I detect the bullying hand of the EU in Ireland's surprise Brexit ultimatum. It must be rejected
The suggestion that Northern Ireland should remain inside the customs union will be seen by unionists as a staging post to a united Ireland
Two men dressed as customs offices protest at Stormont CREDIT: CHARLES MCQUILLIAN/GETTY
Although I’m a Leaver, I have much sympathy with Ireland, my birthplace, over Brexit – caught as it is between the UK rock and the EU hard place. But its instincts are to be cooperative rather than intransigent.
Recently, Ireland’s foreign minister, Simon Coveney, wrote an upbeat article for this newspaper celebrating “genuine progress” on Irish issues. He acknowledged that both the Irish and British governments shared the fundamental objectives of keeping the peace in Northern Ireland and avoiding “physical border infrastructure,” and assured us that “with patience, hard work, imagination and determination,”
a UK-EU deal could be done.
Indeed, Ireland was determined to “help ensure an orderly, well-managed exit.” This week, in the Irish parliament, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he now thought it likely sufficient progress would have been made by the December summit to give the go-ahead for talks on future trading relationships.
But now we learn from a leaked Commission paper that, far from allowing the parking of more intractable issues, Ireland would exploit Britain’s difficulties by blocking access to the second stage of negotiation to “exert maximum leverage” (as one EU source put it). It would demand that that the UK either stay in the customs union (which it has ruled out) or give Northern Ireland special status, which unionists
would reject as a staging post to a united Ireland.
Having devoured Greek ex-Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis’s brilliant Adults in the Room, which contains many covert recordings of discussions with EU officials, I see here the typical Commission practices of bullying and manipulating small countries. This is not Ireland forcing the EU to be unhelpful: it is the opposite.
Simon Coveney CREDIT: PAUL MCERLANE/EPA
It was EU officials who were so utterly dismissive (“magical thinking” was one sneering comment) of the UK’s proposals about the use of technology to keep the border as soft as possible.
In a sane world, the Irish and British governments and the Northern Irish executive would together be devising intelligent and imaginative solutions to present to the commission.
But Sinn Fein has scuppered the restoration of the Northern Irish government it collapsed in January, and Brussels has done everything to try to force the Irish to operate only through the Commission.
Should we be worried about all the heavy warnings about threats to the peace process? Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, may these days be fervent anti-Brexit activists, whipping up alarm and despondency in border counties. But, since they are anxious to get into power in the Republic, there is no chance whatsoever of them going back to killing people on that or any other issue. The dissident republicans who are still murdering the name of Irish unity, actually support Brexit.
This is Brussels mischief-making at work. It should be treated with contempt.