Could it be that for the first time in the history of its political relationship between the two states, Ireland may have the British government over a barrel with the agreement made yesterday in Brussels? And if a sacrifice is to be made by Westminster, who gets the chop? The hardliners or the DUP?

Yesterday, a spokesperson for the Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, stated that Britain’s commitment to a “backstop” solution to avoid a hard post-Brexit border is legally firm and will apply until a better arrangement is agreed.

“The UK has today publicly accepted the need for such a backstop to be in the text of the (EU) withdrawal agreement.”

“The backstop applies unless and until something better is agreed,” The spokesperson said.

Backstop – what a weird word, and it runs along with the rest of the new or unique terms such as Brexit of course but also the cute one, regulatory alignment which it now seems to have replaced.

No means no, or does it?

We heard a confident Theresa three weeks ago defiantly dismiss such a term as unacceptable yet here we are, watching Britain take another step back in favour of the European Union and in particular, Ireland.

It seems that in the playground of Europe, Ireland really has its back watched by the rest of the school yard while the bully that is the British government stands isolated and somewhat confused with the situation it suddenly found itself in since December of last year.

“We agreed today that the backstop solution must form part of the legal text of the withdrawal agreement,” EU Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier said.

And Mr Bariner has stood firm since the negotiations began while David Davis, the man in charge for Britain has stumbled, backtracked, lied and confused even himself to the point where it is all beginning to look a bit silly.

Silly, yes and also somewhat dangerous for the United Kingdom of Britain and Northern Ireland. It’s that very union that now seems to be creaking under the pressure of the Brexit negotiations. The questions is, are we looking at the beginning of the breakup of the United Kingdom?

Possibly, but not yet.

We still have four to five years before we all really see what the final outcome of all this will be but one thing is for sure, at this stage, it is not the win win situation that Nigel Farage pompously indicated that faithful day in the European Parliament following the referendum result.

Border foundation

Are we also witnessing the very first time that Ireland has held the British Government to ransom since the Irish struggle for independence? There were calls by some that Ireland would be sacrificed on the altar of Brexit yet that clearly has not been the case. While Dublin has no agenda on using Brexit for Irish unity, it does have a stake in gaining as much influence in Brussels as it can from all of this. It is clear to see this when Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney met with Mr Barnier yesterday morning.

Mr Barnier yesterday was adamant that this agreement is the foundation of the Irish border solution;

“We have reached an agreement on the transition period,” he told a press conference in Brussels after negotiations with his British counterpart David Davis.

“The transition will be of limited duration.”

The related EU document stated that; “They further agree that the full set of issues related to avoiding a hard border covered in the draft reflect those that need to be addressed in any solution.

“There is as yet no agreement on the right operational approach, but the negotiators agree to engage urgently in the process of examination of all relevant matters announced on 14 March and now under way.”

In Belfast, Sinn Féin’s Vice President Michelle O’Neill welcomed the developments and said she did see some equivocation by the British government again, but clearly this was what they signed up to in December. Ms O’Neill was asked if she was confident it will be in the text, and she replied saying that she had got assurances in that regard and she thought his commentary today backs that up.

And where is the Arlene Foster and her merry band of Unionists?

Nowhere to be seen right now but one can take comfort that they will pop up at some stage, no doubt slightly peeved off with this development. Both Sinn Féin and the DUP met Mr Barnier two weeks ago and one can now assume that the DUP did nothing to prevent Mr Barnier from going soft on the border issue.

But let’s not kid ourselves here – the DUP are not stupid. They know Brexit is a disaster for Northern Ireland and one would be now thinking that it’s finally dawning on them that they must accept the lesser of two evils in their eyes – this backstop or a short timeline to economic and social disaster. Could they be so crazy as to think they could prevent the latter?

Brexit Secretary David Davis is claiming that it remains the UK’s intention to get a agreement that is so close that it does not need to focus on specific clauses for Northern Ireland.

He said: “We have also reached consensus on the full set of issues which need to be addressed in any solution in order to avoid a hard border, which is why, last week, we set out a work programme to tackle them.

“There are also some elements of the draft protocol, such as the Common Travel Area, on which we agree.

“So while there is as yet no agreement on the right operational approach, we know what we need to do, and we’re going to get on with it.”

But as the deadline draws closer, he and his team are still totally in the dark about the ways and means to prevent Northern Ireland becoming the main focus in the negotiations while trying to stay out of the single market and customs union.

So where are we in all this?

We know that the technology does not exist to have a seamless border, we still have the position of Westminster refusing to consider customs union membership and we know that both of these concepts are impossible without one giving way to the other.

But it is no longer good for Britain to go away with no deal – of that they now realise so the problem that is facing them is who is going to get stabbed in the back? The DUP or the hardliners in the government?

My money is on the boys in the orange sashes and bowler hats.

What’s yours?

Ken Sweeney
Committed to idea of supporting aspiring writers and journalists. Serial podcaster.

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    1 Comment

    1. This might be a very interesting period in this story. People may have been distracted away from the DUP use of money for UK mainland Brexit campaigning. The Cambridge Analytics revelations seem to be exhuming any manner of political bodies, so it is not to say there will not be a sharp reminder that the unaccounted for money story is not yet resolved if dirt emerges on them. It is becoming more a story about the ‘backhanders’ than any backstop.

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