Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker meeting last month. RollingNews.ie photo.
By Anthony Neeson
As British Prime Minister Theresa May stared down the barrel of a Brexit defeat in the House of Commons Tuesday night, the Irish cabinet was meeting to discuss the economic implications for the country in the event of a “no deal” Brexit.
On Monday, the European Union wrote to the UK government offering reassurances over the Irish backstop.
The letter was signed by Donald Tusk, President of the European Union, and Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission. However, the Democratic Unionist Party said the letter offered nothing new and rejected it out of hand.
Prime Minister May has warned that the UK falling out of the European Union without a deal could lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom, with momentum building for a border poll in Ireland and renewed calls for a second Scottish independence referendum.
Conservative Party rebels have not been won over by the eleventh hour intervention by the European Union and were due to vote against their own prime minister’s draft deal with the EU, walking through the voting lobbies with the DUP and the opposition Labour party.
Speaking on Monday night, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “I shouldn’t pretend to anyone that any country can be fully prepared for Brexit. There is no good Brexit and a no-deal Brexit will have a very significant impact on Ireland, Britain and Europe.
“We will be prepared, but I’m not going to say to you that everything is going to be fine.
“Of course there will be interruptions and negative impact but we’ll be as prepared as we possibly can be.”
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, who leads his party in Westminster, said there was “no legally binding assurance” in the EU letter.
“In fact, there is nothing new, nothing has changed,” he said.
“Rather than reassure us, the Tusk and Juncker letter bolsters our concerns by confirming that everything the Attorney General said in his legal advice regarding the backstop, still stands, there has been no change to the Withdrawal Agreement and Northern Ireland would be subject to EU laws with no representation in Brussels.
“We would rely on the Dublin government to speak up for us. Instead of meaningless letters, the Prime Minister should now ask for and deliver changes to the Withdrawal Agreement.”
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, whose seven MPs don’t take their seats in the House of Commons and so will not be voting, said “whatever transpires at Westminster it is essential that Irish interests are protected; that the economy is protected and that the Good Friday Agreement is protected in all its parts”.
She added: “There is no such thing as a good Brexit, but the backstop is the bottom line. Anyone who imagines that can be unpicked or diluted or set aside isn’t dealing with the political realities.
“The DUP position is reckless and irresponsible. It certainly is not in the interests of the people of the north of Ireland.”
The British Labour Party has said that it will table a motion of no confidence in Prime Minister May in the event of her losing the House of Commons vote.
The backstop would mean no hard border but also would involve the UK in some form of customs arrangement with the EU, at least for a time. Brexit backers are strongly opposed to any continued customs union between the UK and EU.
Meanwhile, attorney, activist and 2019 New York St. Patrick's Day Parade Grand Marshal has penned an opinion piece for the Buzzfeed news website on Brexit and Ireland. It can be found at: https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/brianodwyer/irish-americans-will-not-accept-brexit-dividing-ireland