Johnson’s retreat would put Northern Ireland on separate footing to UK – effectively ‘soft border’ in Irish Sea – Johnson meeting Arlene Foster now
Irish EU Commissioner Phil Hogan has reported “movement” in the UK’s Brexit negotiations – but only after Boris Johnson caved in on ‘regulatory divergence’ in Northern Ireland, a move likely to infuriate the Tories’ DUP allies.
Some of the ‘movement’ is extremely woolly and promise-based, with Hogan saying that problems around the Northern Irish ‘backstop’ could be ‘improved upon’ and that the Good Friday Agreement might provide a guide on the way the backstop operated.
But Hogan also revealed that Boris Johnson had caved in to EU demands during talks with Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar yesterday – by conceding that Northern Ireland could operate on different rules to the rest of the UK:
I also note that the British prime minister has moved away from his position…where he’s now prepared to look at divergence of certain rules and regulations on the island of ireland vis-a-vis the United Kingdom.
The effect of such ‘divergence’ would be to create a ‘soft’ border around the whole island of Ireland, with Northern Ireland inside an effective customs union, isolated from the rest of the UK outside. This is unlikely to go down well with DUP leader Arlene Foster, whose red line has always been that Northern Ireland must remain on the same basis as the rest of the UK.
Hogan also made it clear that Johnson’s capitulation over Ireland only gains him a little – and leaves him a long way from an actual deal – and warned that it would be months before negotiations on a UK-EU trade deal could even start:
The UK political system seems to be under the misplaced notion that actually if you crash out of the European Union you have dealt with all the issues.
In fact the work only starts again, like… citizen’s rights, in relation to payments to the EU, in relation to the GFA and the island of Ireland issues. The issues remain.
…It could take six to eight months before all member states have come to a conclusion about the mandate for an EU-UK Free Trade Agreement.
For all his posturing Johnson is proving as weak as Theresa May was – and the realisation may go a long way to explaining his bizarre behaviour at his post-talks press conference with Leo Varadkar yesterday, which went unreported by almost all the UK’s media.
His climbdown makes a mockery of his ‘tough guy’ act. His anti-EU base is unlikely to be impressed – and his erstwhile DUP allies might just be learning what the Left always knew.
Never trust a Tory.
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