Friday 23 August 2019

Varadkar is right: history of the backstop is being rewritten by Brexiteers

Q&A

Enda Kenny and Theresa May met in London in July 2016
Enda Kenny and Theresa May met in London in July 2016
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

It was November 2017 when the word 'backstop' was first slipped into the Brexit lexicon.

We're not quite clear who first used the actual term but it has dominated political debate across Europe since.

The backstop was designed to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.

However, the vaccine now looks likely to cause the actual disease.

With the blame game underway, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told reporters in Belfast this week that there has been "a bit of revisionism recently" about the origins of the backstop.

"I was there for the past two years and I know that the Withdrawal Agreement and backstop was something that we co-designed and developed and negotiated," he said.

But day after day, politicians in the UK (led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson) are pushing for Ireland to drop its incessant whining about the need for a backstop.

Surely both sides can't be right? Well, like everything with Brexit, it depends on your point of view.

And then somewhere on the fringes, if you look hard enough, there are the facts.

The Irish Government spotted the problem with Northern Ireland leaving the EU long before the referendum took place in June 2016.

A month after the vote, then Taoiseach Enda Kenny met Theresa May in Downing Street to highlight his fears about the UK leaving the EU's single market and customs union. In short, if Northern Ireland engaged in any regulatory divergence from the single market then trouble would follow.

They "very firmly" agreed that there would be no return to "borders of the past".

Over time, negotiators from both sides concocted the backstop but no sooner had the plan been committed to paper than the DUP tore it to shreds.

The original idea was for a Northern Ireland-only backstop but the DUP argued this had the effect of erecting a border in the Irish Sea.

During the first half of 2018, May's government floated the idea of extending the deal to include the whole of the UK. The proposal was crystallised in her Chequers White Paper.

The EU team led by Michel Barnier was reticent even if quietly Ireland saw this as even better than the original proposal.

It would keep North-south and east-west trade routes wide open. The negotiations dragged before the EU eventually ceded to a UK-wide backstop designed primarily in London to pacify the DUP.

Unfortunately for Dublin it became known as the 'Irish backstop' when in reality it is the UK/EU backstop.

Now Johnson says "no country that values its independence, and indeed its self-respect, could agree to a treaty which signed away our economic independence and self-government as this backstop does".

Except a country already did. His country.

Irish Independent

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