Unionists have long suspected that the Irish government and the EU want a Brexit deal all on their terms.
And yesterday’s reports that the EU sees a Northern Ireland-only backstop, with Stormont handed an opt-out vote, as a possible solution to the impasse only confirms this.
According to The Times, the EU would accept a Northern Ireland backstop – with the Province remaining in the single market for goods and the customs union – and allow Stormont to vote after a set period on whether it wants to exit the mechanism.
The proposal, if it is serious enough to merit being called as such (Robin Swann’s description of it as a “stunt” feels accurate), falls flat for any number of reasons. Firstly, the EU apparently proposes that Northern Ireland could only exit the backstop if both unionists and nationalists in a future Stormont administration agree. The likelihood of Sinn Fein, or indeed other nationalist parties or Alliance, ever voting to leave such a backstop is ridiculous. Northern Ireland would be stuck in such an arrangement for perpetuity.
Sinn Fein, with typical intransigence, has never given a hint of showing compromise throughout the Brexit impasse, much as it continues to put up unrealistic red lines over Stormont’s return.
Its attitude is that the compromise, all the giving of ground, should be done by others. Indeed last week Boris Johnson, backed by the DUP, gave ground by saying that Northern Ireland could effectively remain tied to EU single market rules for goods as part of a bid for a deal with the EU. That was an overly generous compromise on behalf of Mr Johnson and the DUP but still there was not the hint of it being enough for either Brussels or the Irish government.
Yesterday’s EU proposals underline the danger of Mr Johnson’s compromises. If you give ground once to the EU and the Irish government they will just keep demanding more.