Phil jpg

Ireland circles the wagons as Brexit pressure mounts

Ireland’s EU Commissioner Phil Hogan. photo


By Ray O’Hanlon

Next up: Brexit was all an Irish idea?

As it is, the view from London is that the stubborn Irish aren’t playing cricket by virtue of sticking to the backstop plan for “the Irish border.”

And amid reports, one of them in today’s Irish Times, that anti-Irish sentiment in Britain is beginning to resurrect itself on a scale harking back to the dark days of the Troubles, the Irish government is having to fight its corner, even while reminding Boris Johnson and his fellow Brexiteers that they are negotiating with the EU 27 and that Ireland is not permitted to take unilateral action on the post-Brexit status of that “Irish” border.

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That border, in a matter of a couple of months and a few days, will be a frontier dividing the EU and UK that happens to be scratched, painfully, across the Irish landscape.

The view from London is well reflected in the pro-Brexit British Press.

Here’s a headline example from today’s online Daily Express: “Full blown EU intransigence: Ireland REFUSES to discuss UK border plans for no-deal Brexit…IRELAND is at risk of re-establishing a hard border by refusing to engage in Britain’s no-deal Brexit planning during recent negotiations.”

And this from the Daily Telegraph: “Brexit latest news: Irish deputy PM accuses Boris of trying to 'steam roll' Ireland as he suggests he cannot trust UK PM.”

The deputy prime minister in question is Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney.

The Irish Times reported Coveney as stating that Ireland is “not hiding” from discussing Brexit but cannot do “a side deal” with the UK to end the uncertainty surrounding its departure from the EU, “That’s not going to work. Our preparations have to be with the European Union, we are going to stay in the European Union, we have to work with our European partners if we don’t have a partner in the UK government,” he said.

Coveney was speaking to RTÉ. He was asked about a story in Wednesday’s Irish Times which said the Irish government was refusing to engage with the UK on planning for a no-deal Brexit on October 31st.

The British government, stated the Times report, wants to talk to Dublin about managing a no-deal exit, but Irish Ministers and officials have declined, according to three people briefed on the contents of recent exchanges. The Government and EU leaders are sticking to the position there will be no discussions with the UK on how to manage a no-deal on the Border until after the UK has left the EU, sources in Dublin and Brussels said.

Mr. Coveney responded by saying that he had held discussions with the new Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith and Brexit secretary Steve Barclay, but that Ireland cannot get into bilateral discussions with the UK on Brexit or allow the UK government to move away from its commitments under the Belfast agreement.

Coveney also rejected suggestions that Ireland does not have contingency plans in place should the UK crash out of the EU without a deal.

“We have published dozens of documents including a lot of detail,” he said, adding that these explained how “ugly” a no-deal Brexit would be.

“We are not hiding. We are trying to work out the twin objectives of protecting the peace process and the economy. We are not going to do a side deal with the UK, it is an EU border. UK commentators don’t understand that.

“We want a deal that will allow frictionless trade and protect the Good Friday Agreement.”

Mr. Coveney, in the interview, acknowledged that in the event of a no-deal Brexit there will have to be border checks and tariffs.

“We are trying to limit the damage of that,” he said.

Earlier, and also on RTÉ, Coveney had warned that Brexit is “potentially putting stress” on the Good Friday Agreement and the principles behind it. The backstop will mitigate against that damage taking place, he said.

While Coveney was playing mostly defense, Ireland’s EU commission, Phil Hogan, was in full attack mode.

According to an Irish Independent report, Hogan has launched “a scathing attack on Boris Johnson,” describing him as an "unelected" Prime Minister who is "gambling" with the peace process.

Mr. Hogan, according to the report, has also warned that a hard Brexit will create a "foul atmosphere" with the EU that will have "serious consequences" for the UK’s chances of a future trade deal with the bloc.

Continued the Independent report: “The Agriculture Commissioner’s comments are a sharp escalation in the EU’s criticism of Mr. Johnson’s demand that the backstop be removed from the Brexit withdrawal agreement. Mr. Hogan said the EU would "not buckle" in the face of pressure from the UK government.

Mr. Hogan, who was speaking at the Thomas D’Arcy McGee Summer School in Carlingford on Wednesday morning, said that Mr. Johnson had "stacked his cabinet with a ‘Hard Brexit Dream Team’" and accused Johnson of putting party interests above the UK’s.

He said that people in the UK would suffer most from a hard Brexit.

Added Commissioner Hogan: "The UK continues to negotiate based on its experience of being an EU member. This misses the point completely: from the moment the UK came back to Brussels with the infamous red lines, the EU has negotiated on the basis of the UK opting for third country status.

"The UK government needs to take responsibility for its choices before it is too late. Prime Minister Johnson’s hero is Winston Churchill and he seems to view himself as a modern day Churchill.

"However, in the event of a no deal Brexit, the UK government’s only Churchilian legacy will be never have so few done so much damage to so many.”

Mr. Hogan said the UK needed to "get real" about the importance of the backstop. He said that both sides had made a commitment to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland and the backstop was the "only means identified so far by both parties to honor this agreement".

He said it was not anti-democratic, but "a necessary, legally operative solution built into the Withdrawal Agreement.”

That agreement, of course, was negotiated by the Theresa May government and was voted down three times by the British parliament.

Hence the ever more likely scenario of a no-deal Brexit on October 31, Halloween, a festival with its origins in the distant Irish past and long before that far more recent “Irish” border drawn by British civil servants.