Dublin government ‘stunned’ when British signed up to Irish border backstop

Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar on a visit to Belfast
Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar on a visit to Belfast

Dublin could not believe the UK agreed to sign up to the Irish border backstop, it has been claimed.

In a fascinating look at how the EU withdrawal negotiations have unfolded since the referendum, leading Brexit journalist Tom McTague has reported that the Irish Government always knew the backstop would be unacceptable to unionists.

And they were stunned when the British negotiating team accepted it back in December 2017.

In his in-depth piece, published by Politico, Mr McTague asserts that as early as February 2017 — before the UK had even triggered Article 50 — Brussels had “taken ownership” of the Irish border problem and come up with the beginnings of a solution.

While the UK’s negotiating team complained that the backstop would leave Northern Ireland with no say over the laws governing it, Mr McTague said the EU was “immovable” and the British agreed to the proposal.

In Dublin they could not believe the UK had agreed, one senior EU27 official said, adding: “I remember being in a taxi that Sunday night. We just could not believe the British had accepted the text. We knew it would not be acceptable to the unionists. The truth is, Brexit was always going to poison the atmosphere and it has.”

Mr McTague also sets out how the seeds for Theresa May’s Brexit defeat were planted before the official referendum result was even announced back in June 2016.

“The United Kingdom was leaving the European Union and Brussels was determined to seize control of the process,” he added.

The EU’s strategy from the outset, he argues, was to ensure the UK’s withdrawal was settled first and the future relationship second, once the UK had left.

In triggering Article 50 so early in the Brexit process, the UK robbed itself of much of its leverage over the EU in any future talks.

He added: “The only concession the EU would make regarding its core principles over the course of the talks was at the request of one of its members, the Republic of Ireland — and to the disadvantage of the UK. The rules of the single market could be bent, but only for Northern Ireland — and only to help the Republic’s unique problem on the border. For the UK, there would be no special deals.”