The Irish Government and the two main Opposition parties have responded coolly to suggestions from two British ministers yesterday that there was potential for a breakthrough on the Northern Irish backstop impasse.
In separate interviews aimed at talking up the prospects of a deal, home secretary Priti Patel, and Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay contended that discussions centred on overcoming the problem the backstop has caused for prime minster Boris Johnson's government were progressing, and that a deal was still possible by October 31st.
However, a Government spokesman said the position has not changed since the meeting between Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and prime minister last week, in relation to the backstop.
“As we set out at that meeting our priority is to avoid the return of a hard border while maintaining the single market.
“The backstop remains a critical component unless a realistic and legally-binding alternative is found.”
Focus on deal
Ms Patel told the BBC yesterday the “entire machinery of government now is focused on getting that deal and is planning and preparing to leave on 31 October with a deal”.
She and Mr Barclay hinted they were moving to a situation where Northern Ireland would be more closely aligned to the EU but that arrangement would fall short of being a full backstop.
“It is important we move forwards with the consent of both sides of the community in Northern Ireland,” said Mr Barclay. He suggested a lot of work was being done behind the scenes and a “landing zone” might be found to deliver a deal.
Mr Johnson, who is meeting European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker today, has already suggested a form of all-Ireland arrangement for agriculture and food, technical solutions for customs and tariffs, and for some issues to be ‘parked’ until the negotiations on future relations. But the EU has said it is not enough. Yesterday, he used the metaphor of the cartoon character the Incredible Hulk to say Britain would break put of its manacles on October 31st.
However, the EU and the Government have said the proposals fall far short of what would be needed to retain an open border while maintaining the EU single market. The Democratic Unionist Party is also likely to oppose any proposal that imposes a barrier between Northern Ireland and Britain.
Fianna Fáil’s Brexit spokeswoman Lisa Chambers said the suggestions did not reach anywhere near the threshold required to be an alternative to the backstop guarantee.
“What’s being proposed does not solve all the problems. Technical solutions have been put on the table by the British government several times. From the EU’s perspective, the technology does not exist to satisfy the requirements of the single market.
“At the same time we must take some positives from it, even if only one aspect is being addressed.”
Ms Chambers said that, politically, the “ball is in the DUP’s court” in terms of an all-island solution.
She said the North could have the best of both worlds, where it could benefit from the single market and the customs union, while retaining its sovereign and constitutional alignment to the UK.
Sinn Féin’s Brexit spokesman Seán Crowe said there was no evidence that the British government would be in a position to deliver a deal on Brexit that would be agreeable to all sides.
He expressed concern about the devastating impact a no-deal Brexit would have on fishing.
“I know there is great fear about this. Are we shaping up for a fishing war like the one with Iceland in the 1970s?” he asked.