sábado, 14 de janeiro de 2017

In Northern Ireland, old divisions could have a new casualty: Brexit / Seis secretários de Estado no Reino Unido para falar com a comunidade lusa sobre o "Brexit / How Theresa May plans to reduce immigration after Brexit

In Northern Ireland, old divisions could have a new casualty: Brexit
The ‘cash for ash’ scandal triggered a political crisis but enmity across Northern Ireland’s political divide has been mounting for months.

By PETER GEOGHEGAN 1/13/17, 3:24 PM CET Updated 1/14/17, 6:09 AM CET

BELFAST — The spectacular mismanagement of a green energy scheme has brought Northern Ireland to the brink of an election that could destabilize its finely-balanced politics — and throw a spanner in Theresa May’s Brexit plans.

Seasoned Northern Ireland watchers estimate that a poll — the second in just eight months — is now 80 percent certain and the fear is that it will further strain the already tense relations between the region’s sectarian factions and might threaten the relative political calm that has followed the Good Friday Agreement.

Even by the volatile standards of Northern Irish politics, the last month has been a remarkable one. In late November, Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness, first and deputy first ministers, respectively, promised “that we will keep taking on the heavy responsibilities that come with elected office, governing in their best interests, tackling head-on the tough decisions.”

But on Monday, Sinn Féin’s McGuinness resigned, leaving the devolved parliament at Stormont, outside Belfast, without a government. If Sinn Féin do not nominate a replacement for McGuinness as deputy first minister by Monday, a snap election will be called, perhaps as soon as next month.

The immediate catalyst for the breakdown between Sinn Féin and Foster’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) was a botched green energy scheme that could cost taxpayers £490 million (Northern Ireland’s entire annual budget is only around £12 billion). But the enmity goes well beyond the so-called “cash for ash” scandal, raising questions about how long this once turbulent corner of the United Kingdom could be without a functioning government after a fresh poll.

An election is unnecessary and puts at risk the core of the Good Friday Agreement” — Colum Eastwood, Social Democratic and Labour Party

Sinn Fein has shared power with the DUP for almost a decade, as part of a mandatory coalition enforced by the provisions of the 1998 Good Friday peace deal that ended the three-decade-long Northern Irish Troubles. Relations between coalition partners, however, have been increasingly strained, especially since Foster took over the reins of the DUP in early 2016.

McGuinness, who is seriously ill, pulled few punches in a strongly worded parting statement. The former IRA commander denounced “the most crude and crass bigotry” of his longtime coalition partner.

The DUP, he wrote, had displayed a “negative attitude” to Irish nationalists and failed to honor the power-sharing spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.

The most significant change in the last month has been the position of Sinn Féin. When the renewable energy scandal broke, the Irish republicans seemed content for Foster to step aside while an investigation took place, with the implicit acceptance that she would return to power in a matter of weeks.

But the DUP leader proved far more recalcitrant than her predecessor Peter Robinson. Instead, the day before Christmas Eve, one of her ministers cut £50,000 from a scheme to encourage families on lower incomes to learn Irish.

Although the move was reversed, republicans viewed it as a hostile act. Sinn Féin “were looking for bit of respect from the DUP, and they didn’t get it,” said Chris Donnelly, a republican blogger and former Sinn Féin candidate. Foster’s habit of describing herself as “the leader of Northern Ireland,” a misnomer under Stormont’s rules, did little to endear her to republicans.

So far, attempts by the DUP to coax Sinn Féin back into government have failed, with little prospect of either London or Dublin being able to broker a compromise.

“We are having an election. That’s fine. We’ll fight it. But I do think an election is unnecessary and puts at risk the core of the Good Friday Agreement,” Colum Eastwood, leader of the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), told POLITICO.

Under the Good Friday Agreement, the parties have three weeks from election day to form an administration. If the DUP and Sinn Féin cannot agree to share power, Stormont could be suspended and Northern Ireland ruled directly from Westminster.

The election result is unlikely to change Northern Ireland’s complex political arithmetic. The DUP, despite a raft of scandals, is expected to repeat its poll topping performance in May, followed by Sinn Féin. Despite their strong performance in opposition in recent months both the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists are set to lose seats as the Stormont assembly reduces in size from 108 to 90 seats following reforms passed last year.

Getting voters out could be a challenge, too. During the conflict Northern Ireland frequently recorded some of the highest turnouts in the U.K. In May’s Stormont elections less than 55 percent voted.

