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Blame Dublin… December 7, 2018

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Who could be writing this?

On Tuesday afternoon, as the British government staggered towards another Brexit humiliation, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar urged Fianna Fáil and Irish Labour to press their Westminster sister parties, the Liberal Democrats and British Labour, to support the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement.Speaking in the Dáil, Varadkar said rejection of the agreement would lead to a no-deal Brexit that “nobody would benefit from”.This can only be seen a desperate attempt to spread blame for such an outcome.

Interesting. Not an analysis that seems all that robust.

Neither the LDs or BLP can be seen to be swayed by political siblings in Ireland, a country that has portrayed itself as the UK’s hardball opponent in negotiations.

Is that entirely fair about Ireland being an opponent in negotiations? Not least given that the negotiations were between the EU and London.

Or this?

It might seem unfair to attach any blame for Brexit to Irish politicians. However, to the extent that Varadkar and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney have sought credit for success, they are equally exposed to failure. Constant proclamations of Irish influence and EU solidarity over the withdrawal process create ownership of the result – disaster included.
The mistake Dublin appears to have made is in not sufficiently distinguishing between a weak British position and a weak British government.

This is puzzling. The reality is that it is the British polity which is divided – a British PM who is unable to control even her own party, or bring it together given the incredible fractures now visible within it. To suggest somehow this is a ‘mistake’ of Dublin’s making is absurd (and again evades the core issue that it is the EU that is negotiating). As is the following:

Having London over a barrel, both in the structure of the negotiations and in the UK’s need for a future EU partnership, might create a temptation to drive a hard bargain. However, a strong British government was always going to be necessary to deliver its side of the bargain.

But there’s a basic problem with the above. There was no ‘London over a barrel’, at least not in the sense he believes. There were clear lines which the EU was unwilling to breach in relation to the Border, the single market and so on. All this was or should have been well known by London in advance. Granted looking at those sent by the Tories to negotiate one has to wonder at their ability to quite comprehend what was going on, but that again is a problem of London’s making. What Emerson seems to believe is that the EU (and Dublin) would continue to soften their position at any cost to themselves. But that’s to ignore the reality they have clear reasons why they would not want to. Not least that there’s no pressing need to create yet another form of association with the EU.

Though it is in the following where we really see how threadbare Emerson’s argument is:

Yet Varadkar, who became Taoiseach one week later, quickly moved the Republic to a more assertive Brexit position, which he and Coveney have stuck to ever since.
Now they seem almost trapped by the contradiction, unable to assist a pathetic opponent. There was a brief moment last month after the agreement was published when it might have been sold to the Commons as a British victory, if only a form of words could have been found to de-dramatise the backstop exit mechanism.

Firstly this state has every right – indeed an existential one, to assert its position clearly – should it see fit. Secondly, and yet again, he ignores the fact Dublin has actually gone out of its way, as in recent weeks, to say nothing that might interfere with the delivery of the UK government message. It was not Dublin’s responsibility to sell it – but it did nothing to impeded the sale. What he is actually saying is that a different agreement should have been struck. And as always there’s an odd misreading of Irish politics:

Although May is a hopeless communicator and her ministers were a bag of cats, they made an attempt to do so – only to be shot down by the Taoiseach and Coveney in uncompromising terms.

Now think about his chronology here. Though the backstop has rumbled away in the background it was in truth really only the DUP that was hugely exercised about it. In a telling display of indifference it is only this week it seems to have exercised Westminster as a whole. And it is unlikely beyond reason that anything the Taoiseach or ‘Coveney’ said had any impact whatsoever on the thinking in Westminster. Or lack of thinking. Moreover, and this I think gets to the heart of matters – the agreement reached with the EU by May is the agreement reached with the EU. It may be politically impossible to bring it across the line, but one would suspect that no deal she offered would command a) her own dissidents on Remain and Leave side, the BLP, the LDs etc. At least not immediately. Again – all this reflects is not Irish government ineptitude or crowing but rather very British dynamics.

A permanent backstop was a deal-breaker and the agreement had ensured it, they declared.
Varadkar told the Dáil just prior to publication that he was open to “creative language” on the exit mechanism but this evaporated as soon as Sinn Féin teased him about “losing his nerve”.

And I find it entirely unlikely that Varadkar was in the slightest bit swayed by SF ‘teasing’ or otherwise. This by the way is something one reads on some commentary from north of the border, a massive over-estimation of Dublin’s concern regarding SF or SF’s influence.

It does make me wonder, reading all this from Emerson, whether he quite grasps what the back stop is or is not. Because he writes:

The agreement is a huge victory for the Republic on the border that counts – that is, the border with Wales. An all-UK backstop in the customs union, forming a baseline for the future EU relationship, promises Ireland relatively open trade with and through Britain. Admittedly, this is hard to celebrate when the alleged purpose of the backstop is an open border with Northern Ireland. But the Irish Government could have quietly banked its victory and offered London soothing words. Instead, Dublin crowed and May was left to sell the deal alone, bringing matters to a predictably nail-biting conclusion.

But he seems blithely unaware of why that situation might not persist, indeed look across at the House of Commons and how so many Tories see the idea of the UK being in the customs union, or even entering the backstop should all else falter, as being utterly anathema, and one can see that the EU and Dublin might view the longevity of any agreement with the UK with deep concern.

Indeed, just on that, why isn’t Emerson lambasting an entity he – at least by dint of proximity might be expected to have greater leverage over, that being the DUP, or how about the UUP and taking it to task for pulling away from its anti-Brexit stance after the referendum? Because had the UUP joined with the GP, Alliance, SDLP and SF between them they could have presented a pan-unionist/nationalist/republican/other front that would have underscored just how isolated the DUP position actually is.

And that raises a further point. What on earth is the actual alternative Emerson offers as distinct from laying in to Dublin? He mutters about how this was an ‘EU demand’ but it is entirely logical that given the local sensitivities and context there would have to be some determination as to the status of the North – and to be frank given what was said by Raab, Davis, etc about breaching agreements, and indeed by what happened after the supposed agreement struck this time last year between the UK and the EU the latter would be sensible to ensure that the UK could not wriggle away from given commitments.


1. Daire O'Criodain - December 7, 2018

Couldn’t have put it better myself. Varadkar and Coveney have never sought pre-emptive credit for a smooth and successful outcome to the Brexit process, because that is not within their control to ensure. They have accepted credit, but in reasonably sotto voce and non-triumphalist terms, for protecting a core Irish interest as best they can by ensuring that it was captured in the proposed agreement. As you say, Mr. Emerson does not say what they might have done differently that might have promoted a better overall outcome for Ireland. It is always impossible to “prove” counterfactuals, but it does behoove Mr. Emerson to present one that is credible.

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