This article first appeared in the Daily Telegraph.
The Irish Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney, is never short of a few words. And they are words which generally make a situation worse. Given the issues facing Ireland, the UK and the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol, you might have thought that Ireland’s top diplomat would be careful not to inflame an issue which is already on a knife-edge. Not a bit of it.
At close to midnight on Saturday he tweeted: “Does the UK actually want an agreed way forward or a further breakdown in relations?” This, after the UK’s Brexit minister, Lord Frost, had reiterated Britain’s view that the European Court of Justice should not have jurisdiction over the protocol.
Frost, perhaps unwisely, responded in the early hours of Sunday morning, saying that the issue should come as no surprise to Coveney since it was stated clearly in the command paper the Government had published on July 21.
The trouble is that Coveney’s political capital has diminished in recent months in the Republic, and he no doubt sees the protocol issue as an opportunity to rebuild his reputation both domestically and internationally. He apparently cares not a jot if this comes at the expense of the smooth operation of the protocol, or if his words wind up the unionist community in Northern Ireland. Perhaps that’s his objective.
Luckily, the taoiseach is made of sterner stuff. Micheal Martin has been a constructive interlocutor with the UK Government and unionist parties in Northern Ireland. He, more than anyone, understands the consequences of failure to rejig or reform the protocol. We will find out tomorrow whether his “Kofi Annan” role has borne fruit, when EU commissioner Maros Sefcovic outlines his proposals to reform the arrangements.
Quite why Lord Frost is making a speech on the issue the day before in Lisbon is anyone’s guess. It will no doubt add fuel to Coveney’s fire. What can he possibly say that will help the situation before he knows what Sefcovic plans to say? But it is the EU that needs to actually engage rather than keep unilaterally coming forward with faits accomplis, on which it is not really willing to negotiate.
The fact is that Britain has barely diverged from the EU on food standards or anything else since we left, and we seem to have few plans to do so. If the single market really is at risk due to a sausage being smuggled to Dublin, then the EU has bigger issues than the Northern Ireland Protocol.
It's more difficult to come out as bisexual than gay
Back in 2003 I became the first Conservative candidate to be selected by a constituency association having told them in advance of my sexuality. I will always remember being at the 2003 Tory conference when a 22-year-old guy came up to me and thanked me. “What for?” I asked quizzically. “Because you’ve made it easier for the rest of us.” There was a time when it was career-threatening for a politician to come out as gay. No longer. The UK Parliament has a higher proportion of openly gay MPs than any other in the world.
Yesterday the Conservative MP Dehenna Davison told the world she was bisexual. She did it in a very matter-of-fact manner, almost saying “Move along, nothing to see here”. She said her bisexuality was part of who she was, and was happy to say so. She’s right, although I firmly believe that there is more of a stigma about bisexuality in our society than homosexuality. And it’s more difficult to come out as bisexual. It really shouldn’t be.
I’ve always thought we are all on a spectrum of sexuality where 0 is 100 per cent straight and 100 is 100 per cent gay. Some people are at either end of the spectrum, but most are somewhere in between.
My partner is 100 per cent gay and sees no attraction in a woman. I, on the other hand, can still find some women sexually attractive, but let’s not go there. I reckon I’m 85-15 on the scale.
For some reason society copes with homosexuality but finds bisexuality more difficult, even though I suspect that it’s more prevalent than many people think. Why isn’t it more of a topic of conversation? I did a phone-in on my radio show on it recently. At the end, a 60-year-old married woman texted in: “I’ve been listening to this discussion for an hour. It had never occurred to me before, but I now realise I am bisexual.” I wonder whether she then went and told her husband.
Give the Prime Minister a break
Some people appear to believe that politicians, and especially prime ministers, should never have a holiday, or if they do, they should be slumming it at a YMCA in Bognor Regis. Yet again Boris Johnson is under fire for having the temerity to take a few days off in Spain. His critics say he’s always going on holiday and that he last did so only 35 days ago. They conveniently forget that his holiday in Somerset lasted all of one day before he returned to London to deal with the Afghan crisis.
A tired prime minister is never a good prime minister. Remember Gordon Brown? And even if Boris spends a whole week in Spain, it won’t be enough to fully recharge the prime ministerial batteries. Most of us only start to really relax midway through a second week away. The Prime Minister won’t have that luxury.