Same as it ever was as Brexit continues to hinge on backstop

Ongoing discussions... Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Theresa May.
Ongoing discussions... Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Theresa May.

World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

There’s a very catchy song in the children’s film, Winnie the Pooh; the Backson is about a terrible monster that puts holes in your socks, sneaks into the library and steals your books and has also robbed Eeyore’s tail.   The animals became aware of this fearsome creature from a note Christopher Robin wrote to them and all go into a state of panic.

It is only on rereading it they realise he wasn’t warning them about the mythical Backson, rather telling them he would be ‘back soon’.

By now you should have spotted the obvious segue to the theme of this week’s column, the Backstop. I’m not saying that the Backstop is mythical, but it’s certainly true that myths have grown up around it.

We have clung to it like a life raft since it was first included in the text of the agreement in December 2016. Essentially, it means that in the event of no agreement being reached between the UK and the EU, the “invisible” border between the North and South will be guaranteed.

It’s been our insurance policy, our buffer, the money we have stuffed under the mattress.

But is it safe as houses? Hardly.

In fairness, the language coming from the other EU 26 since the start of this tedious process has wholeheartedly supported Ireland.

I was in Government Buildings when Donald Tusk, president of the EU Council, said that Ireland’s position was Europe’s position.

All the others, including Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the EU Commission, and the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier, have said the same.

There is no reason to doubt their sincerity but a 100 per cent hold out on the backstop into eternity would require an awful lot of pieces to fall in place.

There are two parts to the negotiations. There’s the single market. The British like some parts of it, particularly around free movements of goods. They don’t like other parts such as the free movement of people.

Immigration was perhaps the main reason that people in Britain voted for Brexit. The UK wants to control its immigration.

But that is incompatible with membership of the single market. The EU has told Britain it can’t pick and choose so it’s either in for everything (including free movement of people) or out.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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