Sir, – Brexit is an act of political vandalism. It might have been averted, even at this stage, if Emmanuel Macron had allowed a longer extension; but it now looks inevitable. So we are in to damage limitation, both for Ireland and the UK. That means a deal, and the transition period which comes with it. What would make that possible? Repugnant though it is to think of rewarding Boris Johnson’s bluster, the reality is that he will have to be given something that he can present as a concession if any sort of compromise is to be worked out.
Can that be done without prejudice to the substance of what Ireland and the EU legitimately require?
The key may be in the timing of the backstop.
It will not actually be needed, if it ever is, until the end of the transition period. So why not leave it to be settled during the transition period, which is when the negotiations on the future trading relationship will take place?
If those negotiations make it unnecessary, that is a win. If they show that some more palatable alternative could be equally effective, that is a win. And if it proves still to be necessary, then it would presumably remain a red line for Ireland and the EU, a precondition for agreement on the trading relationship. At worst that would mean a hard Brexit in several years’ time; but much better to gain time for negotiations rather than leap to that outcome now. Deferral of agreement on the backstop would remove the main stumbling block to a deal, but need not imply any diminution in the EU’s determination to have one, if it is necessary. Ireland and the EU would not lose anything substantive, but they would gain time.
It might be objected that to do this would involve a loss of face. Lyndon Johnson was once given the same warning. He replied: “It is not my face I am worried about”. Equally applicable today! – Yours, etc,