be imaginative, as Parnell was on that occasion.

We can learn the value of taking one’s seat in any Parliament to which one is elected, because, in Parliament, every vote counts.

Every vote will count in Westminster, when decisions have to be taken on Brexit, and on whether the people are to be consulted  again on whether they want to go ahead with it, when they know, at last, what it really means.

I commend the Parnell Society for keeping alive the memory of the great constitutional politician, Charles Stewart Parnell.

I  also thank the society for the annual Parnell Summer School, held in Parnell’s old home at Avondale, which has allowed the tremendous historical research, now being done, to reach a wider audience.  Long may this work continue to be supported.

WHY THE EU HAS DIFFICULTIES WITH THE CHEQUERS PROPOSALS

The Chequers proposals of the UK Government were a genuine, if belated, attempt to reconcile the expectations of the British people with EU realities.

But they ran into difficulty for the following reasons. If Chequers remained an opening negotiating position, it might have started a useful conversation.

  1. But , under the pressure of domestic UK politics,  Prime Minister May soon made it a “red line” position, and thus no longer negotiable.
  2. From an EU perspective, Chequers was problematic because it would have meant the EU giving up control of its trade borders, and subcontracting that to a non member, the UK. It would have provided for a common rule book for the quality of goods circulating, via the UK, into the EU Single Market, but the UK Parliament would still have retained the option of not passing some of the relevant legislation to give effect to this rulebook. Furthermore, it would not have been bound to accept the ECJ’s interpretation of what the common rules meant.
  3. It would have meant the UK opting into some bits of the EU Single Market, but not all, and that precedent would have created immediate demands for exceptions from other EU members and also from Switzerland and Norway.

It does not require much political imagination to see that these aspects of the UK proposal were going to be a hard sell in the parliaments of some of the 27 countries. And if just one of them said NO to an eventual EU/UK trade deal, there would be no deal. Each has a veto.

GOVE THEN UNDERMINED THE CHEQUERS LINE

To make matters worse, a collectively responsible member of the UK Cabinet, Michael Gove  suggested that the UK might agree a Withdrawal Treaty on the basis of the Chequers approach, but later, once out to the EU, abandon it, and do whatever it liked. This would put Mrs May in a position of negotiating with the EU in bad faith. It also raised doubts that, even if the EU side accepted Chequers, the UK government could not carry it through.

DOUBTS  RAISED ABOUT THE IRISH BORDER COMITTMENTS

Gove’s intervention also cast doubt the genuineness of commitments the UK had given on the Irish border.

In a Joint Report of 8 December 2017, the UK agreed to respect Ireland’s place in the EU and all that entailed, and that there would be no hard border in Ireland. This was to apply

“in all circumstances, irrespective of any future agreement between the EU and the UK”.

When the UK declined to translate this commitment into legal language for the Withdrawal Treaty, the EU side began to wonder if the UK wanted to delay dealing with Irish border problem until the last minute, hoping to table a proposal on a “take it or leave it” basis, and that the EU would not then jeopardize the whole deal over a place as small as Ireland!

Unsurprisingly, this shifting UK approach was not accepted by the UK’s EU partners, when they met in Salzburg.

The UK should not have felt “humiliated” by this. The EU is a complex institution, with 27 different countries.

ANY DEAL WILL HAVE TO APPROVED BY 27 PARLIAMENTS

As I said the parliaments of all 27 of them will have to ratify any eventual trade deal the UK. Let us not forget that EU found it hard to ratify its trade deals with Canada and Ukraine, because of objections in Wallonia and Netherlands respectively.

But before starting to negotiate a trade deal, the UK must first agree the terms of its withdrawal from the EU.

The Irish border question is central to this.

THE HARDER THE BREXIT, THE HARDER THE BORDER

The harder the UK Brexit, the harder will be the resolution of Irish border problem.

The further the UK negotiating demand goes from continued membership of the EU, the harder it will be for it to fulfill the commitments it has given on the Irish border.

If the UK decided to leave the EU, but to stay in the Customs Union, the Irish border questions would have been minimized.  But the UK has decided to reject that, because it hopes to be able to make better trade deals with non EU countries than the one it already enjoys as an EU member.

The UK has also rejected joining the European Economic Area (the Norway option), which would also have minimized the Irish border problems, because it would mean continued free movement of people from the EU into the UK .

In each decision, Ireland was given a lower priority than the supposed benefits of hoped for trade agreement with faraway places, and of curbing EU immigration.  This was short sighted.

Future trade agreements that might be made with countries outside the EU are neither as immediate, nor as beneficial to the UK, as maintaining peace and good relations in the island of Ireland, or as  the 70 or more trade agreement the UK already enjoys as an EU member, which it will lose when it leaves.

EU immigration to the UK, if it ever was a problem, is a purely temporary and finite one.

Already the economies of central European EU countries are picking up, and, as time goes by, there will be fewer and fewer people from those countries wanting to emigrate to the UK to find work.  These countries have low birth rates and ageing populations, so there is a diminishing pool of potential emigrants.

Again, I believe that solving this, largely imaginary, EU immigration “problem” is less important to the UK, in the long run, than peace and good relations in and with Ireland .

If, as is now suggested, the UK moves away from Chequers, and looks instead for a Canada style deal with the EU, the Irish border problem will become even worse. Mrs May has recognized this and this is why she rejects a Canada style deal..

A Canada style deal would mean the collection of heavy tariffs on food products, either on the Irish Sea, or on the Irish border. Collecting them on the 200 mile long land border would be physically impracticable, so the only option would be to do it on the Irish Sea.

