Brexit: A deal would begin a long, difficult process

Brexit: A deal would begin a long, difficult process

Two exceptional events today, one in Tokyo the other in London, will set the mood of the nation. In Tokyo, Ireland will try to become the first nation to beat New Zealand in a World Cup game since France did so magnificently in 2007.

A victory would encourage the wildest fantasies and a keyboard stampede for plane tickets to Japan. But, just as is the case with the second event, proportion, circumspection and judgment are required if fantasy is not to become delusion. No matter what the result, no matter what is promised, as they wisely say in Sliabh Luachra, go easy when your jug is full.

In London, the House of Commons’ 650 members convene at 9.30am for Brexit Super Saturday. A Saturday sitting is exceptional, but one that overlaps an England team playing in a World Cup quarter final — against Australia — is unprecedented. But then so is the situation the British and Irish governments and the European Union find themselves in this morning. Or is it?

An extraordinary aspect of the breakthrough blueprint is its familiarity. It walks like and quacks like Theresa May’s original Northern Ireland backstop which got the never-never-never heave-ho from the DUP in December 2017. That rejection forced May to offer a UK-wide backstop which the House of Commons thrice rejected.

It is revealing that Boris Johnson, who calculatedly scuppered May’s proposals, has, if not faithfully, then almost completely adopted them. In doing so he has sacrificed his transactional relationship with the DUP. That party’s anger at being betrayed is palpable but then they ignored myriad warnings, not all of them historic, that they would be cast aside once realpolitik and Johnson’s career ambitions demanded another route.

That new path means that NI will remain in the United Kingdom by law, but exist within the European Union by fact. The DUP has faced a barrage of criticism claiming it allowed itself be betrayed by Downing Street in a way that weakens NI’s position in the UK. Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann, said DUP blunders had paved the way to NI being left on the “window ledge” of the union.

It’s an absolute disgrace ... it annexes NI from the rest of the United Kingdom.

But then, anyone in a relationship with Johnson must anticipate betrayal. He assumed office in July declaring negotiations with the EU could not begin until the backstop was scrapped yet not only has accepted one he has enacted one. The backstop is hidden in plain sight, “regulatory checks and even customs controls between GB and NI” will be, if Westminster endorses the deal today, a reality.

Though this is about more than relationships on these islands it is natural to focus on them as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar did yesterday when he underlined that the Belfast Agreement precludes any change in NI’s status unless there is a democratic mandate for change.

If the Commons endorses the deal this morning it will be the start of a very long process, probably far longer than anyone imagined, to conclude Brexit and all the new arrangements that flow from that. In the meantime, let’s hope for a quick and easy All Blacks’ exit from the World Cup — backstop or no backstop.

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