With four weeks to go before British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit deadline of October 31, today he’s unveiling what is likely his last chance at-bat for a deal to the European Union. Most of the details are the same as they were under the proposals offered by Theresa May, but BoJo is throwing in a twist. The biggest sticking point that kept sinking May’s plans was the question of the Irish Backstop. (A plan to prevent a hard border forming between Ireland and Northern Ireland.)
Johnson seems to think he’s solved it. His deal will propose that Northern Ireland remain in a “special relationship” with the EU until at least 2025. This will allow them to remain largely in the EU’s single market for trade purposes, but they will drop out of their customs union like the rest of the UK. (Reuters)
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s new Brexit plan will leave Northern Ireland in a special relationship with Europe until 2025, the Telegraph newspaper reported on Tuesday.
The plan, which will be unveiled on Wednesday, means Northern Ireland will remain in large parts of the European Union single market until at least 2025 but the province will leave the EU customs union along with the rest of the UK, according to the report.
Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party (DUP) is largely “content” with the proposals, the Guardian reported separately, adding that the plan is supported by DUP leader Arlene Foster.
I was reminded this morning that this deal is awfully similar to what the EU offered several years ago. At that time, the Conservative Party turned their nose up at it because of complications with the DUP. But an awful lot of water has gone under the bridge since then and perhaps the Tories will see it as the only game in town.
Finding something that the DUP could go along with was one of the major challenges for the Brexiteeers, and the fact that they seem to be willing to give this idea a tentative thumbs-up is encouraging. But they don’t have the final say. Ireland still has to sign off on it (and they’re not committing to anything yet) and the EU still has to accept the pitch. But if Johnson pulls this off he will once again have vastly exceeded people’s expectations of him.
Of course, this “new” idea about how to handle the Irish backstop doesn’t really solve anything, does it? All it does is take the same problem they’ve been haggling over from the beginning and kick the can down to the road for six years. Sure, that allows Johnson to walk away with a deal and complete Brexit as he promised. It also gets him out of the trap of that new law Parliament recently passed demanding a three-month pause if there was no deal.
But what happens in 2025? By then we can probably assume that the UK will have all of their new trade deals around the world in place. But the Northern Ireland question will still be waiting in the wings. If everything else falls apart and a hard border in Ireland suddenly comes back, decades of progress toward ending the “troubles” there will be in danger of being lost. That would result in a massive headache for whoever happens to be Prime Minister then.
Of course, the EU could still reject the deal today and we’d be right back where we started. And in that case, I’m not sure I would bet a lot of money on Johnson still being the Prime Minister by the time 2020 arrives.