The backstop: there is an answer

In all the many articles written about Brexit and the backstop, there has been one missing line of argument. Which is odd, since the words of the prophet are written on the borderline walls, as Paul Simon almost sang. And they tell us what is obvious: there’s no need to dispute over how hard or soft a border: simply arrange that it ceases to exist.  And I don’t mean that you don’t notice it as  you drive from Belfast or Derry or Enniskillen to the south of Ireland. I mean put a reunited Ireland in place and let the border cease to exist, along with all the problems it’s creating throughout the UK and the EU and beyond.

“But you can’t just reunite Ireland with a click of  your fingers!” you yelp, turning pale. “For a start we’d be making the mistake the Brexiteers made: voting for Brexit and then trying to figure out what Brexit meant.  And after that, of course, there’s the danger of a violent loyalist backlash.”

Two good points. Let’s see how they might be tackled.

Of course to vote for a reunited Ireland without knowing what that looks like would be stupid and dangerous. But what Britain could do – and remember, it was Britain who put up the border and Britain who maintains it  – what Britain could do would be to announce a date when Irish reunification will happen. Not could happen, will happen. Say in five years’ time. Or at a stretch, ten years. That would be ample time for all concerned parties to meet and talk and hammer out the details. In the meantime, the invisible border could continue as is, which is the wish of the Irish people south and north. Problem solved.

But the violent loyalist backlash? That is a concern, of course. This northern entity came into being at the business end of a gun, and there will be those who’ll want to keep the country divided, by similar means.  However, there’ll be a great number of people in the north, let alone the south,  who will favour Britain’s decision to withdraw from Ireland. And where, when Britain has withdrawn, would violent loyalism look for their end product? A unilateral declaration of independence? Totally unrealistic, to think of the north as making its way alone, with no support from Britain or the rest of Ireland. The Protestant/unionist people are a realistic people, and I’m confident that democracy would trump any loyalist rump.

But wouldn’t we be making the same mistake the Brexiteers made –  vote first and then work it out? On the contrary – we would have between five and ten years to work things out before reunification. And a final fixed date is a necessity, otherwise there’ll be those who’d happily go on talking and planning forever. Give us a decent amount of time for discussion and problem-cracking, but help minds to concentrate by having a reasonable deadline. After all, that’s what worked with the Good Friday Agreement.

So why is this answer to Brexit something so awful and rude,  to mention it is  regarded as very bad form, the political equivalent of breaking wind in a lift?    

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