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.
4 thoughts on “Backstop Redux”
Oh, much to comment on.
On John Major. Really ? As with all your Prime Ministers there is some good and some bad. His dagger to Thatcher was not his best moment. And the Eurosceptic wing of his party really got oxygen and became a monster on his watch. But yes, he was a major architect (if you will pardon the pun) of the Good Friday Agreement.
John Humphrys said that ? The ass.
On the Brady Amendment, I think they are trying to wriggle out of the massive defeat of the Withdrawal Agreement, do some cosmetic amendments on the backstop and then pass essentially the same Withdrawal Agreement. For example, instead of the EU having an indefinite veto, if they soften to say that there is a time limit of say 3 years by which time an agreement on the Irish border issue has to be made by both the EU and the UK, then the Withdrawal Agreement that was defeated may pass. In which case, tempers will cool and the bureaucrats on both sides might be able to get an arrangement on the border through. It is the EU’s interest too for that to happen.
It will take a big statesmanship on the part of the Taoiseach to make that step, but it is in the interest of the Irish to do so. Because if there is no agreement in 3 years, there is a greater chance of Northern Ireland seceding and uniting with the Republic. But to go this three year route will mean May arm twisting the Unionists that there shall be no violence. Some skullduggery might achieve this.
I don’t think the Brady amendment, if passed, will mean May going to the EU and asking for the backstop to be removed. Instead it might allow a fudge to get the main agreement through. If I was a MP, I would vote for it 🙂
We will debate Sir John later – suffice it to say I disagree. History reveals the impact of a leader over a period of time (often greater than the life of a Parliament). His big success? Getting the Euro optout signed. Putting the loonies in a box. And knifing Thatcher at the right time.
As I predicted, the Brady Amendment won. And promptly the EU and the Irish said that there is no negotiating around the Backstop. All I can hope for is that with this huge chunk of red meat thrown to the European Research Group, they will countenance extension of Article 50 for a few months. May be even consider staying in the EU Customs Union. But the battle lines are drawn, and if you read the French and Irish press, you will see nothing but borderline contempt for the United Kingdom. I do not have much hope that we will leave with some sort of agreement.
I have been quite contemptuous of Jeremy Corbyn and I am right in this. His handling of the process has been shambolic and lacks any sense of leadership. In the end he is nothing more than a hack. I despair.
Time to short Sterling.
Yup, the Brady amendment passed. What completely foxes me is why the DUP voted for it. If anybody should have opposed it, it should have been the DUP. Educate me what’s happening here.
It is hard to understand how the troglodytes at DUP think, and their position can only be defined by what they are against.
* They are against any possible unification of Ireland and NI.
* They do not want a hard border with Ireland
* They are against a Customs Union
* They hate the EU – they wrap themselves up in the Union flag.
The only reason they voted for the Brady Amendment is the hope that somehow, any form of backstop goes away. You will be surprised how many people think that Ireland should leave the EU in order to keep a soft border with the UK, and preserve the ambiguous status of NI.
If I were President Xi and I was watching Commons, I would be laughing my head off.