Friday 20 September 2019

Editorial: 'Only UK can dig itself out of the dark hole that is Brexit'

The Dutch government have denied pushing for concessions on the Irish backstop. Stock photo: PA Wire/PA Images
The Dutch government have denied pushing for concessions on the Irish backstop. Stock photo: PA Wire/PA Images


Diamonds, they say, are made under pressure until it is their time to shine. If there is any lustre attached to Brexit it is impossible to spot, even on the darkest day of the year. All hope seems to have been lost somewhere between Theresa May's red lines and the backstop.

From the outset, the danger lay in the UK sailing in one direction, the EU in another, and Ireland being left adrift. The situation was not of our making, but that will not prevent a hard Border unless May either gets her deal over the line - highly unlikely - or does a 180-degree about-turn on her refusal to hold a second referendum.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Foreign Minister Simon Coveney stood firm on the backstop. They felt the weight of history, with the Good Friday Agreement thrown into the mix, as if it could be bartered on the basis of a nod and wink. There must be space enough to contract or expand.

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They say a skilful diplomat will think twice before saying nothing. All the hot air so far wasted on Brexit has merely added to the fog.

The British are not best pleased with the rigid position taken on the backstop.

We had little choice, and there is much truth in "he who walks in the middle will be hit by both sides". The human tendency to seek to displace responsibility for any mess, especially one's own, has asserted itself.

It may be the backstop was something May could never sell. But is that really the point? At least the EU and negotiators knew what they wanted.

With less than 100 days to go to a divorce, it is astounding that it is still impossible to say what precisely the British want. They do not appear to know themselves.

From our perspective, we know we stand to lose billions; and billions more in tariffs. We have a massive security challenge in policing the Border. It is facile and frankly unacceptable for the UK to merely insist it does not want one. A no-deal Brexit, which it is hurtling towards, renders one inevitable.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney admits the challenges are both "stark" and "sobering". The consequences for this country are indeed severe. But the outlook for the UK of a crash-out Brexit is also far from rosy.

At the same time, Tory ministers are deep in a war of words after Amber Rudd became the first UK cabinet member to float the idea of a second referendum.

Her intervention was welcomed as a "massive moment" by campaigners calling for a so-called People's Vote. Yet rather than examine their options, there is a clamour from Brexiteers to seize on the fallout for Ireland, to press our Government to be more "helpful".

One Tory MP, Henry Smith, has suggested: "Leo Varadkar has not been very helpful in the Brexit process."

This is not a hole we can dig the UK out of - the shovel is as yet in their own hands.

Irish Independent

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