“I don’t think anybody genuinely wants an election,” said Jonny Byrne, a political scientist at the University of Ulster. “When you have an election people need to know what they are voting for. We have no idea what anybody’s manifesto is for this election.”

Brexit impact

Northern Ireland has long been “a place apart” in British politics. Where politicians on the other side of the Irish Sea argue over tax-and-spend and economic policy, tribal issues such as parades and symbols still dominate discussions in Belfast. Foster has warned that any election campaign will be “brutal,” a not too subtle hint that sectarian politics will be at the forefront.

But what happens in Northern Ireland in the coming months could have a bearing on the biggest issue for the U.K. this year: Brexit.

Northern Ireland voters backed the Remain campaign with 55.8 percent in favor of staying in the EU. But in October, Northern Ireland’s High Court ruled that Stormont did not have to give consent before Theresa May could trigger Article 50. Victims’ campaigner Raymond McCord has appealed this decision to the Supreme Court, where a ruling is expected in the coming weeks.

Conversations about Irish unification are taking place on both sides of the border beyond the confines of the republican movement.
If the Supreme Court rules in McCord’s favour, Britain could find itself in the unprecedented situation of requiring the imprimatur of the Northern Irish assembly to leave the European Union — but with no administration sitting in Stormont to grant it.

Brexit has also revealed deeper fissures within Northern Ireland’s power-sharing structures, and even in the United Kingdom itself. Since the Good Friday Agreement the circuitous 300-mile Irish border between north and south has effectively melted away. Political links with Dublin have allowed many from the nationalist community to feel comfortable in the Northern Irish state without fear of a return to majority Protestant rule.

The Brexit vote has changed that dynamic. Despite voting Remain, Northern Ireland is on course to leave the European Union. Many fear that the U.K.’s exit could pose significant economic and political problems, especially around the border.

Foster — whose party backed Leave — has dismissed talk of post-Brexit difficulties. Prime Minister May, who could come to rely on DUP votes in the Commons given her slender majority, has shown little interest in the specific challenges leaving the European Union poses for Northern Ireland.

EU referendum ballots are counted in Belfast on June 23, 2016 | Paul Faith/AFP via Getty Images
EU referendum ballots are counted in Belfast on June 23, 2016 | Paul Faith/AFP via Getty Images
Whether Brexit will change Northern Ireland’s constitutional position is unclear but for the first time in a generation, conversations about Irish unification are taking place on both sides of the border beyond the confines of the republican movement. Many nationalists and some liberal unionists who voted Remain are increasingly looking to Dublin for support. Last year, the number of Northern Irish applicants for Irish passports rose by more than a quarter.

“Brexit uncorked nebulous grievances here,” said Newton Emerson, a political commentator with the Irish Times. “As far as anyone can tell it doesn’t break the agreement but it feels like it breaks the spirit of it.”

That does not mean Stormont is finished, said Emerson. He expects the current standoff to end as all others have done over the past decade: with a post-election deal.

“I don’t feel a sense of crisis here. At the root of that is people think that this is all a load of nonsense. It is not plausible that they will bring the government down forever.

“That doesn’t mean it won’t take a long time to get back up and running but devolution is the only game in town.”

Seis secretários de Estado no Reino Unido para falar com a comunidade lusa sobre o "Brexit"

Durante dois dias, os governantes vão falar com portugueses emigrados sobre o "Brexit", e questões como a protecção de menores, legislação laboral e fiscal, participação eleitoral.

LUSA 14 de Janeiro de 2017, 9:17

Seis secretários de Estado iniciam este sábado no Reino Unido a segunda edição dos Diálogos com a Comunidade, em que pretendem abordar "vários temas de interesse e preocupação" dos portugueses residentes no país.

Os encontros terão lugar em Londres, na embaixada de Portugal, hoje à tarde, entre as 14h e as 20h, e no domingo em Manchester, no consulado português, entre as 13h45 e as 19h15, com a presença dos secretários de Estado das Comunidades Portuguesas, José Luís Carneiro, dos Assuntos Europeus, Margarida Marques, dos Assuntos Fiscais, Fernando Rocha de Andrade, da Justiça, Helena Mesquita Ribeiro, da Inclusão das Pessoas com Deficiência, Ana Sofia Antunes, e da Cidadania e Igualdade, Catarina Marcelino.

