One of the political parties in Ireland could change the balance of power in Westminster – preventing a no deal Brexit and avoiding a hard border between the UK and Ireland. Boris Johnson has continued to insist the UK will leave the European Union at the end of October – deal or no deal, “do or die”. He has ramped up no deal Brexit preparations but is facing huge opposition from both inside and outside of his own Conservative Party on this.
The Prime Minister’s majority has been cut to one following the tory defeat to the Liberal Democrats in the Brecon by-election last week, piling further pressure on him.
Yet Sinn Fein, who launched several attacks against Mr Johnson during his visit to Northern Ireland last week, could hold all the trump cards.
Sinn Fein, although it doesn’t occupy them, holds seven seats in Westminster at the moment.
But Fintan O’Toole, a columnist for the Irish Times, has argued even occupying those seats could be “counterproductive”.
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He wrote for the newspaper: “The Brexiteers and their media wing would generate hysteria about the Provos thwarting the will of the British people. Johnson would relish it. Wavering Tories would step back into line.”
But what Mr O’Toole warned might prove more of a thorn in the side of Mr Johnson is a pact among all the anti-Brexit parties in Northern Ireland – Sinn Féin, the SDLP, Alliance and the Greens.
One Twitter user described the move as “so off the wall it might work”.
Mr O’Toole said each party would agree a candidate for each of the seven constituencies Foyle, West Tyrone, Fermanagh & South Tyrone, Mid Ulster, Newry and Armagh, South Down and West Belfast.
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They would not be aligned to any particular party, suggesting the list could look something like former President Mary McAleese, former police ombudsman Nuala O’Loan, social policy expert Deirdre Heenan, former Ulster Farmers Union president Ian Marshall, actor Adrian Dunbar, former secretary general of the EU Commission Catherine Day, and trade and customs expert Katy Hayward.
Mr O’Toole added the chosen candidates would sign a public contract meaning they would stand down as soon as the UK’s exit from the EU either happens or doesn’t, and won’t seek re-election.
He said: “One reason for suggesting that the candidates be people who already have distinguished themselves in their own fields is to reassure Sinn Féin that they are not trying to build their own political bases.
“But if the party is still worried, there could be an extra safeguard – the candidates, if elected, will stand down at any time Sinn Féin chooses.”
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Mr O’Toole also suggested the seven candidates would also respect Sinn Fein’s policy of of abstention on all issues except the ones relating to Brexit.
The columnist added: “Their platform is simple. 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.”
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Mr Johnson has already been threatened with a motion of no confidence, and one could be tabled when Parliament returns from its summer recess early next month.
But even if the Prime Minister suffers defeat here, under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act of 2011, this would not automatically trigger a general election.
There would have to be a two-week period after any vote during which time another Government could be formed in their quest to win another confidence vote.
Mr O’Toole argued there would be little chance of Jeremy Corbyn commanding a majority but possible someone like Keir Starmer or Caroline Lucas could receive enough backing to form a temporary Government.
If the UK wants another extension to Brexit, only a Prime Minister can request this from the EU, with the columnist adding: “Seven anti-Brexit votes from Northern Ireland would make this seismic shift much more feasible.”
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He concluded: “What’s in it for Sinn Féin is an end to impotence. There is no Assembly or Executive in Belfast so it has no voice there, and it is highly likely that direct rule will be imposed by Johnson in September as a prelude to a no-deal crisis.
“It has no voice in Westminster, which has meant that the entire anti-Brexit majority in Northern Ireland has been silenced in the Commons too. And it has very little influence over Brexit policy in Dublin.
“Here, in one bold move, it can have an electrifying effect on the course of Irish and British history and in the process definitively end the perception that it is a party of protest rather than power.
“What would it lose? Just some money. The party would be unable to claim, for a short time, the £100,000 (€109,000) or so in expenses it gets from Westminster annually.
“It seems a very small price to pay for the protection of the interests of so many people on both sides of the Border and the knowledge that when a historic challenge was posed, everyone who claims to have those interests at heart did all they could to meet it.”