Either way, the all Ireland economy, to which the UK committed itself in the Joint Report, would be irrevocably damaged. The economic foundation of the Belfast Agreement would be destroyed.

CONSERVING WHAT WE HAVE SHOULD BE THE GOAL OF A CONSERVATIVE PARTY

It is time for the Conservative Party to live up to its name, to be truly conservative, and conserve the peace we have so successfully built on the twin foundations of the Belfast Agreement and the EU Treaties, to which the UK committed itself in 1998 in the case of the Belfast Agreement,  and in 1973 in the case of the EU Treaties.

TALKING ABOUT PEACE IN COVENTRY

I was in Coventry Cathedral recently to speak at “Rising”, the annual Global Peace Forum. The gathering brought together politicians, academics, lawyers and local people who are interested in how lessons, learned in a peace process in one part of the world, might assist in another one elsewhere.

Coventry Cathedral is an inspiring setting for talking about war, and its dire consequences. The original cathedral was heavily bombed in 1940 during World War Two, but, instead of restoring it, the ruins of the old cathedral have been preserved in their post bombing state, as a mute but eloquent testimony to the horror of war. A new cathedral was built beside the ruins of the old one.

Coventry was also the venue for an IRA bomb attack in early 1939.

Among the peace processes discussed at the conference were those in Liberia, Rwanda, Colombia, Bougainville, Northern Ireland, Iraq, and Libya.

Some peace processes have been more successful than others!

I spoke about the Irish case.  The core problem from the beginning was the definition of “self-determination”.

Was it to be self-determination by Ireland as a single unit, or as two or more units?

I said that the uncompromising character of the declaration of a 32 county Irish Republic in the 1916 Proclamation, and in Dail Eireann in 1919, made subsequent compromise by self-declared Republicans very difficult indeed.

As a result, anything less than a full 32 county Irish Republic, was claimed by some of them to be a betrayal of the declarations of 1916 and 1919. That gave them an excuse to go on fighting and rearming.

The solution, worked out in the 1990’s, was a new act of Irish self-determination, in the form of simultaneous, but separate, referenda on the terms of a new Agreement in both parts of Ireland.  This new Agreement, the Good Friday or Belfast Agreement, was approved in the referenda in both parts of Ireland. It has been accepted by most Republicans as a new act of self-determination, replacing those of 1916 and 1919.

The Good Friday Agreement sets up an elaborate system for protecting the minority in Northern Ireland, whether that is a nationalist minority in a Northern Ireland that is still in the UK, or a unionist minority in a Northern Ireland that might, at some time in the future, be in a United Ireland.

Either way, minorities would continue to be protected by the Agreement, and Northern Ireland, as a distinct entity with special rules, would continue to exist.

Given the trouble that was taken to craft this complex settlement, it is irresponsible of the two main parties in Northern Ireland to decline to operate the Executive and assembly which are integral to the Good Friday Agreement. The scale of subsidization of public services in Northern Ireland by the rest of UK is liable to be questioned, if this refusal to operate the Agreement continues, and there is fiscal crisis in the UK.

 

LIFE IS THE PRIMARY HUMAN RIGHT

Speech by John Bruton, former Taoiseach, at the Pro Life Education dinner in the Clayton Hotel, on Saturday 8th September at 8pm

LIFE IS THE PRIMARY HUMAN RIGHT

I know everyone here feels a deep sense of disappointment at the decision the people took to remove the protection of the lives of unborn Irish boys and girls from the constitution.

The arguments advanced by those of us who favoured retaining the 8th Amendment were valid, and remain so.

They were philosophically coherent, and expressed a thought out value system, that protects the weak and the voiceless.

It is a value system that is based on respect for humanity and human life, and on the dignity and equality of each human person and not just on sentimentality or good feelings. It is never compassionate to end the life of an unborn baby.

There was no engagement, by the proponents of Repeal, with the question of when life begins, with when a human life should be recognised as a person, and hence when it ought to acquire human rights. That question was too difficult, too profound, so it was effectively ignored in the preparation of the abortion Referendum, in the Citizens Assembly, the Oireachtas Committee and the Dail and Seanad debates.

This is notwithstanding the fact that modern ultrasounds enable us to see the humanity of an unborn baby in ways that previous generations could not.

The pro life case recognises that there are responsibilities as well as rights, and  is, as I have said, based on a coherent value system.

Rights and responsibilities sometimes conflict with one another, and choices have to be made.

A value system is what then helps us make these, often very difficult, decisions, as individuals, and as a society. It provides the basis for a hierarchy of rights and responsibilities

In real life situations, some rights have to get priority over others.

The pro life case is that the right to life is the primary right, because, without life, one simply cannot exercise other rights. It flows from that that the primary responsibility, of the state, and of each of us as citizens, is to protect life.

Proponents of abortion either put other rights ahead of the right to life, or do not recognise a life before birth as human with human rights, at all.

A clear hierarchy of human rights is replaced by pure pragmatism. Everything is contingent, nothing is fundamental.

I do not think that is what the Irish people intended, but it is where we have arrived.

WHAT TO DO NOW….CREATING A SUPPORTIVE ENVIRONMENT FOR LIFE

Now that the law is being changed, and the criminal law will no longer be a factor deterring abortion, we have to consider other ways of avoiding the abortion of Irish babies.

There is a positive agenda to be promoted here.

We must continue to work vigilantly at legislative level, within the new constitutional dispensation. And there is much that can be achieved in the immediate future, as I hope to show in this speech.

