Brexit and those elusive ‘sunlit uplands’


Sir, – The democratically elected UK government and the EU formally agreed an EU-UK joint report in December 2017. This report concluded the first phase of Brexit negotiations, laying down agreed ground rules for UK withdrawal.

The UK parliament endorsed the report negotiated by its government, and even the DUP, despite reservations and protestations at the time, continued to provide support for the Tory-led administration. The report takes on added significance at the current juncture as it committed parties to a Northern Ireland backstop “in all circumstances” (Article 46) (though not a whole-of-UK backstop, as negotiated in the subsequent comprehensive deal). The island of Ireland backstop thus applies whether or not any subsequent Brexit deal or deals are successfully negotiated between the EU and UK.

Crucially, the report contends that “in the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement”.

The Taoiseach described this arrangement as “politically bulletproof”, while a subsequent House of Commons explanatory briefing paper (No 8183) on the report refers to the “‘in all circumstances’ backstop”.

While it is unfortunate that the old charges of Perfidious Albion appear to be increasingly apt as the new British PM seeks to conveniently forget his government’s necessary responsibilities around agreed ground rules for Brexit (with or without a formal deal being agreed), it certainly behoves Irish and EU politicians to point out and insist on the application of the agreed rules of the game, in particular in relation to the insurance policy for continuing peace and socioeconomic prosperity among the people of this island. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – There seems to be a fearful tone of “what if we’re blamed” creeping into some of the commentary around the backstop in recent days. The backstop is structured as it is due to the Conservative government reliance on the co-operation of the DUP. The UK government negotiated the deal with the EU as it stands.

Indeed at least one of the people who was part of that process is now part of Boris Johnson’s government.

What message would it send for us to weaken our position in the face of bullying and bluster?

The land border between the UK and the EU will be at the border of Northern Ireland and no glossing over details is going to change that geographical fact.

The UK has made choices all through this process, and if the “sunlit uplands” remain out of reach, we bear no responsibility for any of it. All we can do is look after our own interests, and our interests clearly lie within the EU rather than with a government now lead by someone whose entire career is built on gaffes and bluffs. – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.

A chara, – Colin Walsh argues we should give up the backstop, so that at least if a backstop-less withdrawal agreement is still rejected, Ireland cannot be blamed (July 31st). Mr Walsh hopes that this plan would gain Ireland favour both with our “fellow European countries” and “the many sensible people in Britain.” While these goals are both laudable, the approach is misguided, not least because our “fellow European countries” know exactly who would be at fault in a no-deal Brexit, and the “many sensible people in Britain” remain pro-Brexit.

However, contrary to the claims of some MPs, the Withdrawal Agreement is no more dead than a no-deal Brexit seemed back in April. It remains on the table (with a fully binding backstop), and will stay there unless and until Boris Johnson takes the UK over the cliff-edge.

In late October, the agreement will be the last and only way for MPs of all stripes (not just the ERG) to avoid no deal, without revoking Article 50. The Commons has always voted against leaving without a deal, but also against the only deal on the table.

Forcing them to choose between the two is the only chance we have of getting the backstop through and preventing a hard border.

In the end, if the Commons chooses no deal, a hard border will return. Hard borders are a fact of life outside the EU. Only extraordinarily deep economic bonds with shared rules (like EU membership, rejected by the UK) can make them unnecessary. The difference is that by insisting on the backstop until the very end, Ireland will have done everything we can to prevent this border, which would return only because of UK choices and their consequences in a rules-based world.

Humility is a praiseworthy trait, but it is a poor basis for foreign policy in the Brexit firestorm. – Is mise,




Sir, – Perhaps we could allow the UK a small extension to their Brexit deadline of October 31st? I think November 5th would be much more appropriate. After all Boris Johnson seems intent on metaphorically blowing up the Houses of Parliament. – Yours, etc,




Co Wicklow.

Sir, – The penny has finally dropped for me. The EU is leaving the UK, and it’s all the EU’s fault. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 6.

Sir, – One needs a sense of humour to listen to Arlene Foster declaring the Irish Government to be belligerent and intolerant over the backstop. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 3.