Thursday 22 August 2019

Under siege: Tory media beast is yet again turning its Brexit fire on Ireland

  

Gesturing: Boris Johnson visits HMS Victorious at the Faslane Naval Base on the River Clyde in Scotland. Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/PA Wire
Gesturing: Boris Johnson visits HMS Victorious at the Faslane Naval Base on the River Clyde in Scotland. Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/PA Wire
John Downing

John Downing

So who, we hear you vaguely ask, is Nick Timothy? And why should we be remotely bothered about what he has to say about Ireland, peace in the North and the actions of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar?

You're already forgiven if you have never heard of him. In summary, he is one of those well-qualified UK Conservative Party backroom people who has held a number of high-powered jobs in politics and allied trades. The ill-starred former prime minister, Theresa May, hired him when she was responsible for justice matters in the Home Office.

In July 2016, when Mrs May became prime minister in the wake of the Brexit Leave vote, Mr Timothy became her joint chief of staff with a woman called Fiona Hill.

It is a job which often brings a deal of loathing from the elected politicians.

But by many accounts Mr Timothy and Ms Hill throttled the life out of Mrs May's government and turned her party MPs - including ministers - against her.

By the time she called what turned out to be a ruinous snap general election for June 2017 the pair ruled the roost, and despite negligible campaign experience they were calling the campaign the shots and headed for calamity.

Mrs May lost her party's overall majority. Both Mr Timothy and Ms Hill were quickly out of a job as Tory MPs demanded they be banished. So he turned to column writing for the ultra-Conservative 'Daily Telegraph'.

The Birmingham native is a fan of the long-time 19th century politician Joseph Chamberlain, about whom he has written a biography.

Mr Chamberlain was a radical and reforming politician but eventually became leader of the Liberal Unionists as a staunch opponent of Irish home rule.

Now as the new UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, has pumped up the no-deal Brexit volume, enter Mr Timothy with a broadside against Mr Varadkar in the 'Daily Telegraph' yesterday. Mr Timothy has accused the Taoiseach of "jeopardising the peace process" and not "understanding the Good Friday Agreement".

Mr Timothy rightly believes a no-deal Brexit would be "catastrophic for Ireland" but said Mr Varadkar should have changed his tack during the discussions following the referendum in 2016. Effectively he accused the Taoiseach of stoking anti-UK sentiment in the EU and making everything worse after the Leave vote in June 2016.

"Varadkar therefore had a choice. Recognising our shared interests, he could have argued for a future UK/EU relationship that allowed Britain to leave the single market and customs union while still minimising friction in cross-border trade.

"He could have continued the work begun by his predecessor, Enda Kenny, to use policy and technology to avoid customs checks along the Northern Irish Border. Instead, he gambled, and exhorted the EU to take the hardest line possible.

"Before the UK and EU could negotiate their future relationship, he insisted, the Border question must be decided. Never mind that this was nonsensical and everybody knew the Border could only be fixed in a future trade agreement."

The backstop was supposed to stop a hard Border. "But by making the Withdrawal Agreement unratifiable, it is making no deal and a hard Border more likely. There can only be one solution: the backstop must go."

These comments came after it was revealed Mr Johnson had not yet contacted Mr Varadkar since taking office. That snub fuels fears that tensions between the UK and Ireland may increase.

The overall message is that the current UK political mess is the EU's fault with a large portion of the blame going Ireland's way.

It is not the first time the wrath of the Tory press has been directed at Dublin and there is little to be done but to see it for what it is - and carry on.

Ireland can do little to untangle a problem made in England - and here we stress the word England. The more so since Boris Johnson refuses to talk.

Irish Independent

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