But, even more, if we are  reduce abortions in future, we must work to building a climate of opinion, within families and in the wider public, that  will support women in making the courageous decision to allow their child to be born.

We must create a supportive environment for life.

That can be encouraged by public debate, and by conversation with friends. People who believe unborn babies are human, and should enjoy some basic human rights, should not be afraid to take part in these conversations. Whatever their view of whether abortion should be a criminal offence, many people will agree that babies before birth are human, and that they should be allowed to be born.

Creating a supportive environment will also involve solving the housing crisis, because the non availability of affordable housing is a deterrent to bringing a new life into the world. Those who object to new housing developments in their area should ask themselves if their objections are consistent with their pro life convictions.

Creating a supportive environment for new life will also involve giving greater recognition to the cost of rearing children in both our welfare and our tax codes. Children are recognised in the welfare system, but not in the tax code. The child tax allowance was abolished many years ago, while the tax allowance or tax credit for adults living in the same household has been steadily increased.  That was perverse.

In light of the ageing of our society, and the costs that will entail for families and the tax paying public, we should regard financial supports for families with children  both as socially progressive, and as an investment in our own future.

Creating a supportive environment for life will also involve making sure that adoption is made as accessible as possible to those who feel they cannot keep their baby.

The pro Life movement here should also look beyond Ireland in its efforts to protect life.  It must be inclusive.

Scandalously high levels of infant mortality in Africa are a pro life issue too.

The Irish Pro Life movement should continue to involve itself in the debates about what constitutes a human right, in the Council of Europe and in the in UN Agencies.

At the moment, these bodies take a very narrow view, regarding life before birth as not really human, and as undeserving of protection. That can, and should, be changed by good philosophical, legal, and medical arguments.

Indeed, one way to influence Irish legislators and courts to take a more inclusive and generous interpretation of the right to life here may well be to get the UN and the Council of Europe to take a more generous and inclusive view.

PROTECTING THE RIGHT OF CONSCIENCE AND RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

Religious freedom will need to be defended in the Termination of Pregnancy legislation, prepared by Minister Simon Harris, and soon to be debated in the Oireachtas.

No person, medically qualified or otherwise, should be forced by the threat to his/her employment, or of criminal sanctions, to be involved in the ending of a human life, against his or her religious convictions.

Article 44.2.1 of the Irish Constitution guarantees, subject to public order and morality,  the “free…..practice of religion”.

I would argue that “free practice of religion” is not confined to what one does inside the walls of a church, mosque or synagogue, but extends to daily life.

So a law that forces someone to take part in, or to facilitate, an action that that person believes is contrary to a deeply held religious conviction could be in conflict with Article 44.2.1.

Head 15 of the proposed Termination of Pregnancy Bill recognises this, in so far as it says no doctor, nurse of midwife shall be compelled to “participate” in carrying out an abortion.

Other hospital staff are not granted any such protection for their consciences, even though their participation may be also crucial to the ending of the life of the baby.

They too could be considered to be aiding and abetting an abortion, but they are to enjoy no protection for their consciences. That aspect of the Bill should be changed.

The concept of “aiding and abetting”  is well understood in Irish law .

Head 15 of the Bill requires a doctor, who has a conscientious objection to doing an abortion herself, to “make arrangements to transfer the care” of the woman to a doctor who will do it. This is aiding and abetting the abortion, and there is no conscience clause here either.

Given the amount of information on the internet, or likely to be available there in future, I believe this transfer requirement is unnecessary. Those seeking an abortion can find a doctor who will do it, without forcing a doctor, who objects to abortion, to aid and abet them.

I fear that doctors who are known to oppose abortion will be targeted under this clause by people wishing to catch them out and put them under threat of criminal prosecution because of their religious or human rights beliefs. There have been examples of this sort of targeting in other fields, where there are strong but conflicting views in the population.

Rather than place this burden on doctors who believe abortion is wrong, it would be more sensible to publish an affirmative list of those who have no conscientious objection to doing abortions.

Head 20 of the Bill provides for a body corporate to be prosecuted, and for directors, managers and secretaries to be prosecuted and punished.

So a hospital that declines to carry out abortions in accordance with the Bill could see its directors, and managers gaoled for up to 14 years for declining to do something that may be against their religious consciences, and which was itself illegal for the last 150 years or more. Again this is of questionable constitutionality.

ABORTION……… WITHOUT LIMIT AS TO AGE OF UNBORN BABY

There are other areas where amendments to the Bill should be promoted. Here the focus should be on Head 4 of the Bill, and on the definition of when an unborn baby is “viable” and should have a right not to be killed under Head 4.

“Viability” is defined as the point in a pregnancy when the “foetus” is capable of survival outside the womb without what are called “extraordinary life saving measures”. This is a very loose definition.

“Extraordinary life saving measures” are taken successfully in hospitals every day to save the lives of babies and adults.

Under the proposed legislation,  the possibility of taking such life saving measures- even though they would be regarded as routine in the case of premature babies- must be ignored in deciding whether  an unborn child could be capable of life outside the womb. To use such a definition, as a basis for ending life, is to do violence to the ethics of the medical profession.

Under Head 4 it will be permissible to end the life of what is deemed a non “viable” baby , at any stage in the pregnancy, if allowing the baby to be born would pose a” risk” of serious harm to the mental  health of the child’s mother.

Again this is a very loose ground for ending a life.

It involves the doctors in making a prediction about the FUTURE mental health of the mother after the baby might have been born.

Whatever about adjudicating about present mental health, deciding about future mental health is completely speculative. And on the basis of that speculation, a baby’s life is to be ended.

