Monday 16 September 2019

Editorial: 'Johnson's reckless gamble will take us up to 'evil hour''

'Whatever happens within the next 30 days, Mr Johnson will ride his luck. He can see a scenario where the loser takes it all. All he needs is a way out'. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
'Whatever happens within the next 30 days, Mr Johnson will ride his luck. He can see a scenario where the loser takes it all. All he needs is a way out'. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Editorial

Editorial

Writing of Las Vegas, novelist Ian Fleming identified a new school of architecture he called: 'The Gilded Mousetrap School.'

Its purpose was "to channel the customer-mouse into the central gambling trap whether he wanted the cheese or not."

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has adopted a similar approach. He has lured EU negotiators into the last chance saloon for a final role of the dice: Deal or No Deal? Just take that pesky backstop off the table and those red-eyed negotiators can all rest easy.

It is not the position Ireland wants to be in.

Indeed it is some time since former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern cautioned the Government not to leave Brexit talks to the "evil hour" of late-night deadlines. Yet here we are.

Mr Johnson was compelled to play for high stakes. So divided is the UK on the issue he knows it is a fair bet he will get backing whatever the outcome.

The madness of Brexit has made a puzzle palace of Westminster; its decision-makers have been reduced to stuttering parodies of parliamentarians. Whatever happens within the next 30 days, Mr Johnson will ride his luck. He can see a scenario where the loser takes it all. All he needs is a way out. Soon he will have his election, beyond that anything is possible. Since becoming prime minister his focus has been fixed.

As the hours tick by the trickle of sweat going down the backs of the EU negotiators will get colder. But he has weighed up the odds and studied the form.

Yesterday he gave something of his thinking away. Speaking to reporters, he said: "I'm afraid we may have to come out with or without a deal." But then added: "We are making progress but I am just telling people not to hold their breath, because I have seen the way these Brussels negotiations work. It was always on the steps of the court, as it were, that the deal is done."

He is correct, of course. If gambling with security and economies is regarded with austere disfavour in some quarters, to the politically reckless it is a means to an end. The protection of the EU single market and political stability in Ireland are core principles. Even so, during the Tory leadership race Mr Johnson would bluster when asked about a deal. He would say things like: "You disaggregate the elements of the otherwise defunct withdrawal agreement. You keep the parts on which there is agreement, and you get rid of the parts you do not..."

He is famously not a details man; a plan B would be an extravagance. But Europe has vowed to be steadfast. Deserting Ireland would make a mockery of solidarity within the bloc. Yet a messy Brexit also comes at a cost. We now find ourselves locked in a 30-day game of back-stop roulette. Mr Johnson's bluff may soon be called.

But when it gets to "the steps of the court" all or nothing is a stark choice.

Irish Independent

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