Friday 18 October 2019

Eoghan Harris: 'Time to bin the backstop and save our State from crash-out'

Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

Like the writers of Game of Thrones, Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney lost the Brexit plot at the most crucial part - the end.

Aristotle, who knew that politics was a drama, says the most important element of a plot is the ending.

Elizabeth Bowen, the novelist, agrees: "Plot is the knowing of destination."

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But Leo Varadkar, blinded by the green gimmick of the backstop, lost sight of the destination - to prevent a British crash-out at all costs.

His backstop folly was fully backed by most of the Irish media, in the greatest act of mass groupthink of my generation.

Terrified of being exposed as enablers of a big lie, any mention of the backstop is now taboo in media circles.

As an extra precaution, they now parrot a new party line: that the backstop was not the big factor in Theresa May failing to do a deal.

Dan O'Brien demolished that delusion, both in Independent Newspapers and on Twitter.

The brute fact is that the Taoiseach and Tanaiste would not offer a time limit on the backstop because they were afraid to lose face.

In sum, they were not willing to look weak so their country could stay strong.

Their cowardice is matched by RTE, which with a virtual monopoly, refused to let critical voices like mine be heard.

Luckily for democracy, Independent Newspapers promotes a diversity of views. Here are some truths you will not hear on RTE:

Boris Johnson will be the next prime minister. Unless we budge on the backstop he will eventually have to fight Nigel Farage by crashing out.

He may make a mess of it. But by then we will be looking at the EU erecting the hard border that the backstop was supposed to prevent in the first place.

For Dublin this will be a diplomatic catastrophe. But you would never know that, listening to Leo Varadkar doing his laid-back bit as if a crash-out was completely beyond his control.

Paul Cunningham of RTE helped by hyperventilating about how strong Simon Coveney was in repeating his mantra that the facts had not changed.

But the facts have changed, because the politics have changed.

Time you stopped swallowing RTE's green gruel and feasted on protein-laden truths.

Theresa May was mostly brought down by the backstop dagger, buried so deeply it poisons every prospect of a soft landing.

In reply, the Government spinners smugly tell us that the British agreed to the backstop first day.

But the backstop was only brought in because Dublin made a hypocritical fuss about a hard border - hypocritical because the backstop created the real risk of a British crash-out and thus an EU hard border.

The backstop was like forcing our neighbour to store gasoline in his shed although we knew some of his family were smokers.

When his house caught fire we said it was his own fault and gloated at what a great job the Department of Foreign Affairs had done.

What we did not do was act like adults and face the fact that the fire would spread to our house unless we allowed him to remove the gasoline of the backstop.

The Government's mendacity is matched by the media's failure to stop treating the followers of Farage as fascists.

Matthew Goodwin, professor of politics at the University of Kent, co-author of National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy, does not endorse Farage; he explains him.

Goodwin says a number of studies show Farage's followers share the same cluster of concerns.

"They care deeply about a loss of national sovereignty... wider dismissal of the one thing that they cherish more than anything else: the national community."

They are not mourning a lost empire but a lost sense of England. Goodwin acutely adds that English national identity, since 1707, has defined itself against continental Europe.

He points out that Farage has had failures, especially among ethnic minorities, adding, "although a significant number did vote for Brexit and attend Brexit Party rallies".

But what clearly worries Corbyn - and reinforces his anti-EU politics - is that Farage's biggest supporters come from C2s, the old industrial working-class factory workers, mechanics, electricians and plumbers.

These artisans resent the Brussels elites. Hard to blame them when you listen to Guy Verhofstadt, chair of the Brexit Steering Group.

Last Monday, he sent an incendiary tweet accusing the Eurosceptic deputy prime minister of Italy, Matteo Salvini, of being paid by Putin to destroy Europe. "People have the right to know what devil's plan you have."

But Irish elites in the EU show the same lack of empathy with English fears about losing sovereignty.

For example, take the BBC fly-on-the-wall film, Brexit: Behind Closed Doors, which followed Guy Verhofstadt and his senior aides in the Brexit Steering Group over two years.

Generally, I felt the documentary featured far too much sneering at the British political class trying to devise a democratic solution to a society deeply divided on Europe.

Edel Crosse, an able Irish woman who is Verhofstadt's top aide, added her bit to the abrasive tone.

Crosse was in charge of Verhofstadt's visit to the Irish Border in September 2017. He's shown listening to two men rejecting a return to British and Irish Army checkpoints - but the film did not add that the IRA caused the checks.

Crosse's conception of her role is revealed after a difficult meeting between Verhofstadt and Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell about the Border.

Crosse tells her boss: "I'm most proud of you when you take on a Tory and win. He was a f**ker, yeah? I'm delighted." And as an afterthought, adds, "You should shoo the f**kers out."

Later, after an equally fraught meeting between Verhofstadt and Brexit Secretary David Davis on the same issue, Crosse exclaims that Davis has his "head in the f**king clouds".

Coarse language may be the norm in Verhofstadt's circle, but it does little for civil discourse. Barry Andrews rightly gave Verhofstadt's incendiary tweet short shrift on Claire Byrne. Dismissing the tweet as "intemperate", he rightly added that it would be a "mistake to ignore" far-right and populist views.

Isn't it time the media stopped lazily mocking Trump and Farage and took Andrews's advice to "confront them robustly and deal with the arguments on their merits"?

But it's even more important that political journalists stop doubling down on their supine support for the Taoiseach's Brexit strategy before the public turns on them.

Time they challenged Varadkar and Coveney about the danger of their disastrous deployment of the backstop which has led this country to the edge of the cliff on Brexit.

The new phase of Brexit calls for a new Taoiseach who does not wring his hands or wave green flags, gets on well with unionists and can talk to the British without previous baggage.

We need a Taoiseach who puts a premium on good Anglo-Irish relations, who is not afraid to help the UK out of the hole it has dug for itself, and who has been around politics long enough to know that sometimes you have to sacrifice looking good to doing good.

Sunday Independent

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