The Irish backstop alone provides reason enough to oppose Theresa May’s deal

The Irish backstop alone provides reason enough to oppose Theresa May’s deal

The theme for Westminster this week has been a political trap. Remainer MPs seem to have finally ensnared the Prime Minister with the advent of ‘Indicative Votes’. Consequently, Mrs May seems to have trapped at least some of her eurosceptic rebels with the threat that the only alternative to her deal is no Brexit.

For Brussels and Dublin, however, as the DUP’s Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson has argued, it is like cats let out of bags over the Irish backstop.

The Irish border quickly became the thorn in the side of the Brexit negotiations. The backstop was designed by the EU, Ireland and – to its shame – the UK Government, in order to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland in the event no agreement is reached between the UK and the EU.

The backstop has now become the major problem with May’s Withdrawal Agreement. It is by no means the only problem with the AgreementGet Britain Out has documented at least 15 major failings here, and Britain would be preposterously shackled to EU institutions indefinitely unless a UK Government was prepared to conscience the unconscionable by allowing Northern Ireland to end up under EU jurisdiction.

Brexiteers have been consistent in upbraiding the outlandishness of the backstop because it blackmails the UK into remaining within the EU or risks the annexation of its territory. What’s more, it is wholly unnecessary. Firstly, the hard border was a phantom created to scare the UK. Both the UK and Irish governments have made it clear they would not erect a hard border which could therefore only come into effect if it were imposed and erected by the European Union.

Secondly, if the problem was willed by the EU, so too was the denial of its solution. Political will and goodwill are very different things. Both the EU’s Chief Brexit Negotiator, Michel Barnier, and Leo Varadkar, the Irish Taoiseach, have continually refused to consider intuitive technical solutions involving customs checks away from the border in the event of No Deal. These would ensure smooth cross-border trade as they do increasingly across the world.

Indeed, as recently as February, the suggestion technology would obviate a hard border, rendering the backstop unnecessary, was frustrating the Taoiseach. It has been fascinating to observe, then, how earlier this week this has become the position of both the Irish Government and the EU in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The EU has announced it is “working very closely with Irish authorities to try and perform controls away from border”. Varadkar is confident a special arrangement can keep the border in Ireland invisible in a no-deal scenario. He is right to be confident. He and the EU were wrong to deny the undeniable for so long.

With the political and moral EU-Irish justification of the backstop crumbling, the bad faith with which the EU has been conducting the negotiations is now abundantly clear. Yet the Withdrawal Agreement still stands, proof of the con played by the EU and Ireland to keep Britain as closely tied to the EU under highly restrictive terms.

It is one thing for the EU and Ireland to have made their bad faith and the unnecessary, draconian nature of their agreement so clear. It is quite another for the UK Government to have let this happen in the first place, and to have put itself in a position where it is both unprepared and unable to stand up for itself, tear up the Agreement, leave without one and negotiate a new trade deal from a position of strength.

This, and not May’s Deal, is the only realistic course left open for our withdrawal from the European Union and to save Brexit.

With this in mind, the DUP are right to refuse to be threatened by the Prime Minister into backing her deal. However, they must put the emphasis on the acceptance of a WTO No Deal on 12th April, rather than a long extension which Sammy Wilson is now suggesting. A long extension to the Withdrawal Agreement would give far too much time for the majority of Remainer MPs in Parliament to continue to agitate for a revocation of Article 50 or a second referendum.

Eurosceptics in the European Research Group – blackmailed by Mrs May’s threat of ‘my deal or no Brexit’ – may well vote for May’s Deal as the ‘least worst’ option. They must reconsider just how bad May’s Deal really is. 

To examine perhaps the important issue of our defence after Brexit (as Veterans for Britain have briefed here this week), under the wording of the Political Declaration attached to the Withdrawal Agreement, the UK is committed to EU defence architecture to the “full extent possible under EU law”. Therefore it is now drawn to our attention, the UK can either continue to submit itself to full EU defence authority, or we will be forced to remain in the backstop in perpetuity.

As if that false choice was not bad enough, it is the EU which gets to decide whether the UK’s defence commitments match those made in the Political Declaration. With all eyes on the Withdrawal Agreement, it is often forgotten just how problematic the Political Declaration is. This must serve as a timely reminder.

The ‘least worst’ choice is therefore still a very bad choice, which should not be voted for by anyone who wants to Get Britain Out of the European Union and ‘take back control’. The reasons for the backstop con and the subsequent Withdrawal Agreement may well have been illusory, but their dangers are not.