by Frank Schnittger
Wed Oct 2nd, 2019 at 11:51:32 AM EST
Boris Brexit plan a `scam', says Good Friday agreement negotiator
Ability to feel Irish or British or both `will be destroyed' , says Jonathan Powell.
Former Labour Party adviser Jonathan Powell, one of the chief negotiators of the Good Friday agreement, described Boris Johnson's Brexit deal proposal as a "scam" .
He told BBC's Newsnight: They are "trying to avoid a deal in order to get to no deal as they were always going to do. This is the final confirmation that's their aim."
Powell also said the ability to feel Irish or British or both - a key part of the Good Friday agreement - "will be destroyed" if a customs border is put in. "The point of this is not how long it takes a lorry to cross the border in Northern Ireland. The issue is identity."
The main ingredients of Johnson's plan, to be outlined on Wednesday in his Tory party conference speech, are a proposal for "two borders for four years" and a "Stormont Lock". After the transition period comes to an end, Northern Ireland would stay in the single market for four years but, crucially, not in the customs union.
That would mean that there would be a single market for the whole of Ireland for agri-food and manufactured goods until 2025. It would also mean other goods originating from the North would be subject to customs checks once they crossed the border into the EU.
Jonathan Powell was one of the chief negotiators of the Good Friday Agreement signed by the British and Irish governments in 1998 and so understands how difficult it was to achieve peace through an agreement between the parties in N. Ireland. Even then the DUP didn't agree to participate in the institutions set up by the Good Friday Agreement until the St. Andrew's Agreement was signed in 2006. They have since sabotaged the operation of those institutions with the result the N. Ireland Assembly and Executive haven't been functioning for almost 3 years.
Over two and a half years since Article 50 was invoked and a year since a Withdrawal Agreement was agreed by the UK government and the EU, Boris Johnson's government is finally going to unveil his proposals for replacing the Backstop just as soon as the Tory Party conference is over today. Apparently it will take the form of a take it or leave it offer issued to the EU just two weeks before the EU Council Summit and four weeks before the UK is due to leave.
It will create not one but two customs borders within Ireland thus reversing previous promises and protestations by both the May government and the DUP that they wanted an open and "friction free" border within Ireland. Given the DUP's track record of operating the Good Friday Agreement institutions, it is not even clear the UK government will adhere to any promises or proposals it is now making.
Reports on latest UK Brexit proposals `concerning'
The Government has described reported new proposals from the British government aimed at ending the Brexit impasse over the Irish border as "concerning".
Prime minister Boris Johnson is expected to present his final offer to the EU to his Conservative colleagues at the conclusion of the party's conference on Wednesday. He is expected to deliver a message that there will be no delay beyond the October 31st deadline for the UK to leave the EU.
According to the Daily Telegraph Mr Johnson will propose scrapping the Irish border backstop - the most contentious part of the deal his predecessor Theresa May signed - and instead placing Northern Ireland in a temporary regime with a time limit. Customs checks would be required between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland -- something Ireland and the EU oppose.
His proposal involves the introduction of two borders, according to the report.
One, a regulatory border in the Irish Sea between Britain and Northern Ireland, would be active for four years, while a second border for customs checks would be set up between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
The report suggests that Northern Ireland will remain in large parts of the European Union single market until at least 2025 but the North will leave the EU customs union along with the rest of the UK.
The Democratic Unionist party (DUP) is largely "content" with the proposals, the Guardian reported separately, adding that the plan is supported by leader Arlene Foster, whose party props up the Conservatives in Westminster.
British officials have made clear to EU counterparts that the legal texts which will be presented are a final offer and unless Brussels is prepared to engage there will be no more talks until after Brexit.
"I haven't seen the proposals yet," he [Irish Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney] said. "I read that Prime Minister Johnson is going to bring forward a proposal tomorrow. Some are even saying he has briefing certain EU capitals in relation to these ideas since Tuesday. We haven't seen anything.
"We'll have to wait and see. Obviously we'll study any proposal carefully, but if the reports are true it doesn't look like the basis of an agreement, that's for sure.
