Backstop blues on both sides as another “deadline” approaches

Interesting that the Irish Times have published two opinion pieces this morning deviating a little from the paper’s  editorial line of unwavering support for the EU version of the backstop.  Newton Emerson accuses Varadakar of having “a tin ear” to unionist sensitivities while Stephen Collins bluntly urges Varadkar and Coveney to “ shut up.” 

Sensitivities in both camps are heightening. The DUP are nervous that Theresa May will rat on them if she can get a deal that will pass the Commons, if necessary with Labour support. Leo Varadkar fears the EU will rat on the backstop in its present form for the same reason. That can be the only explanation for his waving the edition of the Irish Times reporting the death of nine people in the botched IRA attack on the Newry customs clearing station in 1972. ( I was there within a couple of hours and won’t forget the sight  or the smell).  It was bound to wind Sammy up and could be written down as a gratuitous gesture – unless you write it up as a symptom of nervousness as the negotiations reach some sort of climax.

Emerson  dares to imagine  possible checkpoints on the island some distance from the border but then closes the book on them, saying  in terms, “ No I suppose not” but  as if not quite  convinced and adding under his breath  “ are you quite sure this is impossible?”

Less subtly, Collins argues that Varadkar is making May’s job harder by playing on the paranoia of the hardline Tories and the DUP.

Conservatives and unionists resent the implication that the Republic and the EU are the real champions of peace while they are prepared to risk it in order to win a clean break Brexit.   However the two columnists make the case that the risks are not all on one side.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London