Here we go again. Since we voted to leave the European Union, we have been going around in circles, and now we’ve arrived back at the start. Boris Johnson finds himself locked in the same back-and-forward arguments with the EU; he insists there can be no deal involving the Irish backstop, the EU tells him the opposite. Round and round we go.
In the latest developments, Johnson has given cause for enthusiasm among those of us who voted Leave. He has repeatedly stated, and his ministers do the same, that we will leave the EU on the 31st of October, with or without a deal. But he has also stated that a deal is preferable, one that won’t involve an Irish backstop.
The backstop can best be summarized like this: when we leave the EU, Northern Ireland will continue to have a land border with the Republic of Ireland. This means that part of the UK will have a land border with part of the EU. The debate therefore surrounds what kind of border this will be. Given the tumultuous history of Ireland, all parties involved state that they do not wish to see a ‘hard border’ in Ireland, as this could evoke and revive divisions on the island.
The European Union therefore insists that Northern Ireland remain in the EU’s Customs Union for an undefined period, until a ‘soft’ border can be agreed on the island of Ireland. Parties in Northern Ireland have objected to this idea as they do not accept different treatment to the rest of the UK. This has meant that the UK’s full inclusion in the Customs’ Union be continued for an undefined period. Leaving the Customs Union however is vital if we are to leave the EU – something the people of the UK voted to do. Customs Union membership means that the UK will still be unable to make new trade deals unilaterally, once again, something that people voted for when they voted to leave the European Union.
This is the sticking point. The United States has also warned that we do nothing to threaten peace in Northern Ireland. It is a serious matter, so does Boris Johnson have a solution? Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, has given him 30 days to come up with one!
Johnson has met with the leaders of France and Germany over recent days. While both meetings appear to have been amicable, Merkel has persuaded Johnson that it is the UK, and not the EU, that must come up with a workable solution to the Irish backstop. Johnson has accepted this. The Guardian reports that he told the German Chancellor “You rightly say the onus is on us to produce those solutions, those ideas, to show how we can address the issue of the Northern Irish border and that is what we want to do”.
By contrast however, France’s Emmanuel Macron has been more robust, stating that the backstop is “indispensible”.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has come closer to Macron’s position than Merkel’s. He told Boris Johnson that the demand to scrap the backstop is “unacceptable”.
Even with all of this in mind, Johnson still insists we will leave the EU on Halloween. We will leave without a deal unless a deal scraps the backstop.
We must now simply wait and see. For those of us on the Brexit side of the debate, this looks like a strong position for the UK. If Johnson can now come up with a solution to the Irish border problem, we may well get out in October, and we may well be able, as a nation, to move forward and to politically focus on problems here at home – problems that the people face, rather than the politicians.
We can then refocus our efforts on Westminster instead of Brussels, and we can shine a light on the failings, past and future, of Boris Johnson and his government, as well as Labour and the Conservatives, and the damage both parties have inflicted upon our country. It is time to move on. Let us hope that time is soon.