Brexit and the backstop


Sir, – I am frustrated by the insistence of Brexiteers and the Irish Government that no Border will be enforced if the UK crashes out of the EU. I am also annoyed by the suggestion that it will be the EU’s fault if border controls are imposed.

The reality under the “most-favoured nation” principle of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is that countries cannot discriminate between their WTO trading partners. In practice, this means if the UK and Ireland do not administer customs checks on each other’s goods and services, they cannot enforce these for other WTO partners either. Since Ireland is part of the EU, this potentially means all EU member states would be forced to open their borders to uncontrolled imports from our WTO partners too.

This so obviously undermines Irish producers, our EU partners and the UK’s bid to “take back control” that only a fool would continue to peddle the notion that this is a viable solution to the border issue. Better to admit this and prepare for the inevitable hard border that will result from Brexit. After all, there was never going to be a soft Brexit since that is ideologically inferior to crashing out and economically inferior to remaining. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 3.

Sir, – There is a flaw in Prof Ronan McCrea’s opinion piece on the risks of a no-deal Brexit (“Ireland’s Brexit backstop gamble may not be a wise bet”, Opinion & Analysis, January 3rd).

If the UK revoked its notification of intent to withdraw under article 50, the effect would be to restore the UK to full membership of the EU under exactly the same terms as the country had before the referendum. It would retain the precisely the same right to withdraw from the EU (through the article 50 process) as is available to any other member state of the EU.

It could hardly be otherwise, given the possibility of changes in circumstances and in the composition and attitude of the government.

Wisely, the court did not seek to limit the right to revoke the notification by laying down tests of British sincerity or motivation, only that the decision to revoke was made in terms of the UK’s own constitutional requirements and was unconditional.

Of course, if the UK did decide to change its mind yet again, it would have to go through the whole laborious process once again ab initio. That is an unlikely prospect, as, for that matter, would be a vote in favour of Brexit in a fresh referendum on the question. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – In the Brexit matter, Irish politicians, in opposition as well as government, and serving Irish officials and diplomats, have been working full-on to protect Irish interests in such cohesion as I have never seen in a long official and diplomatic career. It is to be admired and warmly welcomed, not put in doubt in these dangerous times.

It would be helpful to your readers if your academic lawyer Prof Ronan McCrea would explain that the present idea of a UK backstop is a UK invention not an Irish one, though it suits us, and certainly not an EU one; why the EU resisted it; and why the temporary nature of the backstop is important to the EU legal order and is far from being a trap to keep the UK in an “orbiting” customs union.

Prof McCrea might find some inspiration in a current article in the Spectator by one he has admired, at least on twitter, James Kirkup, “Five Reasons Brexiteers should learn to love the backstop”, which is perhaps the most single sensible piece one has read in the English Conservative press in three years of debate on Brexit.

As to the liberal English press more represented in your pages, you might reprint Rafael Behr’s piece in the Guardian of December 31st, “Don’t Expect Brexit to give us a British Alexander Hamilton”.

For us Irish, it will be wise to note Behr’s comment that insofar as any country has a national character, his “can be said to include virtues of stoicism, ingenuity, pragmatism and moderation”, to which I might add tolerance and acceptance of migrants in better days than these. – Yours, etc,


(Former head of mission in

Northern Ireland,

Ambassador in Japan,

Spain, Poland

and Portugal),


Co Dublin.