ALL the promises that were made last December to get phase one of the Brexit negotiations between the European Union and Britain over the line, particularly in relation to the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, don’t seem to be worth the paper they were written on as it looks likely now that they may be reneged on by a British government in serious disarray.
At the time, while we welcomed – at face value – the guarantees given by British Prime Minister Theresa May that there would be no re-introduction of a border between the Republic and Northern Ireland, we were slightly dubious that they were made purely because she was backed into a corner and wanted to be allowed move on to the second phase of the Brexit negotiations. They had come up with a convoluted solution whereby Britain would leave the single market and customs union, but promised ‘full alignment’ with EU rules to ensure cross-border trading without tariffs, thereby protecting the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.
Back then, given strong stance Taoiseach Leo Varadkar took against British government and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) efforts to sideline the Irish border issue until the second round of negotiations, his helping to achieve that outcome sent his spin machine into overdrive, hailing the deal on the border as his finest hour since taking office. The Withdrawal Agreement from the first phase of talks was ratified at the December European Council summit in Brussels and we all thought our fears about the border issue had been allayed, as it reduced the likelihood of a dreaded ‘hard Brexit.’
However, as a result of the serious infighting within the Conservative Party in Britain – with Theresa May’s position as Prime Minister said to be under threat – the ‘hard Brexiteers’ are once again stirring things up and the EU’s lead negotiator, Michel Barnier, has added fuel to the fire by insisting that Britain should sign up to a legally-binding agreement that would keep Northern Ireland in the single market and customs union in order to avoid a hard border between there and the Republic, moving the border between the EU and Britain into the Irish Sea. This would not go down well with the DUP who are propping up the lame duck Tory government in Westminster and could lead to them pulling the plug on their confidence and supply arrangement with Theresa May.
It does not seem right that a party, which only speaks for the minority in Northern Ireland who voted to leave the EU, could exert such a disproportionate amount of influence if it chose to bring down the British government, setting back the whole talks process and, perhaps, even leading to no deal at all, which would be disastrous all round, but a lot more so for the island of Ireland. Little wonder than that Nigel Farrage was over here a few weeks ago sniffing around for support for an ‘Irexit,’ which is absolutely none of his business; he has created – and walked away from – enough chaos at his own side of the pond in the past few years.
Northern Ireland badly needs a new executive to engage urgently and meaningfully with the Irish and British governments to salvage what’s best for the island of Ireland as a whole from the mire that this damn Brexit scenario has become.