Indeed it is arguable that having an abortion is more likely, at some stage in the future, to trigger mental problems.

Furthermore there is nothing in the Bill to say that a qualified psychiatrist would have to be involved in making this life ending decision on the basis of an alleged threat to mental health.

These examples show that there is much constructive work to be done in preparing amendments to this Bill. The government does not have the votes to use the guillotine to close off debate on this, so there is plenty of scope for people here to explain what is at stake to their TD’s and Senators in a respectful and constructive dialogue.

LOOKING BACK AT THE REFERENDUM DEBATE….LESSONS FOR IRISH SOCIETY

I would now like to look back at the recent referendum debate and see what can be learned from it.

The reaction of those who won the Referendum was not always magnanimous, or respectful of the pluralist nature of Irish society and Irish values.

For example the Minister for Health, speaking in the Dail after the Referendum, on 31 May, did not seem to me to display the balance, and attentiveness to other points of view, that one would like to see in someone who will be deciding on the detailed content of the Termination of Pregnancy Bill.

He spoke of the Referendum result inaugurating what he called “a brighter Ireland”. It will not be a bright Ireland for the little babies who will have their lives ended before being allowed to see the light of a single Irish day.

He talked of the Referendum result “consigning a misogynistic legacy to the history books”. He did not seem to reflect on the fact that half the babies whose lives will be ended before birth will be girls. Those little girls will face the most extreme form of misogyny.

He claimed the “Yes” campaign was built on a “coalition of compassion”.  He thus seemed to imply that those who voted “No” are not compassionate. Maybe that is not what he meant, but nothing could be further from the truth.

He spoke of the Referendum meaning that we are “maturing into a tolerant, non judgemental, inclusive Republic”.  The Minister’s own speech was rather judgemental, and not particularly tolerant of those who sincerely disagree with him on the issue of abortion.

I hope that this was just elation, in the immediate aftermath of winning a political battle,  and that he will now show tolerance and inclusiveness, when considering amendments to the legislation he has proposed.

In a mature Republic, one would listen to, and deal respectfully with, the arguments and values of the other side, on any important issue. That did not happen during the years of preparation of the Referendum, and the mantra of “Compassion” was deemed sufficient to end all argument about the basic question of when life begins, when a life becomes a human, and hence when it ought to acquire human rights.

WHAT ARE THE NEW SHARED VALUES OF IRISH SOCIETY?

It is unclear what the new shared values of Irish society are to be. The Referendum did not end the debate.

If life is not the primary value, what is?

To fill that vacant space, and drawing on the most modern medical knowledge, the pro life arguments will need to be made, over and over again, to the young people of Ireland and to the generations that will succeed them.

These arguments, if repeated often and courageously, will remain in people’s minds, and will influence the private decisions that Irish women, their partners, and their loved ones will make in future, as to whether to accept a new person into their family circle, with all the responsibilities, joys and sacrifices that that entails.

UNACKNOWLEDGED CONTRADICTIONS

There are contradictions that still need to be resolved.

The recent Referendum decision sits very uneasily beside the deep and genuine concern, expressed in all quarters, for the welfare of boys and girls AFTER they have been born, and the strong laws we have passed to protect them.

It also sits uneasily beside the expressions of concern about where and how babies, who died fifty years ago in Mother and Baby homes, were buried.

Where, and how, will the supposedly non “viable” babies, who will be aborted in Irish hospital be buried? What care will church and state take to ensure that they are buried with dignity? Or will they be treated as mere hospital waste?

Human Rights organisations justly pride themselves in speaking up for the rights of those who cannot speak for themselves, or for those whose voices are not heard, because they are politically powerless, or simply unpopular.

But, in Ireland in the recent referendum, that did not really happen.

Irish human rights organisations ignored unborn children as if they were “unpersons”.

When the unborn child has its life deliberately ended, it is not presented as a victim.

Apparently it is only victims who survive who count.

But every abortion involves a death, a victim.  A victim that never gets the chance to become a survivor!

For me, every person counts, whether the person be born or unborn, visible or invisible, mute or eloquent, here or abroad.

THE FACTORS THAT SHAPE PUBLIC OPINION, AND THE RISKS THEY ENTAIL

If we are to use Referenda to make big decisions, we need to make sure that voters are fully equipped to do their job as citizen legislators.

What influences shape Referendum decisions, whether on Brexit , abortion, or children’s rights?

One needs to know to what degree emotion trumps rational argument.

One needs to know if people will examine each issue on its merits, or if the main driver is a desire to conform to some notion of what is modern and progressive.

There can be a conformist consensus in the media.

Professional Journalists are forced to report, under tight deadlines, on many things of which they cannot be expected to have a deep knowledge. So they write their reports to fit into the existing consensus among their journalistic colleagues.

The result is  often superficiality, one sidedness, conformity and dogmatism.

That sort of conformism contributed to development of the Celtic bubble.

It also drowned out prolife arguments in recent times.

On  social media, people tend to congregate in online communities where they only come across opinions with which they already agree. Thus social media can aggravate the tendency in the print media towards superficiality, one sidedness, conformity and dogmatism.

In these circumstances it is hard for those with unfashionable views to get a look in. This is not good for the quality of our democracy.

WE NEED TO THINK ABOUT THE MEANING OF HUMAN RIGHTS

To say a child has full human rights after birth, and none before it, is unscientific and inherently contradictory.

How then did the Irish public come to decide to end the constitutional right to life of an unborn child in Ireland?

It came down to the question of visibility.

