Wednesday 18 September 2019

Gerard O'Regan: 'Dilemma for DUP as Brexiteers' delusions leave little room for common sense'

Nigel Dodds, Arlene Foster and Jeffrey Donaldson of the DUP. Photo: REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth/File Photo
Nigel Dodds, Arlene Foster and Jeffrey Donaldson of the DUP. Photo: REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth/File Photo

Gerard O'Regan

Bexit, as we understand it, might never happen. Instead, we could see some foggy, fudged break with the EU down the line. But as of now, the UK simply lacks the collective will and the political wherewithal to really, really go out on its own.

The Tory leadership battle brought matters to a head. Rarely has such a political heave-ho been dogged by so much bluff and bluster. It was left to the longest serving Commons MP, Ken Clarke, to remind us that, apart from Rory Stewart, contenders have essentially been talking a load of old cobblers.

In what Stewart derided as a "competition of machismo", his opponents told of how they would play tough-guy with the EU.

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They would make Brussels buckle in a matter of weeks. High-stakes brinkmanship would mean the backstop in its current form would be no more.

What Theresa May failed to achieve, by way of hard-chaw negotiating over two years, would be in the bag almost overnight.

It's 'Alice in Wonderland' stuff. The Dutch prime minister was stirred this week to remind all concerned the EU will not crumble. Therefore the choice for the UK remains. Accept what's on offer, agree to a meaningless fudge or jump off the cliff.

The pivotal point in the TV debate was Boris Johnson waffling on the most crucial question of all. As prime minister, is he prepared to wave a final goodbye to Brussels on the scheduled leave date of October 31? All he could say is such an option is "feasible". That certainly leaves a lot of wriggle room depending on how the cookie crumbles.

Meanwhile, these are worrying times for the DUP; a survey of Tory members suggests a majority would ditch Northern Ireland if it meant securing their beloved hardline Brexit.

More perceptive unionists must be worried if they overplayed their hand during the May premiership. Their 'not-an-inch' approach to the backstop scuppered her deal and destroyed her career.

Now the party faces the prospect of Boris Johnson in Number 10. Can he be relied upon to do the right thing as the DUP sees it? There are already suggestions he might pull some backstop stroke. This would involve the appointment of a new attorney general who would provide soothing legal advice for Arlene Foster, Nigel Dodds and Co.

Unionists would be assured they have nothing to worry about - with suggestions the backstop wording is not as all-embracing as it seems. This would provoke fury in the ranks of the DUP. But the options could be stark. Provoke a general election and risk the dreaded Jeremy Corbyn getting into power.

One way or another, whoever is the new prime minister will be extra watchful, lest the same is done to him as was done to May. She made a fatal error of embroiling herself in the quagmire of Northern Ireland politics.

On a visit to Dublin, Jeffrey Donaldson, one of the DUP's more amiable MPs, suggested Leo Varadkar and the Irish Government is 'driving us all' to a no-deal Brexit because of Ireland's backstop stance. Labour leader Brendan Howlin, who was attending the same event, pointed out the Government's approach is supported by all mainstream parties in the Republic.

"The real problem is that the UK is in a conundrum of its own making. It no longer likes a proposal which itself proposed - to solve the problem of keeping Ireland's Border open,'' he explained.

''For their own part, the DUP have some reflection to do. Northern Ireland did not vote to leave the European Union - and pro-EU sentiment was evident in the European election result,'' added Mr Howlin. He also pointed out many Northern businessmen and farmers warn a hard Brexit will devastate their living standards.

Perhaps the most insightful contribution in recent days was made by Rory Stewart. He was never going to win the leadership battle. But he garnered wide acclaim by highlighting the delusions of wannabe prime ministers who insist they can bend the EU to their will.

"The backstop is just another way of saying we do not want a hard Border in Ireland. It is the guarantee of the Good Friday Agreement. How can anyone disagree with that?'' he asked.

Irish Independent

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