Brexit conundrum in Northern Ireland / Catalonia’s Puigdemont seeks leadership of Council of the Republic in Brussels

23 February to 1 March

Theresa May meets European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker recently in Brussels.
Theresa May meets European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker recently in Brussels. Author: Number 10 @ Flickr
WEEKLY ROUNDUP. Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has said he accepts to step down as government leader given the fact he cannot return to Catalonia from exile, and instead aims at establishing the Council of the Republic “to lead the way towards Catalan independence.” Another conundrum, in a quite different circumstances, can be found in Northern Ireland, where a draft proposal by the EU for an agreement on Brexit has been praised and critised alike. In Taiwan, a campaign for an independence referendum in 2019 has been launched. And in the Aosta Valley, yet another pro-autonomy party has been born.


Northern Ireland parties divided over EU proposal on Brexit. A draft agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom that has been unveiled by the European Union proposes that Northern Ireland remains a part of the common market and the customs union. This aims to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and to help preserve the Good Friday Agreements. EU’s Brexit chief negotiatior Michel Barnier admitted that this solution could involve the institution of “controls in ports and airports” between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

“No UK prime minister could ever agree to it,” British PM Theresa May hassaid. May contends that such a solution would in practice entail raising an internal border within the United Kingdom and would break up the country’s territorial integrity in constitutional and economic terms.

The EU insists that keeping the UK in the common market, despite leaving the Union, would help avoid such consequences.

Meanwhile in Northern Ireland, as expected, unionist parties have also rejected the EU proposal. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has argued it is “entirely unacceptable” as it would “devastate the local economy” and “break up” the United Kingdom. The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) claims that the idea is “a move by the EU to annex Northern Ireland” and blames Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar for having allied with Brussels “in pursuit of Irish unity.”

Sinn Féin has on the other handrecalled that avoiding a hard Brexit is “incompatible” with leaving the customs union. The party believes the EU proposal is a “practical solution” in the “absence of any workable British Government proposals.” The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) has welcomed the idea and has said that the only plausible solutions are either maintaining the United Kingdom within the customs union and the common market or accepting the EU proposal.


Puigdemont to step down as Catalan president, seeks leadership of Council of the Republic.In a video recorded in Belgium where Puigdemont is currently exiled, the Catalan leader has proposed that jailed pro-independence Catalan MP Jordi Sànchez (Junts per Catalunya, Puigdemont’s party) be elected new president of Catalonia. Instead of that post, Puigdemont would head a new Council of the Republic in exile, that according to the Catalan president should be established “in the coming days.” The new body would be responsible for “leading the way towards an effective independence” of Catalonia and would be “closely working with the inner [Catalan] government and with debates, mobilizations and participation of the Catalan society to complete the constituent process.” But an agreement on Sánchez’s nomination for office is still pending between Junts per Catalunya and their pro-independence allies ERC, who think their leader Oriol Junqueras —in jail too— fits better for the job as he is Puigdemont’s vicepresident. Meanwhile, the Spanish government —which suspended autonomy immediately after the Catalan Parliament declared independence 27 November— opposes both Sànchez being president of Catalonia and Puigdemont establishing the Council of the Republic.

Campaign launched in Taiwan to request independence referendum in 2019. The Island of Joy and Happiness Coalition —as the group launching the initiative calls itself— wants the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), currently in government, to amend the law of referendums so that sovereignty-related issues can be put to popular vote. The Coalition has the support of two former Taiwanese presidents (Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian) and is led by Formosa TVchannel president Kuo Bei-hung. The Chinese government has insisted it seeks “peaceful reunification.” Officially, both China’s and Taiwan’s consider themselves to be the legitimate governments of the whole territory of the two countries, starting from the 1949 division. It is unlikely that the DPP amends the law since the party’s official stance is that Taiwan is already a de facto independent state. The move, moreover, could lead to Chinese military reaction.

New pro-autonomy, federalist political movement in Aosta Valley.Mouv’, which had been so far an opinion group, has become a political party 24 February. The new party will stand for the upcoming Council of Aosta Valley election. Former Aostan president Luciano Caveri is one of its drivers. Mouv’ members argue that yet another pro-autonomy, progressive party was needed in the valley after, they say, the performance of the current Aostan government, which includes the two main pro-autonomy parties Union Valdôtaine and Union Valdôtaine Progressiste (UVP), has been disappointing. Mouv’ has currently three MPs at the Council of the Aosta Valley, one of them having split from the UVP (Elso Gerandin), another one from pro-autonomy party ALPE (Alberto Bertin) and the third one from the Democratic Party (Andrea Padovani).