Ireland has little cause to trust UK on backstop

Some voices this side of the water suggest we should concede on it. That would be high risk

MPs in the House of Commons after they rejected Labour’s motion of no confidence in Theresa May’s government by 325 votes to 306. Photograph: House of Commons/PA Wire

MPs in the House of Commons after they rejected Labour’s motion of no confidence in Theresa May’s government by 325 votes to 306. Photograph: House of Commons/PA Wire

 

Once again attention turns to the backstop.

It’s not the only element of Theresa Mays’ resoundingly rejected withdrawal agreement that irks many in Britain but it has become a handy hook on which to hang their outrage.

Little illustrates the sheer dysfunction of the UK just now than the predictable survival of May and her government just 24 hours after they were on the wrong end of a historic 230-vote defeat on Brexit. Britain is certain about what it does not want: what it lacks is any idea of an achievable outcome that it will buy into.

And that brings us back to the backstop. Now that she has survived the parliamentary vote of confidence, May has finally reached across the political divide in search of some class of workable Brexit.

Judging by comments in the House of Commons on Wednesday, the first demand she will face is an extension of the article 50 disengagement process and a call for a second referendum. She is likely to reject both – at least until she faces a vote next Monday on a plan B if she can find one. Based on the debate of recent weeks, MPs want rid of the backstop – or have it very tightly limited – in any package they might consider.

Some voices this side of the water suggest we should concede on this point. Former diplomat Ray Bassett, a long-time critic of Irish policy on Brexit, says emphasis on the backstop is imperilling the trust required to work with Britain on Northern Ireland.

Agree to withdraw it, or limit it to two years, he said recently, and we can get a trade deal that works for both sides.

The problem, of course, as shown by the whole Brexit shambles, is that Britain has no idea what it wants. Why, then, should there be any confidence about it delivering a trade deal, even in two years?

And, of course, if Britain had been thinking at all about Northern Ireland and the Belfast Agreement, it is doubtful that David Cameron and his UK government would ever have sleepwalked into this mess in the first place.

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