Dublin’s anger about Brexit is palpable

The Government is enraged that Theresa May has reneged on the withdrawal agreement and that the DUP is so self-serving, says political editor Daniel McConnell

Dublin’s anger about Brexit is palpable

The Government is enraged that Theresa May has reneged on the withdrawal agreement and that the DUP is so self-serving, says political editor Daniel McConnell

The anger in Dublin is palpable. It is visible in the faces of the Government, its top officials, and the opposition, because of Brexit.

It is also entirely justified.

Anger at the British prime minister, Theresa May, her feeble government, Tory MPs, Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn and his front bench, and also the DUP.

Especially the DUP.

They are a small — yet at the moment — very powerful, self-obsessed, and indulgent bunch, who have become slaves to their redundant and outdated ideology. Because of that ideology, the party has prioritised its own narrowness, and loyalty to a union that doesn’t want it, over the clear economic benefit to its own people in the embattled province it claims to represent.

“Aah, their actions are despicable. It is entirely reckless, what they are doing,” one minister stopped to tell me in recent days, along the corridors of Leinster House.

DUP leader Arlene Foster
DUP leader Arlene Foster

As long as they are holding the balance of power in the House of Commons, the DUP must be tolerated, but there is no one in any doubt that if the Tory party could dump the DUP, it would, as soon as possible.

The anger in Dublin is fuelled by disbelief that the DUP, driven by insecurity, failed to see that the backstop arrangement was the best of both worlds for Northern Ireland and that, despite its clear benefits, sought to torpedo it, because it “weakened the union”.

If the stakes were not so high, it would be laughable.

That anger was clear in the tone and words of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney, yesterday. They were reacting to the decision of Theresa May to renege on her commitment last month to the withdrawal agreement and the backstop arrangement.

Varadkar told the Dáil that the EU is not offering a renegotiation of the existing Brexit deal.

The European Union, including Ireland, stands by the withdrawal agreement, including the protocol and backstop relating to Ireland.

he said.

He added: “A renegotiation is not on the table. There are no plans to organise an emergency summit to discuss any changes to the guidelines. Nor is there any pressure to hold one.”

He also said that the message from the EU was abundantly clear: “The withdrawal agreement is not up for renegotiation and is not going to be reopened.”

On radio, Coveney said the Government was being asked to compromise on a solution that works and to replace it with wishful-thinking.

“We won’t do it,” he told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show. “The UK wants it both ways: no red lines and no backstop. We owe it to the people of Ireland, north and south. We cannot approach this negotiation on the basis of threats.

“We have a negotiated outcome that is now not being followed-through-on. We have a guarantee and we intend holding the British government to those guarantees.

“We had an agreement here. The prime minister signed up to it.”

He said Theresa May was unfortunate that her party had voted against what she had recommended. Coveney said it wasn’t negotiating if the person said, “give me what I want or I’ll jump out the window”.

“There are solutions available to May: she could reach out to the opposition. For the first time, we are seeing proper engagement between the prime minister and the head of the opposition. The UK wants it both ways: no red lines and no backstop,” he added with understandable annoyance.

Ahead of the votes in the Commons on Tuesday, May had made it known that she was backing Graham Brady’s amendment, which sought to replace the backstop with “alternative arrangements”.

She advised her MPs to do likewise.

The amendment was sufficiently vague to allow the Mad Hatters wing of her party to support it.

It mandated her to seek to try and reopen the withdrawal agreement with the EU bloc of 27 countries.

After many months of defeat heaped upon defeat, May stands certainly faint, and her gashes cry for help.

She justifiably stands accused by Ireland of breaking her word, of being untrustworthy, and, most importantly, of lacking any credibility.

“We will now take this mandate forward and seek to obtain legally binding changes to the withdrawal agreement that deal with concerns on the backstop, while guaranteeing no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. My colleagues and I will talk to the EU about how we address the House’s views,” she told MPs.

But her rare victory in the Commons, on Tuesday, appeared to be over before it had even begun.

Within minutes of the result, the response from Dublin and Brussels was swift and unambiguous.

The EU position on the withdrawal agreement, including the backstop, is set out in the conclusions of the December meeting of the European Council.

“It has not changed. The withdrawal agreement is not open for renegotiation,” said the Irish Government.

“The agreement is a carefully negotiated compromise, which balances the UK position on customs and the single market with avoiding a hard border and protecting the integrity of the EU customs union and the single market. The best way to ensure an orderly withdrawal is to ratify this agreement,” the statement said.

“We have consistently said that we want the closest possible future relationship between the EU and the UK. A change in the UK red lines could lead to a change in the political declaration on the framework for the future relationship and a better overall outcome.

“We will continue our preparations for all outcomes, including for a no-deal scenario.”

Such sentiment was shared by Michel Barnier, the EU’s Brexit negotiator, and other national governments.

German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, said: “Germany and the entire EU will stand by Ireland on the backstop. We will not allow Ireland to be isolated on the issue.”

So, with 58 days to go until a disorderly Brexit becomes a reality, Theresa May is saying she wants the deal re-opened and the EU, including Ireland, is saying not a chance.

It is a case of the unstoppable force meets the immovable object. The ray of light from May is that she appears committed to not just avoiding a no-deal, but is willing to do something about it.

“I agree that we should not leave without a deal. However, simply opposing no-deal is not enough to stop it,” she said.

But Simon Coveney’s point that common sense cannot be replaced with wishful-thinking was a justified criticism of a British establishment that is in the middle of an emotional breakdown.

But no more than at several points since May 2016, a clear and workable route out of this quagmire remains frustratingly elusive.

Time is now extremely short and the potential for damage to Ireland is staggeringly high.

More in this section

News Wrap

A lunchtime summary of content highlights on the Irish Examiner website. Delivered at 1pm each day.

Sign up

Our Covid-free newsletter brings together some of the best bits from irishexaminer.com, as chosen by our editor, direct to your inbox every Monday.

Sign up