The mother of the unborn baby, and the dilemmas she faces, were and are visible .

The unborn baby is invisible.

But, if one puts visible suffering above invisible suffering, one is no longer applying a universal moral standard.

I believe the whole notion of universal human rights rests on the assumption that there is such a thing as a universal moral standard. That is why I found the attitude of Irish human rights organisations, in the Referendum, troubling.

I say it again. There IS a hierarchy of rights and responsibilities. The right to life should be at the top of any hierarchy of rights.

 

CONCLUSION

I conclude saying there is much work to be done.

There will have to be a new approach, in a new context.

Yes, in the short term, one must continue to focus on what the laws says. The law is still open to amendment and that must be pursued with vigour.

But even more important must be the influencing of public opinion, over the longer term.

In recent years the number of abortions by Irish women has been falling.

Notwithstanding the change in the law, the number of abortions can continue to be reduced, if people are convinced that there is a better and more just way.

Lighting that way forward is the real route to a brighter Ireland.

 

A “GROSS BETRAYAL OF DEMOCRACY” ?

The UK Prime Minister, Mrs May, writes today that to have a second Referendum in the UK on Brexit would be “a gross betrayal of democracy”.

If she believes that, she does not understand democracy very well.

She seems to suggest that democrats, having made a decision, should not ever change their minds. In fact, democracy is all about creating mechanisms whereby voters CAN change their minds.

Democracy allows voters to change their minds, usually through parliamentary elections.

Totalitarian or dictatorial regimes, who do not hold regular elections, do not a have an inbuilt mechanism for changing their minds. This makes them brittle. Democracy, in contrast, is flexible.

There may be practical arguments against holding a second Referendum on Brexit, at this stage.

One could ask questions like

“What alternative to Brexit would be offered to voters, and by whom would it be offered….by the UK alone or by the UK and the EU?”

“ Might it be wiser to allow UK voters to actually experience Brexit in practice before asking them if they like it or not and want to change their minds?”

But for Theresa May to argue that reconsidering a referendum decision, by means of a second referendum,  is “ a betrayal of democracy” is just nonsensical.

CAN BREXIT TAKE PLACE WITHOUT EITHER MAJOR TRADE DISRUPTION, OR SERIOUS DILUTION OF THE EU LEGAL ORDER?

Brexit is a British decision.

It means that Britain is seeking to withdraw from a contract it made with the other EU members, on the basis of which those countries opened their markets to British business, in a way it was not opened to other countries. That was the deal.

In business, if one unilaterally withdraws from a contract, one does not normally expect to continue to enjoy all the benefits of the contract, afterwards.  One expects to have to make good some of the losses incurred by the other party.

But that is not how British public opinion sees Brexit. It IS how it is seen by the 27 partners of the UK in the EU.

This difference in perspective is at the root of the difficulties in the present negotiation.

The EU has developed, and maintained, an integrated Single Market for business because it has a single unified system for making, interpreting and enforcing a single set of rules.

The Single Market is deepening all the time and new fields of business are being made the subject of common rules, thereby opening new markets. This will not stop when the UK leaves.

Common rules are what keeps the EU together.

They derive from the EU Treaties, which is like a written constitution. It is difficult to amend. The UK, in contrast, has no written constitution, and there is no similar constraint on the UK Parliament.

So UK often looks at problems purely politically, while the EU has first to look at them legally. This causes misunderstandings. UK Ministers sometimes think that a political understanding with France and Germany will be enough to overcome its problems with the Commission, but that is not the way the EU works. France and Germany, and the Commission, are all subject to a common set of rules. This rule based system protects smaller countries and has been the secret of the EU’s success.

The recent Chequers decision by the UK Cabinet says the UK will keep to the  common EU rules for goods, but goes on to say that the

“UK Parliament would still have a lock on incorporating these rules in the UK legal order by not passing the relevant legislation”.

This is giving with one hand, and taking away with the other.

So, even if the UK and EU standards were the same at the outset, they could diverge substantially, depending on the vagaries of British politics. Ultimately the UK Parliament can do what it likes.

The UK will not be part of the EU legal order. This builds uncertainty into the proposed arrangement, and is bad for business.

This let out clause means that border controls might not be there at the outset, but might have to be reintroduced.

This is a critical issue for Ireland, where the reintroduction of border controls on the 300 mile boundary would be both provocative and impractical.

That is why the EU wants the Northern Ireland issue agreed before the UK leaves the EU.

The UK wants to take back control, but EU needs to have control too.  This point is not always understood in London.

The EU is 27 countries, and all their Parliaments will have accepted any eventual trade deal with the UK. This makes the sort of” flexibility”, the UK says it would like, difficult to obtain. Getting unanimous agreement of all EU Parliaments to a future EU trade deal with the UK will not be easy.

That was illustrated by the difficulties in ratifying recent Agreements with Ukraine and Canada, when extraneous domestic issues were used in Belgium and the Netherlands to delay ratification.

If the Commission wants a deal with the UK that will pass in all 27 Parliaments, it will have to exercise great care.

Patience will be required. Sound bites will not always be a help.

But before we even get down to detail on trade, there will have to be a Withdrawal Agreement.

80% of the text of the Withdrawal Agreement is already agreed, but 20% remains to be settled. Among the issues that are not settled is the

“backstop” to prevent a hard border in Ireland.

Here the EU has put forward the proposal that

“Northern Ireland remains in a common regulatory area for goods and customs with the rest of the EU”.

It has said it is ready to improve the text of this proposal, if the UK has suggestions to make. But such suggestions need to be within the parameters of what the EU has proposed.

