Friday 20 September 2019

Philip Ryan: 'Irish politics look strong and stable against a House of Commons that has become a circus without a ringmaster'

Leo Varadkar and Micheal Martin
Leo Varadkar and Micheal Martin
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

We are constantly told not to engage in an ‘us and them’ attitude towards our nearest neighbours on the other side of the Irish Sea.

But the British really don’t make it easy. They don’t like the EU or at least the majority of those asked if they wanted to leave in a wonky referendum debate said they don’t. Fair enough.

In Ireland, we are big fans of the Union and all it has offered our country. An opinion poll taken not so long ago showed 88pc of Irish people want to stay in the EU.

But that’s beside the point. The British voted to leave so off with them.

On deciding to leave the union, the British discovered they were going to have an issue with the Irish border.

Ireland, Britain and the EU have obligations to maintain peace on this island and erecting customs checks, we are told, will incite violence.

For a year and half, the three parties tried to thrash out a deal to avoid a hard border on the island which could be potentially caused by Britain’s decision to leave the union.

The backstop was born of these negotiations. It is an insurance policy or fall-back position which would ensure there would be no border on the island of Ireland.

The EU initially proposed allowing Northern Ireland remain in an EU customs unions while the future trade talks with Britain were taking place. They said there was no way the entire of Britain could remain in the customs union because it would be unfair on other EU countries.

British Prime Minister Theresa May argued the entire of Britain should remain in a tariff free customs union during these negotiations. The EU and Ireland relented and agreed to Ms May’s proposal.  In reality, May’s deal is more beneficial to Ireland than the Northern Ireland only customs union proposal.

However, this deal – Prime Minister May’s deal – is the very one she was afraid to put to a vote in the House of Commons.

But the main glaring and constantly bewildering difference between the Irish and British approach to Brexit is the reaction of political parties in both countries.

In Ireland, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin sought assurances from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that a general election would not be called until a Brexit deal passes through the British and EU parliament.

Of course, this in part is because of the political realities of where Fianna Fail is in the opinion polls. But, nonetheless, it gives the Taoiseach some sort of stability and security when he is the grip of Brexit negotiations. 

Last night, at his parliamentary party meeting, Mr Martin indicated he was prepared to renegotiate the confidence and supply agreement which facilitates the Fine Gael government because of the precarious nature of the Brexit negotiations.

Not all of his party members agree with this decision but they will grin and bear because they trust Martin’s judgement. 

Around the same time, Ms May received a phone call from Graham Brady, the chair of a committee of Conservative Party MPs, to let her know he received enough letters from party members to trigger a no confidence vote in her leadership.

Ms May was supposed to be in Dublin this evening to discuss Brexit with the Taoiseach. Instead, she will be facing down her detractors in the Tory Party who want her to step down at arguably the most crucial stage of the Brexit negotiations so far. If she wins, she limps on. Her standing among EU leaders will also be greatly diminished. If she loses, a three week Conservative Party leadership contest distracts further from the Brexit negotiations.

Throughout the Brexit shambles, we have seen glimpses of the attitude towards Ireland from some senior British politicians. Sneering and ill-informed MPs they have looked down their noses at Ireland - a country run by strong and stable parliament overseeing a growing economy.

Meanwhile, the House of Commons has become a circus without a ringmaster where the animals have turned on those who paid to see the performance.

Say what you will about our politicians but by any comparison they do us proud when compared with our nearest neighbours.

Online Editors

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