Entre os temas a abordar estão o impacto da saída do Reino Unido da União Europeia – ainda que o processo do "Brexit" ainda demore algum tempo –, a protecção de menores – têm sido noticiados casos de menores retirados a pais portugueses que vivem no país –, questões laborais – há cada vez mais portugueses a emigrar para o Reino Unido –, questões fiscais, a promoção da igualdade, questões linguísticas e de participação eleitoral.

Tanto a embaixada em Londres como o consulado em Manchester esperam ter lotação esgotada, no primeiro caso 100 pessoas e no segundo caso cerca de 60, cuja participação foi feita por inscrição após o anúncio da iniciativa, no início de Janeiro, sobretudo através das redes sociais.

Ausente devido a um compromisso previamente assumido estará o deputado do PSD eleito pelo círculo da Europa, Carlos Gonçalves, que lamentou ter sido informado oficialmente só na véspera, através da Comissão de Negócios Estrangeiros e Comunidades Portuguesas da Assembleia da República.

How Theresa May plans to reduce immigration after Brexit
British government wants to impose immigration restrictions on ‘every sector and every skill level.’

By TOM MCTAGUE 1/14/17, 5:55 AM CET Updated 1/14/17, 9:49 AM CET

LONDON — The British government is considering formally tying its industrial strategy for the economy to a new EU visa scheme that will aim to bring down the number of workers entering Britain by controlling access for “every sector and every skill level,” senior government sources said.

While no final decision has been taken on the details of the new system, ministers favor extending the regime currently used to manage immigration from outside the EU, one official familiar with the plans said.

With less than three months to go until Prime Minister Theresa May kicks off formal negotiations with the 27 remaining EU countries about Britain’s exit from the bloc, her government is under pressure to radically reduce the number of migrants arriving in the U.K. following June’s referendum in which immigration was the main issue for many voters.

May has reiterated her commitment to reducing net migration to below 100,000 a year, a target David Cameron’s government repeatedly missed. Net migration to the U.K. in the year ending June 2016 was 335,000, of which 189,000 were EU citizens.

The Home Office is under clear instruction from Downing Street that the new system must impose controls on the number of workers moving to the U.K. from the EU, the official said.

May’s determination to ensure there is control of immigration across the board appears to contradict comments made by Chancellor Philip Hammond and other ministers who have sought to reassure employers that they will continue to be able to hire workers from the EU after Brexit.

It also undermines the prime minister’s refusal to rule out continued membership of the European single market, which requires free movement of people across borders.

In October, Hammond suggested there could be carve outs for certain sectors of the economy, insisting there was “no likelihood” highly skilled and highly paid workers from the EU would be stopped from coming to the U.K. Low-skilled migrants competing with British workers for manual jobs will be harder hit, the government has suggested.

However, a senior government official said that while “flexibility” would be built into the new system “to meet the needs of the economy,” the government wanted to control immigration across the board.

“To control people coming from Europe is the principle we are working towards,” the official said. “Every sector and every skill level will have some form of control.”

The new system will be tied to the government’s long-term economic strategy, under plans currently being developed by the Home Office and Department for Business, two senior government sources said.

The move, ministers believe, would allow for a long-term approach to managing migrant numbers, heading off potential labor shortages which force businesses and public bodies to employ foreign workers.

The government’s proposal to link the new visa regime to the upcoming industrial strategy is a further break with the Cameron era. The strategy, billed as a more proactive approach to job creation than any since the 1980s, is key to May’s domestic agenda.

“What jobs will we need and when? That is the sort of question that we could be asking,” the government official said. “How many British workers do we need to train up to meet the needs of a certain sector down the line?”

Another aide said it was sensible for there to be “interplay” between the government’s economic plan and its goal to reduce net migration.

While the Home Office is leading on the new scheme, Business Secretary Greg Clark is also weighing in, alongside Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green, Brexit Secretary David Davis and Hammond.

The final decision will be taken by the Brexit cabinet committee chaired by May.

Fresh details of the prime minister’s plan to re-impose border controls on EU citizens could come as early as Tuesday when she gives a long-awaited speech on her plans for Brexit.

“No decisions have yet been made on our future immigration system but we are determined to use the opportunity presented by leaving the EU to take control of the numbers of people coming from Europe in the future,” a government spokesman said.

He added: “We are considering very carefully a range of options, taking into consideration the impacts on the different sectors of the economy and we will always welcome those with the skills, the drive and the expertise to make our nation better still.”


Tom McTague  

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