Monday 18 February 2019

John Downing: ''Sideshow Boris' reminds us why we badly need that backstop'

 

Former UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson speaking at the Pendulum Summit at the Dublin Convention Centre. Photo: PA
Former UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson speaking at the Pendulum Summit at the Dublin Convention Centre. Photo: PA
John Downing

John Downing

Not for nothing was Boris Johnson elected Mayor of London twice. Ever the showman, he entertained at this conference in Dublin, beginning early on with a quip about how the Conservative Party whips gladly excused him from duty at Westminster - even suggesting he should be in no hurry back to continue opposing their efforts to get Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal passed.

But this Irish appearance by the former UK foreign minister was at best a sideshow. The real Brexit politics of the day continued grinding onwards in Belfast, where Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney met the DUP, and in London, where Theresa May continued to do battle.

Mrs May's case in the London parliament was reinforced by a visit from the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who urged avoidance of a no-deal Brexit. There were also serious warnings from car makers about job losses in that sector if Brexit goes wrong.

Up in the West Yorkshire city of Wakefield, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn continued to play the long shot by bidding for a general election. He suggested Brexit could be delayed if there was an election which Labour won, as they would need time to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement.

Back in Westminster, environment minister Michael Gove went into un-parliamentary mode as he called Labour's position on Brexit "bollocks". Whatever about the accuracy of that statement, it is fair to say Corbyn remains as ambivalent and opportunistic as ever on the issue.

Before his meeting with the DUP leader Arlene Foster in Belfast, Coveney still insisted that a no-deal Brexit was not inevitable. He also said Ireland's position on the backstop had been misrepresented - but appeared to get little change out of the DUP, with the kindest assessment being that the meeting was an achievement in itself given the current climate.

Intriguingly, a warning by Mrs May's deputy, David Lidington, to MPs about a no-deal Brexit and the risk to Northern Ireland's future within the UK still resonated. Now, that is an unusual source of speculation about the future of Ireland's 'fourth green field'.

We have noted that Boris Johnson did hold and entertain the crowd at the National Conference Centre in Dublin. His theme was that politicians are often far too timorous and fretful about media and the danger of being blamed for things going wrong.

You guessed it: it was why he, among other courageous Boris initiatives, had backed the UK leaving the European Union. Then cue much bluster about how Ireland and Britain could work things out in the future - but they cannot, it must be done via the EU.

He argued that the UK leaving without a deal could be managed. The EU and UK could just keep the status quo temporarily and then negotiate an EU-Canada style trade deal. It was all a reminder of why Ireland needs the insurance policy backstop.

Irish Independent

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