By golly, that almost sounds like an invitation. Donald Tusk summed up succinctly the prospects for Theresa May’s attempt to reopen Brexit negotiations with the EU. In a joint press conference with Ireland’s Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, the EU Council president mulled over the existence of a “special place in Hell” for Brexit advocates and insisted that negotiations are over:
— Reuters UK (@ReutersUK) February 6, 2019
The European Union will make no new offer on Brexit and those who promoted Britain’s exit without any understanding of how to deliver it deserve a “special place in hell”, EU Council President Donald Tusk said on Wednesday. …
Rebuffing May’s bid to renegotiate just a day before she is due in Brussels, Tusk said he had abandoned hope that Brexit might be stopped and said his priority was now to avert a “fiasco” when the UK leaves.
“I’ve been wondering what that special place in hell looks like, for those who promoted Brexit, without even a sketch of a plan how to carry it out safely,” Tusk said at a joint news conference with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.
The remark angered Brexit supporters in Britain.
No doubt that it did, but the EU appears to have lost patience with the British too, who cannot agree on any proposal for their EU exit. They thought that Theresa May had negotiated on the basis of carrying her own parliamentary majority, meaning that the complex package to which she agreed had solved the problem. Now she wants to come back and ask for more concessions without any sense that May speaks for a majority at all. Why would the EU consider May a credible negotiator worthy of offering concessions after her parliamentary debacle, even if they were inclined to make any further concessions?
May still doesn’t have an alternate plan for the backstop that would prevent a hard border going up in Ireland. Her Northern Ireland partners want the backstop tossed out entirely, which the EU simply won’t accept, ever:
As a way to prevent a hard border, Brussels and London agreed a so-called backstop – basically a promise that unless the sides come up with a better idea then the United Kingdom would remain bound by EU market and customs rules so that goods would not have to be checked.
But the Northern Irish party which props up May’s minority government says it could endanger the province’s place in the United Kingdom, while Brexit supporters in May’s Conservative Party worry it would lock the country into EU rules for the long term. …
While the EU has been clear it does not want to reopen the divorce deal, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said a creative solution could break the impasse.
But diplomats in Brussels said they had heard no new proposals from London and the risk of a no-deal exit was increasing. EU leaders, diplomats said, were frustrated at May’s failure to build a consensus on Brexit.
The hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland was eliminated by two developments: the Good Friday Agreement and the bilateral membership of both sides in the EU. It is impossible to ignore that Brexit creates two customs regimes on the island and the need to enforce the differing regulations of both. That also undermines the GFA, especially since Northern Ireland’s parties have gone for two years without forming a governing coalition for an executive in Stormont. Common membership in the EU meant that border pressures no longer complicated an already complicated political environment in the six counties. Yanking Northern Ireland out of the EU creates a whole new political dynamic between Ireland and the UK.
Speaking of which, Sinn Féin reminded May today of her obligations under the GFA. If the backstop disappears and/or a hard border appears, they want a referendum on leaving the UK and rejoining the other 26 counties on the island:
“We have said to her, in the event of a crash, in the event of a Tory crash, that she must as a democrat return to the Good Friday Agreement, and she must begin preparation for a referendum on Irish unity,” Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said.
“If British politics cannot accept the specific needs of this country, of the north of Ireland, if British politics is incapable of acknowledging and upholding the Good Friday Agreement and preventing a hardening of the border, then the only last option – the backstop of last resort – is a referendum on Irish unity,” she said.
There’s no guarantee that Sinn Féin would win such a referendum — but after watching the incompetent collapse of the Tories on Brexit, it’s not a sure loser either. The Scots are also talking about a new referendum on independence that would allow them to remain within the EU, setting up a new hard border in Britain. Disunion has few limiting principles, especially when the people who pushed it have proven incapable of delivering or managing it. Ireland and the EU are not inclined to pull Brexiteers’ chestnuts out of this fire … or apparently the fires of Hell, either.