Former Irish diplomat calls for backstop demand to be dropped

Ray Bassett tells MPs Irish Government is bluffing and backstop is unworkable

Former diplomat Ray Bassett has told a meeting at Westminster that the Government and the EU should drop their demand for a backstop agreement on the Border ahead of next month’s European Union summit in Brussels. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Former diplomat Ray Bassett has told a meeting at Westminster that the Government and the EU should drop their demand for a backstop agreement on the Border ahead of next month’s European Union summit in Brussels. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Former Irish diplomat Ray Bassett has told a meeting at Westminster that the Government and the EU should drop their demand for a backstop agreement on the Border ahead of next month’s European Union summit in Brussels.

“I think the backstop should be dropped because the backstop can never be put into effect. It is being used as a threat. I have met nobody in Dublin who believes that the backstop will be implemented,” he said.

“It’s not reality. There is no British government that could agree to that. There is complete silence from British politicians about this. I’ve heard nobody support the backstop.”

Dr Bassett was speaking at the launch of his pamphlet Brexit and the Border: Where Ireland’s True Interests Lie, which is published by the Politeia think tank.

The DUP’s Brexit spokesman at Westminster Sammy Wilson suggested that, if the backstop demand could not be abandoned, it should be put on ice until later in the negotiations.

“I can understand from a political point of view why, having nailed their colours so firmly to the backstop mast that it is difficult for politicians to step down. And neither Leo Varadkar nor Simon Coveney are the kind of politicians who will step down easily,” he said.

‘Legal language’

“I think the best we can hope for is that rather than insisting that this must go into legal language before June, it is simply left until the negotiations are completed. Because I believe that by completing the negotiations and getting a free trade agreement, many of the requirements around the backstop would disappear anyhow. That allows all the options to be explored.”

Dr Bassett said Dublin was bluffing in its approach to Brexit and that the British government should make clear that Theresa May’s red lines are not negotiable.

“I think the Irish Government is involved in a game of bluff. I think that they’re totally convinced that the UK is going to come in and say OK to going into the single market and the customs union. It’s all predicated on that and you have to get across to them that this is not going to occur,” he said.

Asked at an EU summit in Sofia, Bulgaria about reports that London would ask to stay in the European Union’s customs area beyond the end of a post-Brexit transition period in 2020, Ms May denied she was “climbing down” on plans to leave.

‘Three objectives’

“No. The United Kingdom will be leaving the customs union as we’re leaving the European Union. Of course, we will be negotiating future customs arrangements with the European Union and I’ve set three objectives,” she told reporters.

She said the objectives were that Britain should have its own trade policy with the rest of the world, should have frictionless trade with the EU and that there would be no hard border in Ireland.

In talks with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council president Donald Tusk, Ms May reiterated her view that a backstop agreement put forward by Brussels to prevent a hard border was unacceptable.

“The prime minister said the UK would shortly put forward its own backstop proposal in relation to customs,” her spokeswoman said.