Several kind readers have emailed me about my attitude to the Irish Backstop (which some suppose to be a reasonable imposition by the EU).
To them I would say that, au fond (and despite wild claims about the GFA) the backstop is
about trade. If the EU had not insisted
on separating a trade deal from the Withdrawal Agreement (and had British
negotiators not supinely acquiesced in that manoeuvre) no backstop would have
As it is, the backstop – which could never in any conceivable
circumstance have been acceptable to a majority of the Conservative and
Unionist Party – plays to the EU desire to delay or derail Brexit. A refusal to
alter or modify it will bring about a constitutional crisis in the UK which
could easily have been avoided. I call that ill will and malevolent mischief.
This is a tale of belligerence on the one side and
incompetence on the other.
The central plank if the ecclesiastical Liberal Agenda is not, as some have supposed, gay marriage or sexual fluidity, but women’s ordination. Let me explain.
The Catholic Church is both historical and hierarchical – historical because it necessarily refers back to the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, hierarchical because its very structure claims to be based on his teaching and example. Christ inaugurated sacraments – an extension into time of his incarnation at an historical moment – to be administered by bishops in continuity with the Apostles he chose. They were to be headed by the contemporary representative of Peter (on the same seat and with the same authority).
WO ultimately rides a cart and horses through these claims
and this constitution. In the name of sexual equality, the choice of male apostles
is said to be arbitrary or misguided. And its continuation into present time to
be the result of a misogynist conspiracy. This is an attack on Catholic
ecclesiology root and branch.
Which is why, of course, WO is to dear to entrenched Liberals.
Expect, then, efforts to be made, before the end of this pontificate, to secure the ordination of women to the diaconate at least. Francis will claim to be opposed in principle to such a development, that is the approved technique. But hard cases, in modern thinking, make good laws. Scope will be found in far-flung areas of acute pastoral need to initiate a diakonia of women not equivalent to that of men and so not to be construed as part of Holy Orders.
From there it will be a short step (as experience in the
Church of England has shown) across the Styx. The same salami technique will
almost certainly be deployed in the case of clerical celibacy. But that, it will readily
be seen, is neither so revolutionary nor so destructive.
The Brexit negotiations have been bedevilled from the start by tendentious jargon. This is a modest attempt to demystify that language, in the hope of establishing the current state of play.
Irish Backstop. (Why, incidentally, adopt an image from Baseball, with which the residents of neither the UK nor the EU are familiar?)
The expressed intention is to ensure regulatory agreement between Norther Ireland and the Republic until such time as a full trade agreement is concluded between HM Government and the EU. We can reasonably infer that the EU insistence on the permanent status of such an arrangement (and refusal to time-limit it) indicates an intention to protract the negotiations for as long as possible.
Hard Border. It is generally claimed that avoidance of a ‘hard border’ (by which, in these circumstances, is meant a manned series of customs posts) is required by the Good Friday Agreement.
This is not the case. The GFA pays little or no attention to customs arrangements. It simply requires a withdrawal of the then existing military presence. Until Leo Varadkah recently raised the possibility of a Republican army deployment along the border, no one in the UK or the EU had suggested such regressive measures. The claim by the EU and the Irish Government to be primarily concerned to safeguard the GFA can thus be seen to be mere virtue signalling.
Withdrawal Agreement The vote in 2016 did not speak of ‘withdrawing’ from the EU (implicitly a process) but of ‘leaving’ the EU (necessarily an event).
That the Withdrawal Agreement was allowed to precede negotiation of a trade deal was a piece of bureaucratic ineptitude, on the UK side, difficult to credit. (Though perfectly intelligible, of course, as part of an EU game plan the thwart the Brexit process.) Note that, had the trade deal preceded or accompanied the Withdrawal Agreement, the Backstop (qv) would not have been needed.
Crashing out. The very phrase assumes what is still to be demonstrated: that a clean Brexit will necessarily and inevitably result in customs delays, recriminations, stoppages and shortages.
Why the Rumanian makers of widgets and the Spanish growers of lettuces should seek to inhibit trade with their principal market has yet to be explained. Why British bureaucrats should wish to impose delays on their own manufacturers and retailers, also needs clarification. On the face of it ‘crashing out’ is little more than emotive language used by those in favour of remaining.
No one should decry the Foreign Secretary’s pledge to defend
persecuted Christians. But for the FCO there are antecedent conceptual problems
which need to be addressed.
Religious freedom is more than the toleration of acts of worship.
It is the right of religious people to proclaim their faith in the marketplace,
and to put it into action, where possible, in changes of public policy. As
hysterical reactions by the British media to Jacob Rees Mogg’s views on abortion
have recently demonstrated, even in so-called ‘open’ democracies such rights
are being constantly eroded.
Attitudes to abortion are presently for us the litmus test of religious toleration. Upon the inadmissibility of abortion, other than in extreme and exceptional circumstances, the world’s great religions are generally agreed. The matter is thus in danger of becoming the locus of a life and death struggle between religious faith and the functionalist post-Enlightenment ethic of the emerging West.
Unless government can address this emotive area, and in doing so protect existing freedoms and rights, what price success on a wider, global scale?
Consider, for example the gradualist approach to abortion. From extreme and exceptional cases after medical assessment, it has now come, in more enlightened parts of the world, to abortion on demand and up to birth.
But need the process end there? The logic of pro-abortion
arguments surely leads on to the final realisation: that human life is at the
disposal of the parent in the first instance, and beyond that, in the hands of
legally constituted authority.
Viewed compassionately, abortion/euthanasia could be an important part of the final solution of many of the world’s most pressing problems. In Yemen, Darfur and extensive parts of sub-Saharan Africa, tiny babies are dying of malnutrition every day. We see their emaciated bodies paraded before us in unnecessarily ghoulish news broadcasts. The time has come to do something about this escalating problem; something decisive, definitive and surgical.
A team of devoted practitioners, armed with syringes of appropriate medication, could eliminate the distress in short order. Bravely acknowledging the intractability of current supply problems, and setting aside the sentimental attachments of relatives incapable of practical assistance, we (from the more enlightened West) could intelligently and mercifully eliminate these local difficulties as they were being born. And at considerably less expense than the costly aid progammes which have so far had little practical effect.
These warring fanatics are intent on killing each other, that much is clear. There is nothing we can do about that. But we can humanely mitigate the results of man’s in humanity to man.
Send your donations directly to Put Them Out of Their Misery (PTOTM):
c/o Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York State Capitol, State Street, Albany, NY 12230, United States.
What intelligence has been gleaned from the British, Irish and EU intelligence services which would indicate that custom checks on the Northern Irish border would cause an increase in terrorist activities?
Boris Johnson seems to think (Telegraph, Jan 26) that the EU may finally be reconsidering the Irish backstop (and this despite opposite protestations by the Irish Foreign Minister). If Johnson is right – and he probably knows more than most – what are we to conclude? Two things:
First: that if the backstop can be removed at the eleventh
hour it was clearly unnecessary all along.
Second: the rational conclusion must be that the backstop was merely a ruse to render the Withdrawal Agreement unacceptable to Parliament, and so to thwart Brexit.
Neither possibility looks good for the EU. Either its bureaucracy has become obsessed with matters which turn out to be mere trivia, cynically using the Good Friday Agreement to add further confusion. Or worse, the entire negotiation is revealed as having been undertaken in bad faith and as a mere charade.
The EU, of course has past form: the French, the Irish and
the Danes have at different times been denied their right of self-expression. (Not to mention the Greeks!)
It is hard to see why one should wish to remain in any kind
of relationship with someone who behaves so badly.