Backstop. if you hadn’t heard the word before last December, you’ve heard enough times since that you could be forgiven for having nightmares where a huge backstop is chasing you throughout Europe, intent on tethering you to it.
The word is in today’s headlines because the British government was supposed to publish its plans for its relationship with the EU. But just as dissension within David Cameron’s Tory Cabinet was what led to the Brexit referendum, now dissension within Theresa May’s Tory Cabinet is what has led to the failure to release Tory plans for Britain’s relationship with the EU. Why the postponement? Because Theresa May wants to go ahead and include the promised backstop for the Irish border, David Davis wants nothing of the sort and is insisting on a time-limit being put on the backstop.
See what Davis did there? It’s like my agreeing with a local bike shop that my daughter, who’s mad about mountain biking, will buy any bikes and related equipment from that one local store. Which sounds pretty clear. Except then another member of my family then says “Yes, of course, let’s keep getting our mountain bike stuff from Mickey Murphy’s bike shop. Until the end of next week.” That kind of time-limit on our agreement changes the nature of the agreement and makes it virtually useless. Yet the other member of the family could conceivably argue that we’ve kept our agreement, we’ll buy only from Mickey Murphy. Until the end of next week.
That’s what Davis wants. And that’s what the EU, as far as we can tell, is not prepared to agree to. The BBC European correspondent last night described the backstopo as the EU’s “reddest of red lines.” Which makes me want to punch the air and say “Good on you, EU!”
Maybe we shouldn’t look too closely at the motivation behind the EU’s determination to avoid a hard border in Ireland. It may be because they want to maintain the Good Friday Agreement, which is what they say. Or it may be that they want to impress on other EU states that walking out of the club will mean you have to take a few kicks and blows as you leave. Or maybe it’s that the EU remembers the mangle it put the twenty-six counties through during the 2008 melt-down, and how the south meekly agreed to having its budget written for it by the EU. Now, for having been a good little boy then, it’s getting its reward in these painful days.
Whatever the reason, let us clap hands and rejoice. The Brexiteers were intent on getting the magic word “time-limited” smuggled into the legal text of the UK-EU agreement, but it’s pretty clear the EU have spotted this cunning plan and have jumped on it with their hob-nailed boots and left it for dead.
Maybe there’s only one way that the Tory Brexiteers and their DUP side-kicks will learn the value of EU membership, and that is when they are exposed to the piercing cold winter that will come, un-time-limited, with a hard Brexit. Trouble is, the rest of us here in Ireland will have to experience that same icy blast.
To quote the words of Queen Elizabeth’s ma when she visited London residents whose homes had been flattened during WW2: “Something really must be done.”