PM shows her stamina, but has no good answer on backstop

Morning View
Morning View

Theresa May has won widespread admiration for her stamina and her ability to endure pressure.

Those qualities were on display yesterday when the prime minister visited Northern Ireland for a gruelling day of meetings with business people, voluntary groups and politicians. Mrs May also spoke to numerous media outlets, including this newspaper.

As a woman in her 60s with Type 1 diabetes, her sense of duty or commitment to hard work has never been in doubt.

Unfortunately, however, while her personality is impressive, the prime minister’s answers to the News Letter over the Irish border backstop were entirely unsatisfactory.

She said that if the backstop was used at all, it was intended to be temporary. That might be true even of the EU, not just of the UK. The problem is that it can only be removed by consent, or if it is replaced by a future relationship of which the EU 27 nations agree.

That means all EU countries have a veto, including Ireland. It is crystal clear that Dublin will simply not permit Northern Ireland to leave the EU customs and regulatory space.

Thus it might be theoretically correct to say that the backstop is intended to be temporary, but in practice it is only so if the UK is prepared to accept a relationship with the EU that has the same relationship between the Province and Brussels as that envisaged if the backstop is operable. This reflects an utter negotiating failure by London.

Mrs May’s explanation for the abandonment of Paragraph 50, which sought to avoid a border in the Irish Sea, is similarly unsatisfactory. Stormont was suspended last December when the paragraph was agreed, due to Sinn Fein having collapsed it at the start of that year. In truth, the EU did not like paragraph 50 and so simply ignored it, and the UK let it do so.

The PM has given no good reason for the DUP to support the Withdrawal Agreement, the defeat of which is now an over-riding unionist objective. Almost all other EU outcomes are better than this deal.