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It is hard to over-estimate just how little freedom of movement Varadker has on the Irish backstop. He is the leader of the smallest minority government in Irish history, dependent on Fianna Fail abstention on key votes as part of their "confidence and supply" agreement which had been due to run out before now but was extended until the Autumn because of the delay to the resolution of Brexit. He doesn't have a popular mandate as he took over in mid-term from previous Taoiseach, Enda Kenny. The next general election has to take place before 10 April 2012 and he is currently running neck and neck with Fianna Fail in the polls.

The core weakness in his position is that a no deal Brexit would create a hard customs border with N. Ireland - precisely the outcome his insistence on the Backstop was designed to avoid. Consequently there are increasing calls in the media and from some opposition TDs for him to compromise on his "hardline" position and allow some watering down of the Backstop in order to get the Withdrawal Agreement ratified by the house of Commons.

In my view there are at least four flaws in this argument:

  1. It is becoming increasingly clear that even removing the backstop from the Withdrawal Agreement entirely wouldn't guarantee its passage through the House of Commons. Hardline Brexiteers actually seem to want no deal.

  2. The EU has staked its entire position and credibility on avoiding a hard customs border in Ireland (which they know would be a smugglers paradise in any case).  For Varadker to cave on this now would be like a stab in the back - undermining perhaps the most impressive display of EU solidarity in its history. Varadker would lose all credibility with his EU peers were he to let them down now.

  3. Although there are isolated calls for compromise now, the moment Varadker concedes he and his party are consigned to electoral history. Fine Gael has never quite recovered from perceptions of being soft on patriotism by agreeing to the partition of Ireland as part of the 1922 peace settlement with Great Britain in the first place. This caused a civil war and an enduring split in Irish politics. To cave again to British bluff and bluster would be a national humiliation and would give Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein the boost they badly need to become pre-eminent in Irish politics again.

  4. Compromising on the backstop would be seen as a betrayal of the people of N. Ireland, who have benefited on borderless travel and trade with the Republic since the Good Friday Agreement and who voted by a large majority against Brexit in the referendum. Many in the North (and not just nationalists) are also Irish citizens and would lose the EU dimension of that citizenship and the protections of the Withdrawal Agreement if the backstop is dropped.

The bottom line: We are where we are, and there is no going back.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Aug 6th, 2019 at 12:15:27 PM EST

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