“The EU side misread the opposition to the backstop which is why the impasse has been reached…”

I’m eternally grateful to my colleague Brian Walker for his diligence and patience in reporting each turn in the game. Much sits in the hands of various players (of whom Parliament is but one). A half pace backwards from all the key players could still see a deal done.

Dan O’Brien, who has been warning Irish readers that the present Irish position (which is not to give an inch on the backstop) for months, writes today:

Yesterday afternoon, Donald Tusk, the man who chairs their meetings and speaks for them collectively, appeared to suggest that they would only consider an extension if a majority in the House of Commons votes for the current withdrawal deal, including the backstop.

This position has been taken despite two huge votes – last week and in January – against the deal and despite Monday’s decision by the Commons speaker that a rejected motion cannot be put to the House without change.

The position has upped the ante for MPs of all parties. But doubling down on this position means that if it fails the chances of a no-deal outcome will shoot up.

He makes the case for the EU nations both granting an extension long enough to allow the British to sort themselves out and moving quickly to the point of cutting this troublesome and unreliable partner in the grand projet.

Then he makes this seminal point:

“A political generation which has no serious experience of bad times and is frankly cavalier about precipitating events which they could then not control, but feel they might exploit.”

These are the words of Ivan Rogers, Britain’s ambassador to the EU until 2017 when he resigned, reportedly in exasperation at the handling of Brexit by his political masters.

Rogers is worth listening to not only because of his vast diplomatic experience, but also because he has avoided the sort of partisanship that has so polarised discussion of Brexit in his country.

Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Seán O’Rourke show yesterday morning, he warned that both the EU and British sides are in danger of misreading each other.

Both have done so already. That is so obviously true in the case of the British side that it need not be elaborated on here. But it has also been true for the EU side, most notably on how the backstop would be viewed by the other side.

The backstop has become the focus of huge opposition in the UK for two reasons.

First, because it would involve removing Northern Ireland from the UK single market, the backstop has implications for the UK’s constitutional integrity.

Second, because it would involve keeping all of the UK as a de facto member of the EU’s customs union indefinitely, Britain might never be able to do its own international trade deals with countries such as the US and Australia (while Brexit advocates grossly overstate the achievable benefits to the British economy of such trade deals, having the freedom to seek them is a totemic issue).

The EU side misread the degree of opposition to the backstop and it is for that reason that the current impasse has been reached.

At this stage it is not a straight assumption that your opponent is going to act rationally. Parliament effectively handed the legislative lock to  the PM before seeing any of the detail of her deal. She does need to do anything to avoid the crash out.

For good measure, although the chancellor wants a deal, he’s been squeezing public service funding across the piece which has given him a fiscal war chest that can be triggered the moment Brexit occurs with or without a deal.

A UK that exits the EU and fails to fail within the first few summers won’t be a good look in the view of other potential trouble makers to the east who have their own arguments with Brussels.

Photo by moritz320 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA

Donate to keep Slugger lit!

For over 20 years, Slugger has been an independent place for debate and new ideas. We have published over 40,000 posts and over one and a half million comments on the site. Each month we have over 70,000 readers. All this we have accomplished with only volunteers we have never had any paid staff.

Slugger does not receive any funding, and we respect our readers, so we will never run intrusive ads or sponsored posts. Instead, we are reader-supported. Help us keep Slugger independent by becoming a friend of Slugger.

While we run a tight ship and no one gets paid to write, we need money to help us cover our costs.

If you like what we do, we are asking you to consider giving a monthly donation of any amount, or you can give a one-off donation. Any amount is appreciated.