Monday 25 March 2019

Editorial: 'EU cannot allow us to burn as may fiddles over brexit'

We had hoped Poland's foreign minister was a different drummer marching in another direction when he broke ranks with the EU band, suggesting last month that Ireland has
We had hoped Poland's foreign minister was a different drummer marching in another direction when he broke ranks with the EU band, suggesting last month that Ireland has "treated the UK harshly" over the backstop. Stock
Editorial

Editorial

We had hoped Poland's foreign minister was a different drummer marching in another direction when he broke ranks with the EU band, suggesting last month that Ireland has "treated the UK harshly" over the backstop.

It now looks as though it could be Ireland that is out of step, not Poland's Jacek Czaputowicz.

Had our confidence in our position not been fortified by cast-iron commitments from top brass in Brussels? Perhaps.

But across the water, Theresa May and the Ultras had waged a €39bn bet (the price of the EU divorce bill) on Ireland being forced into diluting the backstop once the EU was confronted with the prospect of losing the pot. And with just six weeks to go to Brexit, it looks as if the gamble could pay off.

A forthright and frankly chilling interview with someone described as a "senior EU diplomat" yesterday came like a glass of cold water in the face.

The un-named source said: "In a no-deal scenario, Ireland would have to choose between setting up a physical Border with Northern Ireland and de facto leaving the single market. If there is no physical Border, the customs checks would have to take place on all goods coming from Ireland."

So we bring in a hard Border or leave the single market. It's really that stark. A blunt "our way or the highway" ultimatum, veiled in the velvet language only anonymity allows. No matter how much Iveagh House may try to calm nerves these quotes cannot be dismissed.

They were carried by the Reuters news agency - the go-to source favoured by the EU when feeding unpalatable truths into the mainstream.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney's office was anxious to dismiss the report. A spokesman said: "I would point to people who put their names to statements like President Tusk and President Juncker who have repeatedly said the EU is determined to do all it can, deal or no deal, to avoid the need for a Border and to protect peace..."

We are in no doubt the EU will do "all that it can". This has never been in question.

The difficulty, and it is a grave one, is that it can do nothing. It will not allow a 500km hole to be opened up in the heart of the customs union, should the UK depart messily.

As the EU frontier is on our side, responsibility for protecting the zone's trade will almost certainly come back to us. European solidarity and fellowship will only get you so far, especially if it comes to jeopardising the integrity of the biggest trading bloc in the world.

Ireland has stood by the EU and should not be made to pay the price for another member storming out. We saddled our future generations with debt to protect the euro when the dam threatened to burst a decade ago. Small nations within the EU will be watching closely to see how we are treated.

Talk is cheap - and what will it say about the strength of the union if Mrs May fiddles but it is Ireland that burns?

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss