There are jitters everywhere. Some, but not all of it, driven by the proximity (or otherwise) of a Brexit deal. The Eurosceptics are talking up the possibility of a no deal. John Redwood’s interview on Morning Ireland welcoming the prospect won’t have done anything to calm southern nerves.
Domestically, the Irish government had a torrid time, losing an independent member of the cabinet over failures in the rural broadband tender process. With Dr Michael Harty saying withdrawing support of the government’s finance bill, its majority is now razor thin.
However, Micheal Martin’s offer of support until the Brexit process is completed (whenever that will be) has pulled the government out of the oven. It was a necessary minimum to get the Republic through and an offer the Taoiseach could hardly refuse.
Underneath, there’s little complacency and some considerable concern that the backstop arrangement stuck before last December may block a deal. Brexit sceptical lawyer/commentator, David Allen Green wonders if relying on a clause with no legal force may turn out to be a miscalculation:
There is a powerful case to be made that the backstop was a reasonable request, given the impact Brexit would otherwise have on the Irish border. There is certainly force in the contention that the UK had shown it may renege on commitments and it was right to tie down Britain on this. There should be no sympathy for UK ministers who supported the joint agreement without knowing or caring what the document said.
The UK has agreed to this backstop and should not complain now. But all this said, if the price of the insistence on a backstop is a disorderly Brexit, then normative or accusatory arguments do not have much traction. Nor is the fact the UK once agreed to it a complete answer. Even the contention that a backstop arrangement is necessary in some form does not mean it has to be part of this exit agreement.
The brutal truth is that the EU27 may now fail in their objective to strike a withdrawal agreement in time for the UK’s departure, because of this one matter. If the backstop was something the EU had insisted on from the beginning, then perhaps it should have been a non-negotiable demand.
But it was not — it was a proposal adopted some way in to the process and was adopted as a means to an end, rather than an end itself. [Emphasis added]
And he notes:
…in view of its sheer importance, a backstop should be a distinct agreement between the UK, Ireland and the rest of the EU, and not something shoehorned into an agreement intended for exit issues.
This might explain Dublin’s jitters. The backstop itself was never prejudicial to finding an equitable outcome, but the irritable and at times xenophobic rhetoric from both sides of the Irish Sea has hindered the permissive approach needed to find a novel solution to a novel problem.
If successful trade agreements innately rely upon the maintenance of goodwill between nations and the people within them, it follows that a catastrophic loss of goodwill can damage the very minimum needed to deliver a decent bottom line for all parties.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty