[Boris ]Johnson brings bumptious optimism but few specifics

Posted By: September 09, 2019

Distributed by Irish National Caucus
“Good for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar! He continues to stand firm for both parts of Ireland.
Fr. Sean McManus.

[Boris ]Johnson brings bumptious optimism but few specifics

Varadkar says we will not “agree to the replacement of legal guarantee with a promise”

Pat Leahy. Irish Times. Dublin. Monday, September 9, 2019
British prime minister Boris Johnson arrived in Dublin on Monday for his first meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar bearing his trademark bumptious optimism but little by way of specifics about what could be in a new deal on Brexit or how he would get it through parliament.

Johnson declared himself “absolutely undaunted” by the attempts of the British parliament to stop him taking the UK out of the EU without a deal and said that the Irish border issue could be overcome with “sufficient energy and a spirit of compromise.”

But he declined to give any detail—in public anyway—about measures that could reconcile the EU and UK positions, instead citing technology, trusted trader schemes and an all-Ireland zone for animals – all suggested previously by the UK and rejected as insufficient by the EU.

The joint statement issued afterward noted “common ground” in some areas—but “significant gaps” in others.

Unsurprisingly, Johnson said it was essential Britain left the EU by the deadline of October 31st, insisting it should be possible to do so while preserving the unchecked movement of people and goods across the Irish border, maintaining the Good Friday agreement and protecting the economic unity of the island of Ireland.

“I think we can achieve these things while allowing the UK to withdraw whole and entire from the EU,” he said. “Strip away the politics and at the core of each problem you find practical issues that can be resolved with sufficient energy and a spirit of compromise,” Mr. Johnson said.

But beyond the enthusiastic exhortations and familiar can-do attitude, Mr. Johnson gave no indication of how exactly the impasse can be overcome.

The nearest he got to specifics was a reiteration of previous ideas about technology and trusted trader schemes – all, as he knows, rejected by Brussels and Dublin as insufficient to keep the current standards of openness at the border.

Of the most interesting idea floated by Johnson in recent days—of extending an all-Ireland zone for animals and agri-food to other sectors—there was no mention, at least in public. Varadkar said yesterday he would discuss the matter with Johnson.

Asked in Dublin if he was bringing forward new proposals, Johnson replied: “There are an abundance of proposals that we have but I don’t think reasonable to share with you today, we have indicated areas progress needs to be made.”

Johnson said everyone understood the political sensitivities of the Irish border. He said: “But also we must allow UK democratic decision to be honored, I genuinely think it can be done, there is a way forward and I’m delighted it’s been approached in a positive way in Dublin.”

Welcoming his guest, the Taoiseach struck a polite but notably firm tone, warning him that even if there was a no-deal, the UK would be back to square one with the EU’s negotiating priorities remaining unchanged.

“There’s no such thing as a clean break, or just getting it done,” Varadkar told his guest. “Rather we’ll just move on to a new phase.”

That phrase, he said, would begin by addressing the first items on the agenda for any new – “citizens rights, the financial settlement, and the Irish border.”

“All issues which we had resolved in the Withdrawal Agreement made with your predecessor – an agreement made in good faith with 28 governments,” Varadkar added, pointedly.

It’s been a source of continuous bemusement in Dublin that there seems to be little or no appreciation in the UK of what comes after a no-deal.

As Irish officials point out, unless the British wish to keep trading on unfavorable terms with half of their export markets, there will be a trade deal. But before that happens, the British must conclude a withdrawal agreement.

Varadkar warned agreeing a new trade deal with the EU and the US would be a “Herculean” task but assured Johnson that Ireland wanted to be “your friend and your ally – your Athena, in doing so.”

Helpful but not moving on the critical issue of the backstop Varadkar was, he said, “ready to listen to any constructive ways in which we can achieve our agreed goals and resolve the current impasse.

“But what we will not do is agree to the replacement of a legal guarantee with a promise.”

He said the Irish Government was committed to the backstop, but willing to accept alternatives to it, “but we haven’t received such proposals to date.”