Saturday 17 August 2019

Editorial: 'Public concern at handling of Brexit'

'The finding in relation to Mr Varadkar's handling of Brexit reflects a growing level of anxiety among voters at the more likely than ever no-deal outcome of the process' Stock photo: PA
'The finding in relation to Mr Varadkar's handling of Brexit reflects a growing level of anxiety among voters at the more likely than ever no-deal outcome of the process' Stock photo: PA
Editorial

Editorial

The Kantar opinion poll, published in the Sunday Independent today, makes for interesting reading at the end of a difficult week for Ireland in the Brexit process. Polling took place throughout the period of the Conservative leadership contest and latterly in the first days of Boris Johnson's premiership of the United Kingdom.

The Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar may find himself surprised at a poll finding that he is unable to command a majority satisfaction rating for his performance so far in relation to the Brexit process: 43pc of those poll are satisfied with his performance; 27pc are dissatisfied; 22pc are neither and 8pc do not know.

These findings are mirrored in another result in relation to the Taoiseach's performance in general. The finding in relation to Mr Varadkar's handling of Brexit reflects a growing level of anxiety among voters at the more likely than ever no-deal outcome of the process.

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The election of Boris Johnson as Tory leader and UK prime minister has led to a hardening of current positions on Brexit, specifically on what is called the ''backstop'' in the Withdrawal Agreement which relates to the question of a border on the island of Ireland. When the UK sought and was granted an extension to the date for its departure from the European Union, the EU's agreement to grant the extension expressly excluded any re-opening of the Withdrawal Agreement talks. It is certain, then, that Mr Johnson and the UK are fully aware that the EU is unwilling and, as a treaty-bound organisation, most likely unable to re-open the Withdrawal Agreement negotiations. This realisation has led many to speculate that Mr Johnson is contriving to bring about a general election in the UK in the hope that the Tories can command a more workable majority than currently exists. The growing prospect of an election in the UK opens up the possibility of a simultaneous election in Ireland. Be that as it may, whatever the outcome of a fresh election in the UK, the EU remains unlikely to resile from its current position in relation to the backstop.

Today's opinion poll provides food for thought for Mr Varadkar, however, or whoever may succeed him in the event of an election here: a solution must be found to the backstop issue. It should not be beyond the talents and abilities of the players in this increasingly fraught drama to come to a workable solution.

That responsibility rests with the EU side as much as the UK. However, the more profound responsibility rests with Mr Johnson. The scale of responsibility facing him and the UK at this critical moment is colossal. He would be well advised to take time to consider his responsibilities.

Similarly, political leaders in Ireland would do well to tone down the rhetoric for the remainder of the summer. Little if anything is resolved in the white heat of political drama. Mr Varadkar, and the Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Coveney, also bear heavy responsibilities and would do well to concentrate their efforts behind the scenes.

As today's opinion poll reveals, there is nothing to be gained by adding fuel to the fire at this critical stage.

Sunday Independent

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