Friday 18 October 2019

Kevin Doyle: 'The UK can't be trusted but that doesn't give our side a free pass'


Theresa May Photo: Matt Dunham/PA Wire
Theresa May Photo: Matt Dunham/PA Wire
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

It's clear now that the UK is desperate to get a Brexit deal - but it shouldn't be forgotten that Europe is too.

Behind all the bravado and tough talk over the past two years have been negotiating teams who have known from the start that a 'no-deal Brexit' must be avoided.

Today was supposed to be the day that British Prime Minister Theresa May presented her final position to ministers in the hope of getting their blessing. That now seems unlikely.

Instead she has turned to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar essentially looking for a 'dig out'. She wants to be able to tell her cabinet that the backstop will be "temporary" and will be ended following a 'review'.

At the same time, Mr Varadkar wants Irish people to believe that the 'review' will only take place when a future relationship that guarantees no return to a hard Border has been negotiated.

Given the pace of the current negotiations that could be five or 10 years away, by which time we will be living in a very different EU.

Up to now Ireland has enjoyed unprecedented solidarity. Some of that is genuine, some of it is based on the EU's inherent goal of protecting peace and some of it is stems from a desire to punish the UK.

Within a few years though, that sense of camaraderie is likely to have diminished. Angela Merkel told the Taoiseach as much at a recent dinner in Salzburg.

Ireland will be fighting the bigger powers on issues such as tax harmonisation and environmental directives.

With memories of the Brexit pain fading, would the next batch of EU prime ministers still allow Irish red lines turn pink if they stood in the way of a wider trade deal with the UK? These are the questions that have to be considered now.

Sources in Dublin insisted last night that "the threshold" for any review will be set in stone so that such a scenario can't develop.

They insist that the UK has already signed up to a situation where the backstop remains in place "unless and until" a better way of ensuring a hard Border is agreed.

They argue the flurry of Brexit headlines in recent days is being driven by a "manic UK political system". "Our problem here is consistency. We don't say wacky things. We're so boring," they said.

Maybe it is a case of supreme diplomacy, but it leaves Ireland on the back foot when we learn through the Tory press that the Brexit secretary told Simon Coveney he wants a three-month timeline applied to the backstop. By the time the Tánaiste is out to rubbish the idea, it has already got wind.

The Irish argument is that Dominic Raab made the demands for his own political promotion so they didn't want any part in it. There were no "stunned" officials because the only two people in the room were Mr Coveney and the Irish Ambassador to the UK.

We know the UK negotiators can't be trusted in this game of Brexit brinkmanship - but as nerves fray we shouldn't have blind faith in our own either.

Irish Independent

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