Monday 16 September 2019

Editorial: 'Peace process can't be lost by Johnson's Brexit gamble'

Mr Johnson's acknowledgment last night that the 'onus is on us' to produce credible plans to replace the backstop and facilitate frictionless trade will be eagerly anticipated. Photo: REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
Mr Johnson's acknowledgment last night that the 'onus is on us' to produce credible plans to replace the backstop and facilitate frictionless trade will be eagerly anticipated. Photo: REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
Editorial

Editorial

A crashout Brexit, once on the extreme edge of probability, has moved front and centre.

According to Tánaiste Simon Coveney a no-deal is now "far more likely". He is simply calling it for what it is. Yet an ominous almost recriminatory timbre is beginning to creep into discussions, voices are rising rashly in the way they can, before doors are slammed shut.

In the long term this can serve no one's interest. But taking the short-term perspective, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson appears to be deliberately courting a cold shoulder rather than a warm embrace in his visits to Berlin and Paris this week.

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He speaks of wanting a deal but will not budge on any red lines; indeed weeks away from a crash-out he is actively adding new ones.

If, as he says, he is serious about a deal he has, according to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, 30 days to prove it.

Many firmly believe his over-riding concern is the winning of an election; meaningful conclusive talks will only take place after the tableau plays out in Westminster, and Mr Johnson goes to the country.

At the risk of being dubbed a "gloomster", such a gambit did not end so well for his predecessor.

His meetings with Ms Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron may have been merely going through the motions.

Mr Johnson's acknowledgment last night that the "onus is on us" to produce credible plans to replace the backstop and facilitate frictionless trade will be eagerly anticipated.

But his insistence the backstop be binned and the Withdrawal Agreement burned indicated no great change. Support for Ireland's position in Berlin and Brussels appears steadfast.

Maintaining the relationships in the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement remains paramount.

There could be scope for manoeuvre in the context of the future relationship and political declaration down the line; but this presupposes a level of mature engagement not yet seen.

Right now, engagement does not appear to be in Mr Johnson's playbook.

Sticking to the Downing Street script, and driving up approval ratings with the British public is all that matters. Impatience is building and too much is on the line to be complacent.

Mr Coveney said that while he did not want to see the relationship between Ireland and the UK deteriorate, he noted: "We are not in the business of being steam-rolled at the end of this because a British prime minister has rolled out new red lines."

Meanwhile, Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan has accused Mr Johnson of "gambling" with the peace process.

We cannot settle for a makeshift deal with the sword of Damocles hanging over our heads in the form of a no-deal threat. At some point all of this will be over and the UK will still be our neighbour and relationships must be maintained.

The language of difference and division is easy to master, but the vocabulary for transcendence requires subtlety and finesse.

Irish Independent

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