Wednesday 21 August 2019

Brace for Boris as EU and UK aim to do the impossible

Taoiseach wants early meeting with Britain’s new PM – but won’t be backing down on the backstop

United: European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee (left) and French Europe Minister Amélie de Montchalin, at the old Ravensdale Border crossing. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
United: European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee (left) and French Europe Minister Amélie de Montchalin, at the old Ravensdale Border crossing. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

When mankind took that leap onto the moon 50 years ago it must have seemed like anything was possible.

Back down on Earth though, in the real world, most people realised space adventures are for the few, not the many.

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Yet Boris Johnson wants the whole of the UK to live with their heads in the clouds.

He has elevated their importance to somewhere outside the basic grasp of us mere Europeans. According to the likely next prime minister, the residents of the UK need to wake up from the "bad dream" of the past three years.

He is promising a new dawn where Britannia rules the waves again.

There was something of a reality check for the Conservative Party this week when the UK's Office for Budget Responsibility warned its economy may already be on the cusp of recession and a no-deal Brexit will pile £30bn- a-year (€33bn) of new debt.

Boris ally: Jacob Rees-Mogg believes Johnson will get UK out. Photo: REUTERS/Simon Dawson
Boris ally: Jacob Rees-Mogg believes Johnson will get UK out. Photo: REUTERS/Simon Dawson

It is also reported that candidates are thin on the ground for the once-coveted job of governor of the Bank of England because of the political turmoil.

But Boris and the boys were unmoved. His close ally Jacob Rees-Mogg said yesterday: "The question will be does the prime minister have the backbone to go ahead and leave, and I think Boris Johnson does, or would the prime minister be in the same position as Theresa May, and give in to this type of pressure?"

As the clock ticks down to his likely appointment as prime minister, Johnson continues to insist that he will bring the UK out of the EU on October 31 - no matter what the consequences.

The EU appears to be circling its own wagons. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar wants an early meeting with the new PM but he won't be backing down on the backstop.

He feels empowered to hold the hard-line because far more influential people like the incoming president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, is.

Repeatedly this week she told MEPs and the media that we have "a good exit agreement".

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also defended the Withdrawal Agreement, including the backstop, saying: "The Withdrawal Agreement is the Withdrawal Agreement."

Speaking during a summer press conference, Ms Merkel said: "I trust very firmly that Britain will find its way. It is a proud, great nation and it will remain our partner even if Britain is no longer a member of the European Union."

France's Europe Minister Amélie de Montchalin visited the Border yesterday and said she had seen at first hand the importance of an ordered Brexit to protect the bloc's internal market and the Irish peace process.

"To protect the integrity of the internal market and to have the peace process and the Irish concerns being overcome, the best thing we have on the table is the Withdrawal Agreement," she said.

So with the solidarity holding, the Irish Government is confident in its own skin as it prepares for the next phase.

Sources in Dublin say there is "no pressure" to compromise on the backstop. "If anything, the pressure is to be ready for a no-deal if that happens."

Naturally everybody on the Irish side is hoping no deal will disappear as an option while realising that it's fast becoming the only option.

Johnson's repeated commitment to 'get out' is being taken with a pinch of salt.

Even the ever-cautious Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has suggested a U-turn could come very quickly once he's handed the keys to No 10.

However, it would be dangerous to write Boris off as pure bluster and buffoonery.

He might be that, as was proven with his kipper stunt. Johnson claimed at the final leadership hustings that "Brussels bureaucrats" had forced a seller of kippers in the Isle of Man to pack his products with "ice pillows". The editor of the 'Express' newspaper had told him so.

He slammed the rules as "pointless, expensive, environmentally damaging".

The EU would later point out that this was utter rubbish - but Johnson had already moved on and refused to correct his own BS.

Lithuania's EU commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis said on Twitter: "A fish rots from the head down. As potential future PM you need to keep a cool head. So after all, Boris, that ice pillow may turn out to be not so pointless."

But come Wednesday, EU leaders will have to respect Johnson as an equal even if they despise what he stands for. He's going to move from a position of commentator to player. Name-calling on either side will not fix Brexit, which is probably why the Irish Government has been so quiet during the leadership battle.

We can expect that to change in the coming days. Tánaiste Simon Coveney and others need to step forward to try to quash some of the lies told during the Tory campaign.

They can no longer allow Johnson to brazenly claim the EU will crumble in the face of a no deal. We simply can't afford to get to a point where both sides are playing chicken days before Halloween.

One chink of hope is coming from the soon to be sacked Chancellor Philip Hammond, who has promised to do "everything in my power" to block a disorderly Brexit.

He has even left open the possibility of voting to collapse a Conservative government.

Hammond said it would be impossible to renegotiate a deal with Brussels before October 31.

History suggests many things are 'impossible' until they are done for the first time. Then again, the EU says we already have a deal and it's not up for renegotiation. Time to brace yourself for Boris.

Irish Independent

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