Brexit and the backstop


Sir, – It would appear that we are entering the endgame of this phase of the Brexit saga. Theresa May has reportedly briefed her cabinet on a putative deal whereby the UK would remain in the customs union during the transition phase and potentially even longer. Crucially, from Ireland’s point of view, this arrangement would be underpinned by a backstop to ensure no hard border on the island of Ireland. At least that’s what we would like to believe.

The permanence of the backstop is now the critical point. In a situation where you can’t please everyone, or perhaps anyone in this case, obfuscation is the name of the game and has kept the UK PM in office since she triggered article 50. The Guardian (November 6th) quotes a spokesman for Theresa May: “... there are a number of issues that we still need to work through ... this includes ensuring that, if the backstop is ever needed, it is not permanent and there’s a mechanism to ensure that the UK could not be held in the arrangement indefinitely”.

In other words, its a guarantee until its not a guarantee.

The Taoiseach must ensure that there is no get-out clause or “review” which could render the guarantee useless. A fudge will not suffice on this occasion. It must remain legally binding and it’s continuity not left to interpretation under some future review.

Anything short of a backstop is a back-stab.

Beware the Ides of March 2019. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 15.

Sir, – It appears to me that the Brexit negotiations have been reduced to an episode of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? When the questions got tough in 2017, Theresa May decided to “Ask the audience ”. By last weekend she decided that it was a “50/50” choice and on Monday she had to “phone a friend”. Maybe it’s time to just pack it all in and settle for what you’ve got. – Yours, etc,




A chara, – The British government (true to form) has shown nothing but contempt for the Irish people and the Belfast Agreement in its Brexit negotiations with the EU. The Fine Gael Government (true to form) is prepared to capitulate to the British demands for a review of the backstop.

Not for the first time in our history have the nationalist people in the northern six counties been betrayed by a Dublin government. This is another sad chapter in Ireland’s unhappy relationship with the colonial government in London which continues to claim jurisdiction in a corner of Ireland and insists on treating the people there as subjects of the crown. It is another sad day for northern nationalists who looked to Dublin government to uphold the Belfast Agreement and other agreements. All that will have to change if there is ever going to be a just and lasting peace on this island. – Yours, etc,



Co Fermanagh.

A chara, – An independent review mechanism of the “backstop” arrangement for Northern Ireland has been proposed so that, if it is ever needed, an independent mechanism will ensure that the UK will not be permanently stuck with the “temporary” solution and that the adequacy and sufficiency of what is subsequently proposed by the UK to replace it will not be left to be solely and exclusively determined by the European Commission.

In 1922 a three-member Border Commission was proposed to determine the exact final position of the Border between the Free State and Northern Ireland.

Under the Treaty, the Free State nominated one member of the commission and the United Kingdom nominated both the second member and the independent chairman. A South African judge was nominated by the UK as the independent chairman (doubts have persisted since then to varying degrees as to the true extent of his independence and mindset generally).

In any event, the final recommendations of that commission did not suit the Free State and caused great consternation, with the resulting proposals quietly being put away in a drawer never to be implemented.

The then “interim” border became fixed and permanent for what is now close to a hundred years.

What the outcome of that commission with a truly independent chair might have been is now merely a moot historical debating point.

What is true to say, however, is that, whatever about the historical knowledge and memory of our Irish politicians and indeed that of the European Commission officials, it seems that their UK colleagues across the water are very attuned to the lessons of Irish history. – Is mise,