Ex-diplo­mat wants back­stop de­mand to be dropped

The Irish Times - - Home News - DE­NIS STAUNTON Lon­don Ed­i­tor

For­mer Ir­ish diplo­mat Ray Bas­sett has told a meet­ing at West­min­ster that the Gov­ern­ment and the EU should drop their de­mand for a back­stop agree­ment on the Border ahead of next month’s Euro­pean Union sum­mit in Brus­sels.

“I think the back­stop should be dropped be­cause the back­stop can never be put into ef­fect. It is be­ing used as a threat. I have met no­body in Dublin who be­lieves that the back­stop will be im­ple­mented,” he said.

“It’s not re­al­ity. There is no Bri­tish gov­ern­ment that could agree to that. There is com­plete si­lence from Bri­tish politi­cians about this. I’ve heard no­body sup­port the back­stop.”

Dr Bas­sett was speak­ing at the launch of his pam­phlet Brexit and the Border: Where Ire­land’s True In­ter­ests Lie, which is pub­lished by the Po­liteia think tank.

The DUP’s Brexit spokesman at West­min­ster Sammy Wil­son sug­gested that, if the back­stop de­mand could not be aban­doned, it should be put on ice until later in the ne­go­ti­a­tions.

“I can un­der­stand from a po­lit­i­cal point of view why, hav­ing nailed their colours so firmly to the back­stop mast that it is dif­fi­cult for politi­cians to step down. And nei­ther Leo Varad­kar nor Si­mon Coveney are the kind of politi­cians who will step down eas­ily,” he said.

‘Le­gal lan­guage’

“I think the best we can hope for is that rather than in­sist­ing that this must go into le­gal lan­guage be­fore June, it is sim­ply left until the ne­go­ti­a­tions are com­pleted. Be­cause I be­lieve that by com­plet­ing the ne­go­ti­a­tions and get­ting a free trade agree­ment, many of the re­quire­ments around the back­stop would dis­ap­pear any­how. That al­lows all the op­tions to be ex­plored.”

Dr Bas­sett said Dublin was bluff­ing in its ap­proach to Brexit and that the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment should make clear that Theresa May’s red lines are not ne­go­tiable.

“I think the Ir­ish Gov­ern­ment is in­volved in a game of bluff. I think that they’re to­tally con­vinced that the UK is go­ing to come in and say OK to go­ing into the sin­gle mar­ket and the cus­toms union. It’s all pred­i­cated on that and you have to get across to them that this is not go­ing to oc­cur,” he said.

Climb­ing down

Asked at an EU sum­mit in Sofia, Bul­garia about re­ports that Lon­don would ask to stay in the Euro­pean Union’s cus­toms area beyond the end of a post-Brexit tran­si­tion pe­riod in 2020, Ms May de­nied she was “climb­ing down” on plans to leave.

‘‘ It’s not re­al­ity. There is no Bri­tish gov­ern­ment that could agree to that

“No. The United King­dom will be leav­ing the cus­toms union as we’re leav­ing the Euro­pean Union. Of course, we will be ne­go­ti­at­ing fu­ture cus­toms ar­range­ments with the Euro­pean Union and I’ve set three ob­jec­tives,” she told re­porters.

She said the ob­jec­tives were that Bri­tain should have its own trade pol­icy with the rest of the world, should have fric­tion­less trade with the EU and that there would be no hard border in Ire­land.

In talks with Euro­pean Com­mis­sion pres­i­dent Jean-Claude Juncker and Euro­pean Coun­cil pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk, Ms May re­it­er­ated her view that a back­stop agree­ment put for­ward by Brus­sels to pre­vent a hard border was un­ac­cept­able.

“The prime min­is­ter said the UK would shortly put for­ward its own back­stop pro­posal in re­la­tion to cus­toms,” her spokes­woman said.

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