I happened upon an archived radio program the other day – this was Desert Island Discs from sometime in 1992, and it featured Sir John Major. Sir John is easily one of my favourite politicians. Not just because he is a fellow cricket lover, but because he shrugged off immense hardship and many obstacles in his youth. Without a university degree, he rose to become Prime Minister. Like his illustrious predecessor before him, who was a grocer’s daughter, he embodied old fashioned conservatism. The values of work, of perseverance, of stoicism in the face of hardship, of never losing faith in oneself.
How very sad therefore it is to see the display of mendacity of his many successors in the Conservative Party. As previously pointed out, the Good Friday Agreement, which ended decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, is a solemn commitment of the United Kingdom on which the spadework had been done by John Major and then selflessly handed over to Tony Blair – who then took all the credit.
After the defeat of the Withdrawal Agreement, the Prime Minister and her team have been walking away from the backstop, leaving the suggestion hanging in the air that this was something the EU insisted on.
The Tories now believe that the EU must remove the backstop. The motion that is likely to pass in Commons is the Brady Amendment, that replaces the backstop with a wooly phrase saying “a solution will be found”. Nothing is specified.
This has caused consternation in the EU.
The Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte ridiculed the idea that the EU should remove the backstop. “The backstop was not our idea”, he said. “We both agreed, UK and European Union, we don’t want a hard border in Ireland. That was a joint position. Then the UK government said three additional things: no hard border in the Irish sea, no membership of the customs union, and no free movement of people. Given that whole set of circumstances, the present deal is the only deal on the table.
Echoing the same sentiments, the Deputy Negotiator for the EU Sabine Weyand said “There’s no negotiation between the EU and UK, that negotiation is finished.” Weyand says that the controversial ‘backstop’ was heavily shaped by British negotiators and that it will not be amended.
The Irish reaction is no less scathing, and whatever goodwill exists is evaporating. John Humphrys of BBC Radio 4 harrumphed to a bemused but polite Irish Minister, that if Ireland does not “relax the backstop” then they too must quit the EU and throw their lot in with Britain.
The mendacity of the Prime Minister knows no bounds. Consistently, her only effort has been to survive. In response to the reaction from her party on the backstop, she should have risen to the statemanship her position affords her and reminded the nation of why and how the backstop came about.
Indeed, speaking to Channel 4, Weyand said that the biggest problem with Mrs May’s negotiating position is that there seems to have been insufficient consultation within the UK – at least in Parliament.
As I write this, at around 430pm UK time, I predict that this vacuous amendment will win. Britain will go the EU and ask them to “remove” the backstop. The EU will reply that this is not possible. And it is very likely that the UK will crash out of the EU.