Sunday 20 October 2019

Kevin Doyle: 'Hard reality check is needed on both sides of the Irish Sea'


Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid. Photo: REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid. Photo: REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is not famed for 'working the room' - but he is going to have to take on the British prime minister in a game of schmoozing this week.

Theresa May plans to speak to the leader of every EU country in a final bid to deconstruct the backstop.

There's no evidence that any of them are enthused by the idea of reopening the Withdrawal Agreement, although a minority of the easterly capitals will listen attentively to her arguments.

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Comments form Estonia's President Kersti Kaljulaid yesterday were very reassuring.

Speaking in Germany, she simply told reporters that change to the backstop, which will ensure no hard Border on this island, "is not possible".

Asked if a time limit could be put on the backstop, she replied: "Then it is not a backstop any more. We agreed that there will be an Irish backstop. It can't be changed."

Tánaiste Simon Coveney could not have written a better script for Ms Kaljulaid.

But there's no doubt that politicians across the EU27 are increasingly worried about the prospect of a no-deal.

Mrs May will look to stoke that fear during a series of phone calls where she will tell colleagues that if they give concessions on the backstop, she will get her deal through the House of Commons.

Of course her defeat last week on a basic motion of support for that strategy shows the prime minister is in no position to make such a sweeping commitment.

Mrs May is fast running out of political capital at home and political goodwill from abroad.

The Taoiseach faces a very different challenge. He has been bathing in generosity from EU leaders, not least presidents Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk.

He told the all-island Brexit forum last Friday: "One of the most striking things about what has unfolded since the UK's decision to leave has been the remarkable solidarity and unity on the EU side. It has been strong and resolute.

"Ireland's concerns on the Border have become EU concerns. Our insistence on a legally binding and operable means to avoid a hard Border has become an EU insistence."

Mr Varadkar travels to Egypt at the end of this week for an EU-League of Arab Nations summit.

Brexit is not on the agenda, but he must use the event to counter any advances Mrs May might make during her charm offensive.

One question that is likely to come up is what Ireland will do in the event that the UK crashes out. European countries will expect us to protect the single market, which in layman's terms means: patrol the Border.

To date the Irish Government has struggled to answer this question except to say that a Border on the island is not acceptable and a border to the continent could never happen. It seems a hard reality check is needed on both sides of the Irish Sea.

Irish Independent

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