The backstop – strategy and tactics


Sir, – The tone of the Irish Times reporting and analysis on Brexit is finally changing as the belated realisation sinks in – not encouraged by our Government – that what Brexit means above all to Ireland is that the Border is now likely to become the external frontier of the EU, and thus a hard border. And the so-called backstop is probably powerless to prevent this.

A green jersey-wearing media and political Opposition have given the Government an extraordinarily easy ride on the backstop issue. Why did nobody ask the Taoiseach and Simon Coveney what would be the use of the backstop if Britain crashed out of the EU without a deal? In the 14 months since this emerged as a key policy, the first person to point out that it might be a “strategic mistake” was a London-based Irish law professor, Ronan McCrea, earlier this month (“Ireland’s Brexit backstop gamble may not be wise”, Opinion & Analysis, January 3rd), quoting an Irish diplomat.

There has been far too much gleeful anti-British schadenfreude, delighting in the misguidedness and stupidity of our nearest neighbours. There has been far too little questioning of our own Government’s steely insistence that the backstop, and nothing but the backstop, is the policy to ensure an open border. There has been far too little interrogation of whether it is a good idea for relations to break down so drastically with our largest and nearest trading partner, and the friendly nation we must work with most closely to maintain the fragile peace process in Northern Ireland; and with those difficult people, the Northern unionists. – Yours, etc,


Rathmines, Dublin 6.

Sir, – In Hans Christian Andersen’s tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes” the fraudulent weavers who kitted the imperial personage out were “rattled” when a small boy exclaimed loudly that “The Emperor has no clothes!”.

A clear expression of the naked truth has a no less unsettling effect today if we are to judge by the reaction of Government and opposition politicians to a short, simple statement of fact from European Commission spokesman Margaritas Schinas that “a hard border in Ireland would be necessary if the UK left the EU without a deal”.

It is simply not good enough to repeat the mantra that “we will have to negotiate an agreement” when the chaotic political atmosphere in the United Kingdom makes it increasingly unlikely that such an agreement can be achieved. – Yours, etc,


Killiney, Co Dublin.

Sir, – I recently came across an article on the Fermanagh townlands of Drumskinny and Montiaghroe, which are located close to where Fermanagh, Tyrone and Donegal meet, in a book called Townlands in Ulster, Local History Studies published by the Ulster Historical Foundation. At the end of this contribution written by John B Cunningham in 1998 he adds the following postscript:

“Since the paramilitary ceasefire [in] 1994 things have changed dramatically along the Border about Drumskinny and Montiaghroe. Cratered roads have been filled in and tarmacked while economic and social ties disrupted or discontinued for the past 25 years have been restored. The Cross pub has customers once more coming a couple of miles from Lettercran in Donegal instead of 14 miles around via Pettigo. Castlederg mart is now fourteen miles nearer. Commuting to work is much easier too. However, it is not just the restrictions of the last 25 years that have been lifted. The Customs are gone! The customs patrols who regularly made the passage between north and south as difficult as possible. A sense of freedom has come to this countryside that has not been experienced since the 1920s, never mind the 1970s. People who have not lived through these times don’t understand the feeling of elation and liberty.”

A timely reminder of how far we have come and how much is now at stake. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole talks about the loss of a sense of belonging in the UK “as the old working class was dismantled and the power of labour unions diminished” (Opinion & Analysis, January 22nd).

Another aspect of this loss is the understanding by union members, management and ordinary citizens of the art of negotiation. The idea that you win some, you lose some, you settle for the best deal in the circumstances, and you move on.

The appreciation and application of these skills seem to be completely absent in the UK at the moment, both from the general public, and from their representatives in Westminster. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 9.

Sir, – Perhaps trying to ascribe any single motive to Brexit – imperial nostalgia – is illusory: a lot of people voted for it for a lot of different reasons.

Old Labour antipathy to the EEC, as it was then, was at least partly based on a wider loyalty to the Commonwealth countries that had helped Britain during the second World War, as was openly stated by Barbara Castle and others.

It was also based on a belief, not ill-founded, the British workers were better off - and certainly more powerful – than their continental neighbours. In the 1970s, they had a point.

All that has changed.

Britain ruthlessly dumped its Commonwealth trading partners when it confirmed EEC membership in 1975. That hasn’t been forgotten. Nor has the racial humiliation at the heart of the British Empire that was inflicted on Chinese and Indian subjects, and who Brexiteers now fantasise about doing such ground-breaking trade deals with.

Imperial nostalgia may not be a major feature of pro-Brexit sympathies. A very unreal sense of Britain’s place in the world is. – Yours, etc,


Mount Brown,

Dublin 8.