Brexit negotiations - Backstop too important to drop but...

On Monday, a Dublin man became the fourth person to be convicted over the murder of dissident republican Peter Butterly.

Brexit negotiations - Backstop too important to drop but...

On Monday, a Dublin man became the fourth person to be convicted over the murder of dissident republican Peter Butterly.

Kevin Braney, aged 44, was found guilty by a non-jury court and will be sentenced on Friday. Earlier this week, Belfast community worker Ian Ogle was buried. The 45-year-old died after he was attacked and stabbed 11 times as he prayed with his pastor on an east Belfast street last Sunday.

It is an unending tragedy that almost 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement that these issues persist, that they are, even if only in a tiny corner, unresolved and active. The prospect of hard border would be used by terrorists to resurrect their wretched campaigns is too real, all too close for comfort.

This has been recognised by Stormont’s former first minister Lord Trimble who is considering a legal challenge to the backstop. “We are concerned at the way in which the withdrawal agreement that our prime minister agreed actually turns the Belfast Agreement on its head and does serious damage to it.” Whatever Trimble’s ultimate motive, the concern seems real and justified.

And yet the British response, in as much as there is a coherent one, is focussed almost exclusively on the mercantile. It is as if Irish steadfastness on the backstop is a chance-our-arm effort to win commercial advantage rather than a hard-learned insistence that promises to sustain the peace be given legal weight.

This misreading, this deafness to history’s wailing is exemplified by a former advisor to Theresa May who, even in this alphabet soup of the bizarre and the bonkers, offered an idea incomprehensibly off key. Nick Timothy suggested that Ireland might leave the EU customs union and join one with the UK. Really? Leave the EU, its security, enduring parity of esteem and society-enhancing benefits to return voluntarily to arrangement generations of Irish people gave their all to end?

The lunacy around Timothys’ suggestion is specific but the lunacy Ms May will show by going to Brussels tomorrow to ask commission president Jean-Claude Juncker to reopen negotiations is of an entirely different order. Ms May will press to replace the backstop to avoid a hard border. That might be possible if she was able to guarantee that whatever new proposal she might have would win the support of the House of Commons. There is no suggestion she has such a card to play. Because of that, and despite her assurances in Belfast yesterday, that her commitment to avoiding a hard “unshakeable”, the backstop cannot be sacrificed.

Despite that compromises will be needed to avoid the worst possible outcome of this tragedy. Those compromises might be made in the terms leading up to the point an unwanted backstop might be triggered but those unforgettable wails of history insist it must be permanent — and if Britain’s long-term intentions are honourable that should not be a problem.

Anyone who doubts that should, for just a moment ask how the Butterly or Ogle families and all the others mourning victims of anti-democratic terrorism might feel about giving the British government a free hand just so the increasingly unrepresentative and hardline DUP might be appeased

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