Monday 19 August 2019

Editorial: 'Pictures but no sound in Johnson's Brexit roulette'

Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: Reuters
Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: Reuters


We are experiencing a breakdown in transmission between London, Dublin and Brussels - pictures, but no sound. Normal services were disrupted with the arrival of Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Downing Street.

The British prime minister has bluntly stated he will only negotiate once the Withdrawal Agreement is thrown out the window.

This is massively problematic for myriad reasons which hardly need to be restated. We are now heading at ramming speed for a collision.

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The situation is analogous to the famous urban legend about the standoff between the US naval vessel and the Irish lighthouse: "Alter your course... I am afraid that would be impossible sir..." You know the rest.

At the same time Mr Johnson is pledging to put a billion to one side, to batten down the hatches for a no deal.

He clearly sees Ireland as the weakest link in the EU chain. We have yet to hear from our own Government what will the trading environment be like in a no deal, or what would be the EU or Government supports. These are matters of grave concern to the business and farming sectors.

From Downing Street, we hear British plans are "turbocharged" for no-deal preparation. In Dublin it's still "wait and see". While never satisfactory, this might have been sufficient before Mr Johnson pulled the plug. In the face of the worst of all outcomes it is incomprehensible. The British prime minister's strategy of squeezing Ireland may well be based on a miscalculation.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar cannot speak unilaterally about an agreement signed off with 27 other EU partners. The bloc has one voice. We need to be told what our plan is and see evidence it can be executed. It is in no one's interest to allow communication channels to be cut off. Mr Johnson found time to speak with several other EU heads of state, he has also had conversations with US President Donald Trump. Incivility in high office never pays off. It is highly contagious; its symptoms tend to feed their way down the line, before long the body politic is infected. Besides, long, frosty, diplomatic silences seldom end well.

The trick has always been to be able to disagree without being disagreeable. But right now etiquette is the least of our worries as investors warn a no-deal Brexit would send shock waves through the world economy. Any damage done to the Good Friday Agreement could be a disaster for these islands and the EU. In this Brexit roulette, Mr Johnson is betting someone else's shirt - his will be secure one way or another - on the fact the threat of no deal will force the EU to buckle. But it can't and it won't.

Mr Johnson made much play of championing democracy on his way to becoming prime minister. The only thing a historically splintered Westminster could find unanimity on was avoidance of no deal. We are living in strange times indeed when this is the very outcome with which Mr Johnson and his war-cabinet have become fixated on a soft-shoe-shuffle over the cliff.

Irish Independent

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