The Brexit negotiations are teetering on the brink over the question of the backstop for the Irish border. Some fundamental truths are being forgotten in the froth of the negotiations:
- If there is no deal, there is no backstop. If the EU collapses the negotiations by insisting on unreasonable backstop conditions, there will be no backstop whatsoever. Would the EU rather have a deal on everything else with no backstop, or no deal at all AND no backstop?
- The President of the EU Commission and the Prime Minister of Ireland have both already guaranteed no hard border even with no deal. As can be seen in the above video clip, Juncker and Leo Varadkar have all given unambiguous guarantees that they won’t put a hard border under any circumstances – including no deal. So why risk wrecking the negotiations over it?
The fact that Ireland has guaranteed no hard border in the case of no deal means that they clearly have no intention of constructing a hard border in the absence of the EU’s backstop – this is abundantly clear from the Taoiseach’s stated position as forcefully made to the Dáil Éireann
“… we are not drawing up any plans for a border between Northern Ireland and Ireland full stop. Because there isn’t going to be one and I have made very clear to my counterpart in the UK and also to the other EU Prime Ministers that under no circumstances will there be a border full stop.”
If the backstop is genuinely about concern for Ireland, not about trying to force the UK into a certain position, why is Ireland’s own commitment not sufficient? That is the question journalists should be asking.
The current trajectory of the negotiations is unsustainable unless the EU changes its stance on the backstop. Tory MPs have been discussing whether the EEA as a staging post on the way to a Canada-style deal could be a viable alternative – this is unlikely to solve the problem as the EU will simply throw up the same obstacles when the UK tries to leave that. May’s proposed transition extension does nothing to help either. It is simply a very expensive and unpopular way of drawing out the same problems for longer.
Ministers have increasingly been considering the possibility of a mitigated no-deal instead: hand over some cash in exchange for basic legal agreements on aviation, passports, haulage etc. and then negotiate sensible future arrangements outside the cauldron of the Article 50 process. Given the current state of the negotiations, this is starting to look more and more appealing…
UPDATE: Guido’s news editor, Hugh Bennett, reiterates the Irish PM’s “no hard border, even in the event of no deal” guarantee: