Wednesday 24 April 2019

John Downing: 'We didn't create the problem, and shouldn't have to find a remedy'

  

September 25, 2017: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Theresa May in Downing Street discussing Brexit developments, including the future of the Irish border, the Common Travel Area and provisions to ensure the Northern Ireland peace process is protected. Photo: Facundo Arrizabalaga
September 25, 2017: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Theresa May in Downing Street discussing Brexit developments, including the future of the Irish border, the Common Travel Area and provisions to ensure the Northern Ireland peace process is protected. Photo: Facundo Arrizabalaga
John Downing

John Downing

The question is worth asking one more time: is insistence on the Irish Border backstop a "nose-for-face job"?

Put simply, will we be on the winning side of a complex political battle only to pay a huge economic price as a result?

Should we not, for our own good reasons - including "cupboard love" - be lining up with our nearest neighbour and key trading partner, the United Kingdom, in this dreary and ever-lengthening Brexit war?

Answer: No.

And here are a few swift arguments in support of that definitive contention.

Back with first principles, Brexit was never our idea. In late 2015, and through the first half of 2016, we watched across the sea a lamentable non-debate of vague throw-back arguments veering towards the jingoistic.

That non-debate never addressed the real economic and political consequences of a widespread view that the UK should quit the EU after 40-plus years of fractious but really engaged membership.

The advocates of Leave never told the dispossessed poor and unemployed English people, and I mean the people in the midlands and north of England, what walking out of the EU would mean for jobs and their struggling regional economies.

There was no meaningful discussion of EU-UK severance terms, and less about a future EU-UK relationship. Amid the Leave campaign bluster and spoof was a heap of half-baked lies about things like savings from excessive EU contributions being redeployed to fund the National Health Service. But the vote result hit us in the early hours of June 24, 2016. There followed a funereal procession of UK internal discussions about what would happen next and where this one would land.

After two years of tough negotiations, and an EU-UK draft deal which the British Prime Minister Theresa May signed but cannot now sell, there are attempts by Mrs May to haul us all back to negotiations.

The Irish Border backstop has to be replaced with we know not what, Mrs May now argues. Park the simple fact that she and her government agreed this deal. Just ask a question: should we acquiesce in our own pragmatic interests?

Well, let's note that EU leaders have offered a united chorus of "No" to the UK's belated bid to negotiate changes to the Brexit divorce deal. One official notably called upon British MPs to stop bickering and work out a cross-party approach.

If anything is to happen between now and the B-date of March 29, this is where the action must be. The British Conservatives must get over themselves, and so must the other parties. The Tories must work with Labour, the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats to find common ground.

Ireland's EU journey was difficult in its own way. But it is vastly different to that of the UK, which is now set to leave.

We did not create that dilemma - nor can we be obliged to remedy it.

Irish Independent

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