Sunday 21 July 2019

Britain's endgame: 15 crucial things we now know as we approach 'B-Day'

'The DUP is playing a high-stakes game. If things go seriously awry, it could pay a heavy price at the ballot box.' Stock photo
'The DUP is playing a high-stakes game. If things go seriously awry, it could pay a heavy price at the ballot box.' Stock photo

Gerard O'Regan

It is now 961 days since that fateful date of June 23, 2016, when Britain voted to exit the European Union. Here's 15 things we now know about Brexit as we approach 'B-Day' on March 29.

1. Political careers could be destroyed within a few months as brinkmanship reaches fever pitch. Leo Varadkar and Theresa May carry the highest risk of a dramatic fall from grace.

2. The Government continues to receive unprecedented backing from the Opposition parties. Micheál Martin, Brendan Howlin and Róisín Shortall painstakingly explained on British television why a non-time-limited backstop is vital for this island.

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3. They articulated a residual fear among many Irish people that 'one thing might lead to another' if a hard Border emerges. They realise a gradual return to customs posts, and other paraphernalia, would create tempting flash points for those who murder and maim to get their way.

4. Sinn Féin is increasingly out of step with the public mood. In the Republic, there is an insistence on 'fair play' in the North. But there is no sudden lurch towards a desire for a united Ireland.

5. Many of the most fervent supporters of the backstop find calls by Mary Lou McDonald for a Border poll an irritant at best, a stirring of sectarian tensions at worst. On this, as on many other issues, her style is far too strident.

6. The stance of the DUP has been increasingly extremist. The party's decision to go against the majority of the electorate in the North - who voted to stay in the EU - is especially divisive. Matters have been made worse by the toxicity of its alliance with far-out fringes in Westminster.

7. Some of the DUP's leading members bitterly opposed the Good Friday Agreement at its inception. It is a deal they still find anathema. Are they using Brexit to destroy one of its main tenets - no visible divide in Ireland?

8. This grouping - despite public protestations to the contrary - would be secretly happy with the greatest cleavage possible between North and south. They would see it as halting what they fear is creeping silent integration on the island.

9. The DUP is playing a high-stakes game. This week there was a clear consensus among Northern farmers, and many business people, that a no-deal exit will be disastrous for their living standards. Most are unionist voters. If things go seriously awry, Arlene Foster's party could pay a heavy price at the ballot box.

10. Theresa May must now be viewed with the deepest suspicion. She is the silver fox of the whole process - running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. Her endgame remains a mystery.

11. The support of our EU partners is indeed remarkable. In a sense, Anglo-Irish relations will never be quite the same again. Britain is our closest neighbour and the drive for mutual goodwill will be rebooted when all this is over. But we have found there is strength in numbers. There will be occasions when the old Dublin-London axis will play second fiddle to the needs of the EU.

12. We should remember backing from Brussels is what we are entitled to. We are grateful - but it is also our due. And, of course, there will be times in the future when we will have to fight our own corner within the Brussels monolith.

13. Despite populist rhetoric that British-Irish relations are badly damaged, there is no evidence this will last in the longer term. There are too many shared interests. In a perverse way, Westminster may need us more than ever, as a conduit to the EU corridors of power. Especially if it leaves and slams the door behind it. Equally, not giving ground on something as crucial as the peace process does not overnight turn anybody into a born-again, all-purpose, Brit-basher.

14. "We will not gamble with peace or put a sell-by date on reconciliation. And this is why we insist on the backstop." This was the crucial sentence in Donald Tusk's 'rot in hell' jibe at some Brexiteers. He berated those who wish to leave but "who do not have a sketch of a plan to carry it out safely". Safely being the operative word.

15. The EU had its genesis in trying to bond various countries together following the carnage of two world wars. "It is first and foremost a peace project," said Tusk. A bit like the much-dissected backstop really.

Irish Independent

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