Friday 19 October 2018

What is being asked of Britain in the talks on Brexit is without precedent

The logic of a soft Brexit is sinking in finally in London, but the Northern Ireland Backstop could still collapse the exit talks, writes Dan O'Brien

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier
EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier
Dan O'Brien

Dan O'Brien

The long, slow, grinding process of presenting Brexiteers with the trade-offs Britain faces as it leaves the EU has ground out another success. Last Friday night, the British government signalled it was moving closer to being willing to remain something akin to a de facto member of the EU after it leaves next March. As of yesterday afternoon, none of the pro-Brexit members of cabinet had resigned.

That was despite prominent - and predictable - claims of betrayal by pro-Brexit hardliners. To underscore her victory over the leavers, Theresa May stated that collective cabinet responsibility on Brexit policy was being restored in full. This is a positive development from an Irish perspective, even if there will be many more twists and turns in the months and even years ahead on Brexit and the risk that talks will fail remains real. Last Friday night's announcement reduces that risk, and along with it the damaging and disruptive chaos that would accompany a no-deal departure.

A path to a soft Brexit that is in Ireland's interests is more clearly visible today than it was a week ago. But the "Backstop", which would see Northern Ireland carved out of the UK's single market if the new EU-UK deal requires even the slightest change to the border on this island, remains as big an obstacle as ever.

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