A long EU exit would be better than any permanent backstop

Morning View
Morning View

For almost a year there has been an element of complacency among unionists and pro Brexit Tory MPs over the so-called Irish border backstop, agreed last December.

It has been clear since then that the EU and Ireland want the UK to write into law the impossibility of divergence between Northern Ireland and the Republic, in terms of customs tariffs and regulations.

The joint EU/Ireland determination has not diminished one bit with time.

The only glimmer of hope for unionists now is that there is, if anything, growing resistance to the backstop among mainstream Conservatives, such as ministers in the Cabinet who could make or break Theresa May.

The prime minister herself, or her key advisors, have seemed keen to accommodate the EU as much as possible on the border but as time has gone on the implications of the backstop have begun to sink in.

The Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab has said that the backstop plan must be dropped if the UK is to extend the transition period beyond the current date of December 2020.

It is essential that this sort of thinking prevails.

For Northern Ireland to be aligned with the EU regulations in perpetuity would be disastrous.

At first there might be little or indeed no divergence in any event, so at first the commitment would be of little consequence. Over time, however, the consequences would be potentially much greater if the UK and EU diverged further.

This is a grim situation, because any sense that the DUP is threatening the Tories could also have very bad long-term consequences. It is not easy to be both firm and diplomatic.

Some Brexiteers and indeed members of the DUP are opposed to any extension of the UK’s departure process but extensions are far preferable to any outcome, be it no deal or a permanent backstop, that has long-term or even permanent negative consequences.