This is difficult for the UK for various technical and political reasons, not least because England and Wales, but not Northern Ireland, voted in the Referendum to leave the EU’s common regulatory area.

Opinion on this in the UK is changing, but only very slowly.

The implications of a hard Brexit are only now being contemplated by most of the people who voted Leave in 2016.

In 2016, these people saw Brexit as an emotional assertion of national identity, rather than as a concrete proposal that would change their lives and livelihoods irrevocably.

I believe UK public opinion needs more time to consider if Brexit is really the best way to express their national identity, and more time to fix some of the inequities in British society that prompted people to vote Leave in 2016.

That why I have argued, in an earlier column in this paper, that the period of negotiation under Article 50 should be extended.

This could happen if the UK asked for it, but asking for it would require both immense courage on the part of the UK government, and a constructive response from the UK opposition.

It is hard to see evidence of either yet, but they could emerge if there is a crisis.

 

 

 

NIGERIA….a troubled history but a hopeful future

I greatly enjoyed reading “The Nigerian Civil War” by John de St Jorre, first published by Hodder and Stoughton in 1972, shortly after the war itself ended.

The origins of the war of the war are complex.

The Igbo, a tribe in SE Nigeria, thanks to good education and entrepreneurial spirit, tended to be disproportionately influential in post independence Nigeria. This led to resentment.

An army Coup d’ Etat in January 1966, in which members of the Igbo tribe took a prominent part, led to retaliatory killings of Igbos in other parts of Nigeria. This, in turn, led to an exodus of Igbos back to their ancestral lands in South Eastern Nigeria, in what was to become Biafra, and is now part of the Rivers State. These killings, mainly in Northern Nigeria, fed fears of a wider genocide against Igbos.

Even before Biafra formally seceded from Nigeria, the Nigerian Army was decentralised. Its commander in what was to become Biafra, Emeka Ojukwu, was thus free to make preparations for independence, while still technically in the Federal Nigerian army. This scope for autonomy of military commanders was also a factor in the Spanish and Irish Civil Wars.

At 2 am on the morning of 30 May 1967, Ojukwu declared Biafra to be independent of Nigeria.  Thanks to the fear of genocide, and to considerable international assistance (notably from France, Portugal and South Africa), Biafra survived militarily, until it suddenly collapsed in January 1970.

Thanks to the statesmanship of the Nigerian leader, General Yakubu Gowon, there was no genocide at the end of the war.

In contrast, leniency was shown and former supporters of Biafran secession were encouraged to take part in Nigerian political life. This is in marked contrast to the way in which the Spanish Civil War ended. Indeed the gradual realistion that, as the Federal army advanced into formerly Biafran territory, there was in fact no retaliation against former supporters of  Biafran secession, contributed to the collapse of secession.

In a sense, this Nigerian Civil War discouraged later attempts to re draw colonial boundaries on more “logical” tribal lines, elsewhere in Africa. An exception is the independence of Southern Sudan, which has not proven to be a great success.

It is difficult for an outsider to judge the legacy of the Civil War within Nigeria itself.  But this book tells a tragic story well.

TWENTY FIRST CENTURY CHALLENGES FOR NIGERIA

Family, religion and ethnicity are still important loyalties rivalling loyalty to the state of Nigeria itself.

There are 350 different local languages.

The birth rate is higher in the Muslim north of the country and this could gradually change the balance of power within the country. Warfare with Boko Haram in the North displaced 2 million people in 2017.

In another book I read, “Nigeria, what everyone needs to know” by John Campbell and Matthew Page it is claimed

‘“politics is more important in Nigeria than in the US or Europe because there are few other alternatives for elite competition or enrichment”.

Members of the National Assembly are very well paid.

Democracy has become stronger in recent years. The 2015 national elections were seen as credible and fair.

Patronage is still a key to re election. But UNICEF estimates that as many as 40% of Nigerian children aged between 6 and 11 do not attend school any many educated Nigerians(including priests and doctors) tend to emigrate.

Finding a workable development model, that will keep talent at home and give opportunities to those currently excluded, is still a huge challenge for this large and powerful African country.

 

WHAT DOES THE GOOD FRIDAY AGREEMENT REALLY MEAN?

HOW MIGHT THE CONSTITUTIONAL STATUS OF NORTHERN IRELAND BE CHANGED?

HAVE THOSE WHO CALL FOR IRISH UNITY REALLY THOUGHT ABOUT WHAT THEY MEAN?

 

I have just finished reading “Beyond the Border….the Good Friday Agreement and Irish Unity after Brexit” by Richard Humphreys. Richard Humphreys is an Irish High Court Judge and was a legal advisor to the FG/Labour/DL government.

The book explores the meaning if the Good Friday Agreement. It explains that its terms will still apply after Brexit, and would still apply, even if Northern Ireland ceased to be part of the UK and joined a united Ireland.

The Agreement’s requirements mean that the Stormont institutions, its protections for minority interests, and its requirement of respect for both identities would continue after unity.

The author favours Irish unity, but acknowledges that there will be a continuing UK interest in Ireland even if this happens.

He presumes there would be support for unity in the Republic. In this, he relies on Article 3.1 of the Irish constitution which states this to be the “firm will” of the Irish people, if consent has also been obtained in Northern Ireland.

He argues that a 50% +1 vote majority, in a poll in Northern Ireland, is sufficient to bring this about. Legally, this may be so, but that is hardly enough.

It is really surprising that the Brexit experience, of setting out on a major constitutional change, on the strength of a narrow majority in a referendum, has not prompted some rethinking on the author’s part.

He does not explore the extra taxation that might have to be paid by the southern taxpayer to replace the current UK subsidy to Northern Ireland, in the event that sovereignty moved from Westminster to Dublin.

Nor does he even mention the potential extra security provisions that would be made by the Irish taxpayer, to enforce Irish unity of any kind in places like Ballymena, East Belfast and Portadown (unless, of course, the locals wanted it). After all, effective democratic government requires more than just the will of the majority, it also needs, at least the passive, assent of the minority.

Faced with these realities, the “firm will” for unity in the Republic might not be so firm after all.

These omissions expose the limitations of a purely legalistic approach

Judge Humphreys deals with the things an Irish government would have to do to recognise the “British identity” of Unionists within Ireland.

He argues that these things should be done, in any event, and long in advance of any border poll, and not used as a bargaining counter in negotiations with unionists.

He suggests, for example, reactivating Irish membership of the Commonwealth.

He points out that, under the Good Friday Agreement in the event of unity, Unionists should be able to retain UK citizenship while also being able to avail of all the rights of Irish citizenship.

My own sense is that active East/ West cooperation on joint projects with Britain would be a big help to mitigate a Unionist sense of isolation, whether or not Irish unity is being contemplated.

In that sense the reactivation of the British/ Irish Intergovernmental Conference this week is an important step, especially as Brexit is otherwise going to wider the gulf between us substantially, hard border or not. Ireland and Britain need to think creatively about things we can do together, post Brexit.

One also has to ask whether the fact that the Irish constitution designates the Irish language, as the first official language, and the priority language for constitutional interpretation, is a provision that accord parity of esteem to the Unionist identity.

Irish nationalists have been successful in insisting that the upholding of the Good Friday Agreement be a central part of the EU negotiating position in the Brexit negotiations.

Are nationalist politicians in Northern Ireland are showing a similar commitment to operating their own part of the Agreement?

It is worth remembering what all parties are committed to. The Agreement says

“ We pledge that we will, in good faith, work to ensure the success of each and every one of the arrangements to be established under this agreement”

Given the difficulties there were in agreeing a budget for Northern Ireland, and given the collapsing of the Executive because of disagreements about the Irish language and Ulster Scots, one has to question the commitment of both Sinn Fein and the DUP to the Agreement and their respect for their pledge.

This is a serious book, and will prompt readers to examine their preconceptions about a topic that will be with us for years to come.

 

IMMIGRATION FROM AFRICA IS INEVITABLE….

EUROPE’S CHOICE IS WHETHER THIS IS TO BE PLANNED AND LEGAL, OR ILLEGAL AND DISORDERLY.

It is not immigration, but the political exploitation of immigration, that threatens border free movement within the EU.

Closing down legal migration routes has led to the opening up of illegal routes.

In 2010, 130,000 first time visas were issued to citizens of African countries by EU countries. By 2016, only a mere 30,000 visas were issued.

So denial of a legal immigration route is one contributor to illegal immigration.

African agriculture suffers disproportionately from climate change, but the human contribution to climate change comes disproportionately from the Northern Hemisphere, including from Europe.

Public opinion in some European countries is getting into a panic about immigration from outside Europe, yet these very countries are often the ones that have the least immigration.

A survey of public opinion, in 2016, found that the most negative opinions about immigration were to be found in Hungary, Slovakia, Latvia, Estonia and Romania (all countries with little enough non EU immigration).

The most welcoming attitude to immigration, at that time, was to be found in Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands (who all already have substantial numbers of non EU immigrants).

European countries have a legal obligation to provide a refuge for people who are fleeing in fear of their lives from wars. Europe has provided some shelter for refugees, but Turkey has 3 million refugees in its borders, Lebanon 1 million, and Uganda 1 million. No EU country is shouldering that sort of burden.

Europeans need to look at immigration in a different way.

Because we have decided, over the past  40 or more years, to have fewer children, Europeans will need immigration in future to maintain a proper balance between numbers at work, and numbers in retirement, unless those in retirement are to live a desolate old age thirty years from now.

In a few years time, people of working age will be in short supply.

Globally, the ratio of working age to retired, will fall from 8 to 1 today, to 4 to 1 by 2050. By 2050, the global population aged 65 or over will increase from 600 million to 2.1 billion.

This will create a huge funding crisis for governments, who will not be collecting enough tax from the diminished number of people of working and taxpaying age, to meet the promises it has made, of pensions and health care, to the increasing number who have already retired and no longer earners and taxpayers.

Opposition is principle to the arrival of young immigrants from Africa is short sighted.

This is because the working age population of most EU countries is set to decline, while its post retirement population is set to increase rapidly. Without immigration of people of working age, Europe’s diminished working age population, will imply relatively poorer health care and pensions for its ever growing retired population.

Africa has an abundant supply of what will soon be one of the world’s scarcest resources, young people.

Europe has a birth rate of 1.63 children per family. Iran and China have similarly low birth rates and the US rate is only slightly higher.

In contrast, the birth rate in Nigeria is 5.42, in Mali 5.92 and Niger 7.15.

Nigeria’s population has risen from 45 million, when it became independent in 1960, to 187 million today. By 2050 Nigeria’s population could reach 410 million. The present Nigerian economy is just not capable of finding employment for all these people.

The EU needs to work on a policy that encourages orderly and well prepared immigration from Africa, accompanied by well considered plans to integrate the immigrants into European society.

