Sunday 21 July 2019

Editorial: 'Giving ground on backstop is a flawed, backward step'

Photo: PA
Photo: PA


Fate has its own timing but since the vexed term Brexit was coined the over-riding fear was we would find ourselves at a table at the 11th hour being told in crisp tones: "What's mine is mine and what's yours is negotiable."

From the outset, the Irish position had to be: This mess is not of our making, and we will not be bounced in to becoming collateral damage because of a decision taken by Britain.

In order to remain on the same page, one has to make sure you are also reading the same book. And we have been told repeatedly the EU has our backs. Therefore, the Taoiseach's offer of a review to British Prime Minister Theresa May was at best premature and at worst a strategic error.

When the final result is ultimately expected to be a compromise, it is far wiser to start from an extreme position.

Notwithstanding, Mr Varadkar chose to shift position while getting nothing in return.

Inevitably, he was left having to defend his decision yesterday to signal Ireland may agree a "review clause" on the Border backstop. He insisted this did not mean a weakening of our Brexit position. Yet when you are explaining you are losing.

Mrs May has earned the grudging respect of Westminster watchers for being a wily survivor surrounded by predators in her own party.

Her tactic, they believe, is to delay and distract until the witching hour, at which time the pressure will shift from her to sign off on a deal and back on the EU to accept terms. She can then call her opponent's bluff.

The choice for her rivals then becomes risk a constitutional crisis or back her.

The grave danger for Ireland, of course, is that our interests could be obscured or sacrificed to get a deal over the line, thus avoiding the mess a disorderly Brexit would visit on the EU. In any event, Mr Varadkar's offer was met with a predictably unhelpful warning from the DUP "that it looks like we are heading for a no deal", while Mrs May told her cabinet that an agreement would not be thrashed out, "at any cost". And there is the rub. Downing Street is adamant there has to be a mechanism to bring a temporary backstop.

Dublin clearly cannot countenance any limit on a backstop. We can't afford to budge or add to the uncertainty on our position.

Thankfully, the EU remains resolute and maintains it will not conclude an exit agreement without a deal that prevents a hard Border. Mr Varadkar spoke of the need for creative thinking, but concessions yielding agreed ground will only be regarded as a backward step. You can't complain of a bum deal if you offer a glimpse of your hand before all the cards are even on the table.

Irish Independent

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