Monday 16 September 2019

Editorial: 'Give us a proper alternative and the backstop can go'

British PM Boris Johnson. Photo: Reuters
British PM Boris Johnson. Photo: Reuters


It seems the word Brexit can no longer be mentioned without inducing a dizzying sense of nausea, as if we had all been trapped inside a revolving door for the past three years.

All argument is circular, all sense of political sure-footedness gives way to a general staggering about in a futile pursuit of something solid to hold on to.

This sense was heightened by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's latest missive to the EU yesterday. The backstop is "undemocratic" and undermining the Good Friday Agreement, according to Mr Johnson.

The letter may have been sent to Brussels, but its contents really addressed his own domestic political priorities. He needs to win an election.

It serves his purpose to thus present as the Tory toreador taunting the Brussels bull.

Unfortunately, the red rag he has chosen to flourish is what Brexiteers see as the infernal backstop.

Predictably, it was Donald Tusk who responded first for the EU.

"People opposing the backstop without coming up with a realistic alternative, support the return of [the] Irish Border," he declared.

Chancellor Merkel took a more pragmatic tone:

"The moment we have a practical arrangement on how to preserve the Good Friday Agreement, and at the same time define the borders of the [European Union's] internal market, we would not need the backstop any more."

Downing Street did not delay in hitting back.

The UK, we were told, was ready to negotiate an alternative and no infrastructure, checks or controls would be placed at the Border.

The words sound reasonable but they contradict newly stated policy.

This week Mr Johnson's government announced from November 1 EU citizens must present passports on entering the UK. How, then, might an EU non-Irish citizen enter the North without presenting a passport?

And how might it be presented without Border infrastructure?

Ms Merkel noted Brussels is prepared to think about "practical solutions" but where are they?

Mr Johnson has yet to offer a single alternative.

In the current dialogue of the deaf there is a dangerous tendency to purport to know the answer to questions yet unasked.

You do not take down a wall unless you have an understanding as to why it was put up in the first place. The Good Friday Agreement was the supporting wall for the peace process; the backstop will be necessary to reinforce it once the UK exits the EU.

Therefore, there is an obligation to either maintain the status quo or offer something better.

Time is rapidly slipping away. We are past posturing or preludes to talks.

Cato said: "Those who are serious in ridiculous matters will be ridiculous in serious matters."

Let's hope Mr Johnson proves the exception. "Binning the backstop" is an empty slogan. It will not be entertained as a serious political solution.

Irish Independent

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