This plan to free the UK from no-deal Brexit is either completely laughable or sheer genius

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Tom Coburg

Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole has come up with a daring plan on how a no-deal Brexit could be stopped. And the plan is either completely laughable and unworkable, or sheer genius.

Disaster all round

It’s not just the UK that will suffer from Brexit, particularly a no-deal Brexit, but the people of the Republic of Ireland. Indeed, a report commissioned by the Irish government warns that Brexit could cost the economy up to £6bn, as well as job losses of 50,000-55,000. So it’s in the interest of the people of Ireland that Brexit does not proceed.

And let’s not forget that the majority of people – 55.8% – in the north of Ireland voted against Brexit. They too will suffer economically from Brexit, with 40,00 job losses predicted if there’s no deal.

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A bold plan to the rescue

On 2 August, O’Toole wrote an opinion piece in the Irish Times that intriguingly began:

One Irish political party has the power to change the balance of power at Westminster and to alter the dynamics of British politics, prevent a no-deal Brexit, avoid a hard UK-Ireland border and save the economy of Northern Ireland from catastrophe. It can do this without compromising its principles. All it needs is boldness, imagination and patriotism.

He then went on to explain who that party was: Sinn Féin (SF). At the last general election it won seven seats in the north of Ireland, but on an abstentionist platform (meaning their MPs would not take up seats in the House of Commons).

O’Toole added how Boris Johnson’s government has no effective majority, even with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party.

But, O’Toole further stated that should a pact be formed in the north of Ireland between the anti-Brexit parties – Sinn Féin, the SDLP, Alliance, and the Greens – a solution could be found to the Brexit crisis.

The plan in detail

In the article O’Toole outlined four stages that show how this pact could help end Brexit.

First:

the seven Sinn Féin MPs will stand down temporarily, triggering byelections in Foyle, West Tyrone, Fermanagh & South Tyrone, Mid Ulster, Newry and Armagh, South Down and West Belfast.

O’Toole also explained how the usual procedure at Westminster:

is that the party that held the now-vacant seat moves the writ for the byelection. Since Sinn Féin, by virtue of its absence, cannot do this, there would have to be an arrangement in advance for Labour or another party to do so. This should not be hard to arrange. If the writs are moved on September 3rd when parliament returns from its summer recess, the elections could be held by the end of the month.

Second:

the four parties will agree a candidate for each of the seven constituencies. These candidates will not be aligned to any party, will command wide respect and will be drawn from civil society, academia, business and the arts.

Third:

these candidates will sign a public contract committing themselves to stand down as soon as Brexit is either accomplished or aborted, and not to seek re-election.

Fourth:
the candidates will commit themselves to respecting Sinn Féin’s policy of abstention on all issues except the ones that pertain to Brexit and the unfolding crisis. …They will support all measures, procedural or legislative, to stop a no-deal Brexit, up to and including the revocation of article 50. They will support in all circumstances the retention of the backstop. They will support any proposal for a new referendum. They will support a motion of no-confidence in Johnson if he seeks to push through a no-deal Brexit. And they will support, if the opportunity arises, the formation of an alternative cross-party administration.
Unification
As yet, there has been no response from SF to this proposed plan.
But whatever happens over the next few weeks or months, SF president Mary Lou McDonald has made it perfectly clear that her party intends to campaign for a poll on Irish unification:

I don’t know how Britain could crash this part of Ireland out of the EU with all of the attendant harm and damage economically and politically and, with a straight face, suggest to any of us who live on this island that we should not be given the democratic opportunity as per the Good Friday agreement to decide our future.

Meanwhile, an editorial in the Irish Times on O’Toole’s plan concludes that key political parties north of the border, such as SF, should make full use of the opportunity that Brexit presents:

There is power in Irish hands and those who waste it will not be readily forgiven.

Whether O’Toole’s plan is workable, or whether it goes nowhere, is yet to be seen. And, yes, it has its flaws – for example, it takes no account of the voting intentions of Labour’s pro-Brexit rebels.

But if acted on, the plan may provide an impetus for other ways that anti-Brexit parties in the north of Ireland can adopt to block a no deal, if not Brexit itself.

Featured image via Tiocfaidh ár lá 1916 – Flickr

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  • Show Comments
    1. Nope wont work. SF complain about Brexit because its a great excuse to call for a Border Poll and put unification on the agenda, so the last thing they want to do is stop it happening. A renunited Ireland will be back in the EU and the old enemy left outside in the cold. Smart tactics.

      1. Perhaps Sinn Féin could swallow their pride and attend parliament? Thereafter, they can form anti-Brexit alliances.

        They must put aside childish nonsense about refusing to take an oath of fealty to the Crown. Generations of Labour MPs have correctly adopted the view that an oath taken under pressure is invalid. If Sinn Féin feel squeamish they can take the girlish option of crossing their fingers whilst reciting the oath.

        An additional piece of mischief would be to petition the Pope for declaration that the oath is not valid because it is a barrier to representing the people. Moreover, the monarchy could be declared illegitimate because the Divine Right of Kings cannot be claimed by heretics. Thereby, subtle come-back for centuries old injustice to British Catholics. Revenge is particularly sweet when served cold.

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