The Border and Brexit backstop plan
Sir, – It appears the issue of the future land border between the EU and the UK (the so-called “Irish Border”) will remain in play for quite some time. The draft withdrawal agreement does little or nothing to indicate whether or not there will eventually be a hard border on the island of Ireland. The protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland states that a legally operative version of the backstop agreement “should” be agreed. It also states that “the full set of issues related to avoiding a hard border need to be addressed”. Moreover, “there is yet no agreement on the right operational approach”. Hardly cast iron.
The UK has, in effect, retained its Irish Border bargaining chip for use in its main objective, the future trade deal with the EU. While it can also be argued that the EU can use the Irish Border as a bargaining chip, Ireland’s interests remain in a compromised position. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – This talk of “Option C”, a “backstop” for the Border, has me confused. In baseball parlance, a backstop is a fence behind the catcher to prevent the ball rolling away. If we have a fence on the Border, on which side does it go? – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I note that the EU 27 have insisted on a backstop position on the soft Irish border to prevent back-sliding from the December commitment. The UK negotiating team has, this weekend, agreed to this. From the DUP’s viewpoint, does this backstop anti-backslide accord constitute a back-stab? At the very least, it will get their backs up. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – With Theresa May justifying her Brexit position on the basis of “the UK’s constitutional integrity”, there must be some regret in Ireland that Article 2 of the 1937 Constitution – that “the national territory consists of the whole island of Ireland” – was repealed in 1999. It was sold, in good faith one assumes, on the basis that the Belfast Agreement would henceforth govern the island’s affairs. Not so, it seems. Perhaps Ireland should hold another referendum post-Brexit on its own “constitutional integrity”. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – A hard border is logically inevitable if Brexit is concluded as currently envisaged. This fact is now understood by the Republic, UK and EU. So why do all parties continue to negotiate on this issue as if they think the emperor still has clothes?
I will speculate some reasons: the EU wants to strike as hard a deal as possible with the UK, and show other members there are few benefits in leaving.
The UK’s strategy has been wrapped with incompetency and duplicity; they have already tried to back away from the soft border, and will do so again.
The Republic (and as a result, the EU) has been big on maintaining the Belfast Agreement, and the fear of new troubles on the Border. The main relevant clause of the Belfast Agreement is that there will only be a united Ireland if or when a majority votes accordingly, so this is not at issue. I believe significant trouble on the Border is unlikely, and if it did break out I would expect both sovereign governments to snuff it out quickly, backed by Sinn Féin, of course.
The approach of maintaining a “frictionless” Border panders to neo-nationalists North and South of the Border, who see it as another incremental move towards their cherished united Ireland. It will not enamour unionists, and will not optimise the economic outcome for the Republic. Bearing in mind the future of Northern Ireland is locked in a democratic agreement, the Republic’s primary interest in the Brexit process should be its economic welfare. The Republic’s economic ties to the mainland UK are multiples more important than its ties to the North.
It would seem that the Republic’s best focus now would be to negotiate a strong deal with the UK, while ceding the inevitable hard border, at the appropriate time, to enhance the deal, and provide some face-saving to its UK and EU partners. – Yours, etc,