As much as possible of the preparation for European living should be done before would be emigrants leave their home countries. If Europe opens up legal routes for immigration, illegal routes will become less attractive.

Europe must develop an investment partnership with Africa.

As the European Council said last week;

“  We need to take the extent and the equality of our cooperation with Africa to a new level. This will not only require increased development funding but also steps towards creating a new framework enabling a substantial increase of private investment from both Africans and Europeans. Particular focus should be laid on education, health, infrastructure, innovation, good governance and women’s empowerment.”

 

TRUMP’S TARIFFS

In the increasingly likely event that President Trump follows up on his steel tariffs by imposing similar tariffs on  European car imports, on so called “security grounds”, we can expect a full scale trade war to erupt, with no end in sight.

This will have disproportionate consequences for Ireland. A recent paper by the Brussels based think tank, Bruegel, estimated that 7.8% of the aggregate value added of the Irish economy comes from final products sold into the US market. This is far more than for any other EU country, and is twice the comparable figure for dependence on US sales for Germany, Netherlands and Spain, and three times that for France and Italy.

A disruption of trade links with the US, combined with the effects of a hard Brexit, could do deep damage to this country, socially and politically, as well as economically. Indeed Trumps actions change the entire context of Brexit.

The language used by President Trump about Prime Minister Trudeau after the G7 meeting was shocking. He treated the Canadian Prime Minister as if he was a domestic political opponent, not the Prime Minister of a friendly country, whose citizens have given their lives in common cause with the United States in two world wars. It contrasted starkly with the emollient language he used about the North Korean leader.

Berating allies, and flattering enemies is a low risk approach, in the short term. It is dramatic, and gets attention in ways that diplomacy never can.

The drama seems to be working well in the US Primaries, where President Trump’s allies are doing well. But trust in the United States is being undermined, and the prosperity of the developed world is being put at risk. The damage may long outlast the Trump Presidency.

The US has had trade disputes with allies before, but they have never before been supplemented by personalised attacks on foreign leaders.

The imposition by President Trump of steel tariffs, on security grounds, on the EU, Canada, and Mexico, suggests that the President believes he could not rely on these countries to continue supplying steel to the US in war time.  There is no basis in reality for such a contention, especially as regards Mexico and Canada which are beside the US.

The EU will retaliate by imposing selective tariffs on US goods, though only on half the scale of the US steel tariffs. It will also take a case against the US before a WTO (World Trade Organisation) panel. Canada and Mexico will do likewise. Given the way President Trump reacted to a difference of opinion about a mere communiqué from a G7 meeting, one can expect his language to escalate when the EU, Canadian, and Mexican tariffs begin to bite.

It could be argued that the EU, Canada and Mexico should not bother retaliating, because the US steel tariffs will do the most damage to US manufacturing industry and make it less competitive, but that is a difficult concept to communicate. So also is the argument that the US trade deficit is not due to unfair trade by others, but to the fact that Americans borrow and spend too much abroad, and are encouraged to do so by the lax fiscal and debt accumulation policies of successive US Administrations.

President Trump is now contemplating imposing tariffs on cars coming from the EU, Canada and Mexico on the same “security grounds”. He has initiated a legal process leading to that. On the narrow issue of cars, there is a difference between the rate of EU and US tariffs. The US tariff is 2%, whereas the EU tariff is 10%. That, of course, means that US consumers have cheaper cars and wider choice.

The EU could reduce its tariff on US manufactured cars to 2%, but, under the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) principle by which the World Trade Organisation  (WTO) works, that would mean that the EU would also then have to reduce its tariff on cars to 2% for all WTO members, including Japan and China.

The tragedy is that President Trump’s initiative is driven by electoral politics, not by economic reality.

He is breaking up the rules based international trading system, which the US itself established in the aftermath of the Second World War, which is operated by the WTO.

The US has a poor record in implementing WTO decisions on disputes, partly because this requires action by Congress, and the Administration can claim not to control Congress. In contrast, China has a good record so far in implementing WTO decisions.

Even under President Obama, the US was failing to appoint US judges to sit on the WTO disputes resolution panels, thereby undermining the WTO disputes resolution system. This is despite the fact that the US has won 87% of the cases it has taken to WTO panels. The disputes settlement mechanism was one of the great achievement of the late Peter Sutherland as head of the WTO.

The US sometimes feels it can get along fine without the rest of the world. Given its vast area and resources, it is understandable how it might come to think like that. For much of the nineteenth century, it acted on that basis. That illusion finally ended at Pearl Harbour in 1941.

Isolationism is no longer an option for the US. China is rising in global importance. Its economy is already as big as that of the US. It is attempting to build a global infrastructural and technological system centred on China, not the US. That is the rationale of the “one Belt One Road” initiative and of China’s plan to be the industry leader in the technologies of the future like solar power, electric cars and gene editing.

A wise US leader would be seeking to compete with China, by building closer economic ties with its allies, rather than using them as punch bags, in a political show designed to win votes in the Mid Term Congressional Elections.

The G7 spectacle should prompt deep reflection on this side of the Atlantic. A looming trade war makes Brexit less attractive for both the UK, AND the EU. Both need to take time out to think. It is a pity that the time limits in the Brexit process do not allow both sides to take the time to develop a wider strategic view of their mutual interests before Brexit takes place. This needs to be  reconsidered in light of the prospect of a bitter trade war with the US and the rest of the developed world.

Such a strategic review cannot be completed by next October. An extension of the Article 50 time limit for the Brexit negotiation makes far more sense this week, even than it did a month ago. Time limits create tension, whereas it is reflection we need now.

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