Tuesday 17 September 2019

Kevin Doyle: 'Brexit drama reaches its climax - but there's still time for a twist'


‘What is really standing in Johnson’s way is the lack of any real ideas’. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
‘What is really standing in Johnson’s way is the lack of any real ideas’. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

No matter what direction Boris Johnson turns, there is now a backstop.

He can no longer force a no-deal Brexit on October 31. He cannot run to the country. The boxed-in prime minister is in office but out of power.

Three years into Brexit the backstabbing, lying and confusion appears to be reaching its climax. The EU could yet be given the option of extending the series but that's far from certain.

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Johnson is still arguing that his strategy will secure a divorce agreement before an EU summit on October 17.

He claims the British government is going "to get a deal from our friends in Brussels", even though negotiations are caught in an exhausting time-warp.

Apparently "the only thing" standing in his way is "this surrender bill" which MPs are using to block a disorderly Brexit.

If that is the case, then Johnson is working on the assumption the EU will totally capitulate on the backstop at the end of this process.

There has always been a fear of last-minute abandonment in this country. Plenty of politicians, commentators and analysts warned that Brussels would drop Ireland and the backstop if the situation got too heavy.

But with weeks to go, the EU has invested far too much political capital in the backstop. To dump it, as Johnson suggests they will, would undermine the Union's ability to negotiate with superpowers such as the US and China in future.

So the EU's offer to Britain is straightforward: Give us an alternative plan which maintains an open Border and we can all move on.

What is really standing in Johnson's way is the lack of any real ideas. Secret UK papers obtained by the Irish Independent show just how far away they remain from a credible solution.

Discussions have taken place on 'smarter risking', 'single trade windows' and 'data-sharing arrangements'.

They have studied trusted trader schemes, toyed with technology systems on board vehicles and explored mobile checks.

Every time, the UK officials reached the same conclusion - they aren't as good as the backstop.

Bizarrely, one idea was that Ireland might agree to create a "common rulebook" which would be shared across Ireland and the UK. In ordinary English, that would mean diluting our membership of the EU single market in favour of regulatory ties with a country where democracy is hanging by a thread.

The emerging details of Johnson's alternative arrangements prove the Irish Government was correct to stand its ground.

One senior official in Dublin said the document sounded like the type of stuff that will be put forward in a desperate bid to mitigate no deal rather than in a coherent Withdrawal Agreement.

But before we take the moral high ground and declare the backstop 'the greatest coup' of modern Anglo-Irish relations, let's remember there could be some twists left in this yet.

Firstly, there is no guarantee the EU will give another Brexit extension.

Finland's prime minister, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, says there isn't widespread support for such a move.

Many leaders, including France's Emmanuel Macron, believe Brexit has become an unnecessary distraction.

Then there is the question of a UK election. There is a distinct possibility Johnson could return with a majority and therefore rescind legislation banning a no deal.

It's the end game - but a spin-off series is guaranteed.

Irish Independent

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