"Our position has been consistent, respectful and clear. If there is to be an alternative to the backstop it has got to do the same job as the backstop, which means no physical border infrastructure on the island of Ireland, and no related checks or controls."
Mr Coveney echoed earlier comments by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that proposals involving customs checks in Ireland would be "bad faith" on the part of the British government.
"If there is a proposal that involves customs checks on the island of Ireland, that in itself is bad faith given the commitments the British government has given both to Ireland and the EU over the last three years," he told the Tonight Show on TV3.
A senior Downing Street official said Mr Johnson's government "is either going to be negotiating a new deal or working on no-deal -- nobody will work on delay".
Given the complexity of the proposals, and the fact that no enabling legislation has even been presented to the House of Commons, it is unclear how the UK government thinks Brexit can proceed on 31st. October in an orderly way even if the EU were to capitulate to the UK ultimatum. But the reality is that the UK government isn't even pretending to try to reach a negotiated settlement and just wants an excuse to be able to blame the EU for the failure to reach one.
I doubt the EU even cares who the UK government wishes to blame at this stage. It has negotiated a Withdrawal Agreement with the previous UK government in good faith and has always been open to workable proposals to replace the backstop provided these didn't result in a hard customs border within Ireland. The dogs in the street now know who has welshed on previous commitments, even if the readers of the Telegraph effect to believe "EU intransigence" is to blame.
The EU Council will undoubtedly dismiss the UK proposals - probably even declining to go through the charade of negotiating with the UK negotiating team. If Boris Johnson carries through with his threat not to seek an A.50 extension in defiance of the "Benn Law" and not tender his resignation, the House of Commons will have no option but to vote No Confidence in his government and seek to appoint a replacement. No doubt Johnson is relying on their reluctance to nominate Corbyn to prevent the formation of an alternative government and give him the election he wants.
Johnson's strategy makes sense in the context of a UK first past the post electoral system where 30% of the vote will be sufficient to secure a majority provided the opposition is sufficiently divided. So long as he can ensure the Brexit party cannot divide the Leave vote, that should be an achievable objective if post Brexit chaos has not yet had the chance to move public opinion. The election cannot come soon enough from his perspective, for that very reason.
Meanwhile Tory dissidents, who would be pivotal in the formation of an alternative caretaker government to prevent a crash out Brexit are whingeing about Johnson's "Trumpian" tactics. It's time they became a bit more ruthless themselves in supporting an alternative administration... Complaining about divisive language just doesn't cut it.
Elsewhere yesterday, Boris Johnson is overseeing a political strategy similar to Donald Trump, the former Tory minister David Gauke has said, as he warned the Conservatives not to descend down a path of populism.
The former justice secretary, who lost the whip after voting to stop a no-deal Brexit, voiced his frustration with the prime minister's strategy, which he said was "Trumpian" in terms of the type of language being used and the overall tone of debate.
A divisive Downing Street, briefings using the phrase "collaborator" and riling up party activists all belong to a strategy that "corresponds more to Trump than to the long tradition of the Conservatives and Winston Churchill", he told the Guardian.
Gauke is no longer able to stand as a Conservative MP, alongside 20 other rebels who were kicked out of the parliamentary Tory party for voting for the Benn Act, which stops a no-deal Brexit and compels Johnson to extend article 50 if he cannot strike a deal, and to pass it through parliament by October 19th.
Several members of the group, including the former chancellor Philip Hammond, are being investigated by Downing Street, which alleges they worked with foreign powers to draft the legislation.
Gauke said the announcement of that investigation, which featured on the front page of the Mail on Sunday, was full of "Trumpian overtones" - primarily "because it's not true".
The reality is Gauke and his fellow independents hold the balance of power in the current parliament if they were not so timid about wielding it. Will they stand idly by while the N. Ireland peace process is is consigned to history just because it suits one man's thirst for power? Real leaders have to put up with a lot more than divisive or inflammatory language and if they fail to exercise real leadership the days of peace in N. Ireland and Britain may well be numbered.
A no deal Brexit is nothing less than a declaration of war against the EU and Ireland and will have to be met with a robust and united response. The real test for the EU Council is how they react to this threat.