EIRE’s Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, told Irish broadcaster RTE that it will be ‘very difficult’ for the UK and the EU to reach a Brexit agreement before the October 31st deadline. This is because ‘big gaps’ remained between the two sides. Although he reassured Boris Johnson during a 45-minute phone call on Tuesday that he would ‘strive until the last moment’ to reach a deal with Britain, he would not do so at Ireland’s, Northern Ireland’s or the EU’s expense. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also informed the Prime Minister that his plans for a deal are ‘overwhelmingly unlikely’ to be approved by the European Council on October 17th.
The Irish backstop has become the stumbling block that is preventing Brussels and London from reaching a post-Brexit deal. Since it was proposed as part of Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement (WA), it has been loathed by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the Conservative Party’s European Research Group (ERG). May wasted her time trying to persuade Parliament to accept her deal, even though it was rejected three times. She also failed to suggest her own alternative to the backstop. May continually delayed Britain’s date of departure and European leaders made clear that the WA was the only deal that they could accept. After taking no-deal off the table, the EU knew the former Prime Minister was never serious about the following motto: ‘any deal is better than a bad deal.’
Since becoming Prime Minister, Boris has recognised how damaging the backstop is to persuading his Westminster colleagues to approve of the WA. During the Conservative Party Conference, he stated how he would replace it. He proposed to replace the backstop with a protocol on Northern Ireland/Ireland grouped around five central points, one of them being a commitment to not implement a hard border between EIRE and Ulster to preserve the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
The Irish protocol aims to create an all-island single market with the same rules north and south of the border for farming, food production and manufacturing. This would mean goods produced and animals raised in Northern Ireland would not be subject to compulsory EU checks if exported to EIRE, and vice versa. Furthermore, the all-island single market can only be triggered if Stormont consent to it at the end of the transition period in December 2020. Boris’s deal would also ensure that this country leaves the Customs Union and the Single Market completely. Because this idea earned the DUP’s and ERG’s support, it shows that the Prime Minister broke the Brexit impasse among his colleagues.
Ireland’s refusal to support this protocol is disappointing because a no-deal Brexit will harm their economy. 2 to 2.5 per cent of their GDP could be wiped out in 2030 and it could be 1.5 per cent lower in general by 2021. Businesses are demanding their share of Ireland’s €10.4 billion corporate tax intake reserved for businesses trading in both directions that could be hit by tariffs after Halloween. John McGrane, the Director General of the British Irish Chamber Commerce, proposed that the Irish Government can shore up indigenous companies most at risk from Brexit. But these are unnecessary costs to the Irish taxpayer just because Varadkar refuses to compromise.
The Taoiseach would do well to listen to Bertie Ahern, who is one of his predecessors. The Irish Times reports that Ahern believes Boris’s proposals should be examined carefully before he calls an election claiming that the EU rejected them. He called on Brussels and the Irish Government to clarify their position on the Prime Minister’s protocol. If Dublin and the EU refuse to budge on the Irish backstop, the impact a no-deal Brexit could have on Ireland will be devastating. They will only have themselves to blame if the UK quits the trading bloc without a deal on October 31st.