Much has been written about the Backstop and it seems that not one day goes by without the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar being in the news, wailing and threatening, ably supported by Brussels and our own home-grown Remainers.
In the paywalled DT Nick Timothy takes a look at this issue, politically dissecting Varadkar’s Bckstop argument. His article has the title “Varadkar can blame Britain all he likes – but he is the real threat to peace”. That is certainly a different perspective compared to what we’re used to read.
For once, someone is taking a hard look at the other player in this Backstop gamble, and it’s well worth reading the arguments made in the article in detail, so I’ll quote at length:
“[Varadkar] has backed himself into a corner. He doesn’t understand the Good Friday Agreement and he’s jeopardising the peace process. He’s risking a no-deal Brexit and a hard border on the island of Ireland. Yet Leo Varadkar attracts little criticism.
He continues to defend his Brexit policy with a brave face but, like a poker player who has raised the stakes too high, he must surely feel his stomach churning as he contemplates the consequences of his gamble. When Varadkar became Taoiseach, back in 2017, the most pressing decision he faced was how to handle Brexit.
Britain’s vote to leave the European Union was obviously unwelcome. It was a nasty reminder that British decisions can still impinge on Irish sovereignty and that, thanks to geography and history, Ireland’s interests remain closely aligned with those of the UK.
Most obviously, there is the Northern Irish peace process, where both parties are guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement. There are economic interests, too. Ireland imports more from the UK than from any EU country. We are Ireland’s second biggest European export market. Eighty-five per cent of Irish freight trade to Europe goes through British ports. A no-deal Brexit would be a catastrophe for Ireland. (paywalled link)
Well, it would be a ‘catastrophe’ only if one believes all the doom-and-gloom prophets of No Deal, and I cannot but suspect that our own Remainers have been busy, en coulisse, reinforcing Varadkar’s attitude:
Varadkar therefore had a choice. Recognising our shared interests, he could have argued for a future UK/EU relationship that allowed Britain to leave the single market and customs union while still minimising friction in cross-border trade. He could have continued the work begun by his predecessor, Enda Kenny, to use policy and technology to avoid customs checks along the Northern Irish border.
Instead, he gambled, and exhorted the EU to take the hardest line possible. Before the UK and EU could negotiate their future relationship, he insisted, the border question must be decided. Never mind that this was nonsensical and everybody knew the border could only be fixed in a future trade agreement.
With Varadkar’s connivance, Brussels weaponised the Northern Irish border – and with it the peace process – to lock the UK into a customs union and a colonial status in which we would have to follow EU laws. And so the “backstop”, the Withdrawal Agreement protocol that binds either Northern Ireland or the whole of the UK to the EU’s customs union and many of its laws, was invented.” (paywalled link)
Next, Timothy gives this interesting analysis:
“It is easy to see why this approach tempted Varadkar and his allies in Brussels. It suits them very well to keep the UK tied to European laws. It must also have been hugely enjoyable for a young Taoiseach, and his deputy, Simon Coveney, to lord it over Ireland’s former imperial masters.
Books will be written about why Britain allowed Ireland and the EU to abuse the peace process in this way. My judgment is that Theresa May liked and wanted the backstop. She believed she had succeeded in splitting the EU’s fabled “four freedoms” – of goods, services, capital and people – by remaining in a customs territory with the EU while allowing Britain to control immigration. But this misunderstood the meaning of Brexit.
Leaving the EU means leaving its laws and institutions in full. It means Britain being free to decide its destiny. The Withdrawal Agreement means the opposite. As Brendan Simms, the Irish historian, says, the backstop would give the Irish government more say over important parts of the UK economy than the UK government. Whether applied to Northern Ireland alone or the UK economy as a whole, this Irish or European suzerainty over British sovereign territory would be unacceptable purely on democratic terms.” (paywalled link)
Indeed so – and note the reference to Ms May’s aim to ‘remain’ half-in half-out. I think the Backstop was a welcome instrument for her aims to keep us In. To continue:
“But consider also what it would mean for peace in Northern Ireland. For the past 20 years, we have fallen into the habit of thinking the nationalists are the only side with whom we need to compromise. But unionists represent a narrow majority of opinion in Northern Ireland and will not simply accept their laws being decided in Brussels and other European capitals, including Dublin.
As Simms says, “if erecting an intrusive customs border north-south is a violation of the Good Friday Agreement [as Varadkar claims], in that it compromises the national identity of Irish nationalists in the North, then erecting an equivalent border in the Irish Sea automatically violates the British identity of Northern unionists”.
This is true. And the suspicion that Dublin cares more about Irish unification than unionist opinion was roused again last week. The Good Friday Agreement obliges Dublin to respect Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom, yet Varadkar said Britain’s Brexit policy will encourage nationalists and liberal unionists to “look more towards a united Ireland”. (paywalled link)
There’s more, with the danger of Varadkar’s Backstop policy laid bare and a hefty dose of criticism added for good measure:
“These are not the only ways in which Varadkar has played fast and loose with peace in Northern Ireland. […] This is because – both in the way it was conceived and the way it would work – the backstop studiously ignores the consent principle that is vital to government in Northern Ireland. […]
Dublin’s policy was bold, audacious and very nearly successful. Varadkar has sought to impose humiliating terms on Ireland’s larger and more powerful neighbour. He has tried to turn a bilateral peace process between the UK and Ireland into a political standoff between the UK and the EU. And he has abused the Good Friday Agreement for his own ends, while shamelessly accusing Brexit supporters of endangering the peace process.
Under Theresa May, the UK almost succumbed. But now Boris Johnson is holding firm. When he visits Northern Ireland this week he should not be shy in pointing out who is risking a no-deal outcome and a hard border in Ireland. It is not the United Kingdom, but Leo Varadkar.
The backstop is supposed to stop a hard border, but by making the Withdrawal Agreement unratifiable, it is making no-deal and a hard border more likely. There can only be one solution: the backstop must go.” (paywalled link)
Indeed – and by putting the spotlight on the Taoiseach’s intransigence Nick Timothy has certainly added a powerful argument to the demands for removing the Backstop.