UK supreme court ruling reinforces Ireland’s wait and see approach

Analysis: Johnson faces humiliating return to parliament where he lacks a majority

Britain’s prime minister Boris Johnson is facing calls for his resignation. Photograph: AP

Britain’s prime minister Boris Johnson is facing calls for his resignation. Photograph: AP

 

The decision of the UK Supreme Court, quashing British prime minister Boris Johnson’s suspension of parliament, is likely to reinforce the Irish Government’s belief that it should wait and see what happens at Westminster before considering any proposals from Johnson about replacements for the backstop.

Irish Ministers and officials have been saying for weeks that they must see how the Brexit battles at Westminster play out before the next steps for Ireland become clear.

This was one of the reasons why they remained so guarded about Downing St’s proposals in recent weeks - not alone were they insufficient in themselves, but Dublin and its EU allies can see the huge uncertainty in Westminster about whether Johnson can pursue a no-deal or whether he could even get a new deal through parliament.

Having been once bitten by Theresa May, the EU has been twice shy about agreeing any concessions with Johnson that would be shot down in parliament.

Even if the EU is willing to accept a tweaked withdrawal agreement, it is certainly not going to agree one until the situation in Westminster clears .

Johnson now faces a humiliating return to the House of Commons, where his lack of a majority through which to enforce his will is now acute.

Today’s judgment has further weakened his political authority, and capacity. It is far from clear that any negotiating position adopted by the British government with the EU about replacing the backstop provisions of the withdrawal agreement would have the support of parliament.

With demands for his resignation flying about this morning, and an angry parliament to face in the coming days, it is not even clear that it is Johnson who will be travelling to the crucial EU summit in three weeks’ time.

Irish officials declined to comment immediately, knowing that any commentary from them would be unlikely to be helpful.

But one source confirmed the obvious: the current position of waiting to see how the evermore extraordinary spectacle at Westminster will only be reinforced by Tuesday’s judgment - not just in Dublin, but across the EU.

So sources in Dublin say that Dublin and Brussels will not change their position or offer any concessions in the talks that continue to stutter on in Brussels.

Beyond that, sources in Dublin say the judgment makes it less likely that Mr Johnson can bring the UK out of the EU without a deal on October 31st. The blow to his authority , and the resumption of parliament on Wednesday which will emphasise it, will make it nearly impossible for Downing St to ignore or get around the anti-no-deal legislation passed in Westminster, they believe. That makes a no-deal less likely. “We’ll breathe a little easier,” said one source.

This in turn, means that an extension of some sort will probably be on the cards, sources in Dublin expect. Though how, when exactly and by whom is - like much else - as yet unclear.

And though no-deal preparations will continue for a no-deal here, the pressure on the Government to outline exactly what a no-deal would mean on the Border and for cross-border trade will likely abate somewhat. The really difficult bit of no-deal for the Irish Government has always been the checks that will be required - somewhere - to protect the single market, to which it is committed. For making that prospect a bit more remote, Tuesday’s judgment was welcomed in Dublin.

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