In any negotiation, both sides must compromise, writes Jim Power.
Both start off with entrenched views, but as time progresses and a deadline looms, compromise creeps in and both sides show some flexibility.
That is my understanding of successful negotiation.
These rules of engagement seem to be absent in the negotiations on the planned withdrawal of the UK from the EU on October 31. The Irish Government is adamant that to reach agreement, the backstop will have to remain in place. This stance is supported by the EU and rejected by the UK government.
Such entrenched views are not the basis for successful negotiations, but neither side is being flexible or compromising. If this stance is not altered, then what the backstop is designed to prevent would become a reality.
The backstop was agreed between the EU and the UK government (the latter then led by Theresa May), which sought to prevent new physical checks or infrastructure at the frontier between the North and the 26 counties, and it became a central tenet of the withdrawal agreement.
Subsequently, May failed to get the UK parliament to agree to the withdrawal agreement and this effectively spelt the end of her political career, and the UK is now being led by a prime minister, Boris Johnson, put in place by those who favour a hard Brexit.
The backstop deal was a recognition of the extreme political, security, and diplomatic sensitivity of the border issue on the island of Ireland and the necessity of avoiding a hard border at all costs.
The EU single market and customs union facilitate the free movement of people, goods, and services between EU member countries. If the UK leaves the EU, then, in theory, it would not be part of the single market or the customs union, and people, goods, and services would not be able to move freely between the EU and the UK.
Unfortunately, the North is the only physical land border that the EU has with the UK, so border controls would have to be put in place to preserve the integrity of the single market and the customs union.
There are obvious and justifiable concerns that this would re-ignite the conflict that the Good Friday Agreement ended. Hence the much-maligned backstop.
The backstop means that the UK as a whole would remain within a single customs territory, or — in other words — remain closely aligned to current EU rules, with some special provisions for the North, until some sort of trade deal is reached between the EU and the UK.
The DUP rejects this for Byzantine political reasons, as do a significant rump of the Tory party.
So, we are now left in a state of paralysis, with neither the UK nor EU sides prepared to budge. A continuation of these entrenched views will lead to the UK crashing out on October 31 and chaos and severe economic dislocation would ensue, with the UK, Ireland, and the EU — particularly countries like France, the Netherlands, and Germany — all set to suffer.
There are no winners in this sorry mess, just losers to varying, but significant degrees.
It is hard to understand what a compromise might involve, and there is no guarantee that even if the EU makes concessions on the backstop, that those who now matter in the Tory party, and who want a hard Brexit, would be sated.
Notwithstanding this reservation, one hopes that, behind the scenes, the art and science of proper negotiation are being practiced. If not, winter is coming and we all face a very uncertain and chaotic future.