Swire can change his mind on Brexit – we can’t

Owl says: Remember Swire started out as a Remainer!

“When the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Theresa May was debated in the House of Commons many Conservative MPs argued that they could not vote for an arrangement that would treat Northern Ireland differently from Great Britain. The revised deal negotiated by Boris Johnson envisages far greater divergence within the UK, yet is far more popular among Conservatives. Jack Sheldon and Michael Kenny explain how this about-turn has come about. …

During the debates on May’s deal, Boris Johnson himself argued from the backbenches that it would ‘not be good enough to say to the people of Northern Ireland that… they must be treated differently from the rest of the UK’. Jacob Rees-Mogg, now Leader of the House, claimed previously that by treating Northern Ireland separately the deal ‘seeks to divide our country’. Many other MPs made similar arguments even more forcefully, including Sir Hugo Swire, for whom placing part of the UK in a different position from the rest was ‘an appallingly dangerous precedent’. Our analysis showed that 49 different MPs argued May’s deal was bad for the Union ahead of the first meaningful vote in January, and 47 of those went on to vote against the deal. …

While there was little attempt to justify this u-turn in thinking on Northern Ireland’s relationship to the Union in Saturday’s debate, the editor of the influential Conservative Home website has made the case that ‘just because [Northern Ireland] is British as Finchley doesn’t mean that it can or should be governed in exactly the same way as Finchley – any more than Scotland or Wales should’. The dissonance between this line of argument and the claims pervading Conservative circles when May’s deal was being debated is very marked – as the DUP will certainly have noticed. Recent events in parliament have shone a harsh glare upon a fundamental tension between the delivery of a Brexit acceptable to its Conservative proponents and the implications of the DUP’s brand of political unionism. It was always likely that Brexit-supporting Conservative MPs were going to have to choose which of these goals to prioritise, and it should not come as a huge surprise that they have ultimately opted for delivering Brexit. What this decision means for the party’s relationship with the DUP will now become one of the most important, and unpredictable, questions in British politics. …

Whatever happened to Tory unionism?