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Boris, Brexit, and the backstop Boris, Brexit, and the backstop

George Garwood

Monday, September 09, 2019

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Boris Johnson, the newly 'selected' British Prime Minister — selected by the Conservative Party's Members of Parliament, and not elected by the British people in a general election — in order to cut off any further meaningful debate in Parliament on his single-minded ambition to secede from the European Union, unless he gets what he wants, has decided to close down Parliament for five weeks. His suspension of Parliament has been greeted by sheer disbelief and dismay by many in the Opposition camp, and met with incredulity, even by some members of his own Conservative Party.

On the other hand, there are those Brexiters, and anti-Europeans in Britain, including British nationalists who hail Boris's move as both necessary and desirable in order for the UK to make a speedy exit from Europe — A Europe they claim that has hijacked English sovereignty; that has imposed all kinds of draconian rules on Britain; a Europe, which drains the financial coffers of Britain; and floods Britain with lots of undesirable immigrants.

Boris has pledged, come what may, deal or no deal, that Britain will be getting out of Europe by October 31, 2019. This is B-day (Brexit Day or D-day (Deliverance Day) from the iniquitous tentacles of Europe. However, legal and political challenges are being mounted to stop Boris from unilaterally locking down Parliament; and, street protests are gathering apace to register people's disgust and disapproval of Boris's actions which some liken to a coup.

The unanswered, but pertinent question still remains: That is, what will happen if and when Britain crashes out of Europe without a deal?

There is great consternation among the 'Remainers' and those who want to have a deal; but, for those who want to crash out at any cost, it is worth it; for, they seem to believe that Britain, or at least England, will once again be free; be able to chart its own course in the world, and make trade deals with like-minded countries. That, despite any possible economic and political disadvantages, Brexiters feel they would have won a great victory, for at least they would have regained something of their former imperial glory.

But, the major sticking point, though, in the Brexit negotiations is the 'little problem' of the Irish backstop.

The EU insists on having the backstop to preserve the integrity of the border between Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. The EU, and also Southern Ireland, does not want a hard border between those two jurisdictions — North and South. Such a hard border would jeopardise the peace accord between North and South, and a hard border would also require setting up physical barriers and controls, as well as the creation of tariff and Customs inspection regimes which would be inimical to peace and progress between North and South. And, such a hard border would potentially have serious implications for the pan-European project. So the EU wants this backstop, so that goods, and even the free movement of citizens in the Eurozone can continue without undue hindrances.

Now, this is what Boris fears — that this backstop would lock Britain into EU rules and regulations (The Single Market and Custom Union) for years to come, and thus keep Britain tethered to EU diktats.

Other options — softer ones — have been proposed; for example, having the border somewhere else, or allowing some goods in and out without intrusive inspections, but these options are untested and their results uncertain and unpredictable.

So, for the foreseeable future, Boris — just like Theresa May before him after almost three years of Brexit negotiations — has failed to achieve a solution. Boris now finds that he faces the same problems, especially, the Backstop issue.

May's various plans were rejected by the Members of Parliament. Boris, however, thinks that if he cuts out the parliamentary and democratic 'intrusions' that he will be able to force through a settlement on his own terms with the EU; that, in fact, he alone in competition with the 27-member EU body will not only bring them to the negotiation table — but, actually, he will supervise their surrender.

But Boris is sadly mistaken, for not only has he made matters worse for himself by suspending Parliament – thus garnering hostility at home — but he has given the EU more leverage; for the backstop becomes even more central to their demands and also the demands of other stakeholders, like the Irish. Plus, his 'palace coup' has given the Scots more reason to sue for independence.

If Boris does not do an about-face — and he can by trying to convince his Eurosceptic partners and Brexiters that idealism has its limits, but that reality and pragmatism serves a greater good and that a united Europe, with Britain being a central partner is preferable to a divided and solitary Britain — his time as prime minister may be the shortest in British history.

Dr George Garwood is a Jamaican writer and professor of world religions. He resides in Florida, USA, but is a peripatetic observer of human affairs as he travels around trying to understand human behaviour. Send comments to the Observer or merleneg@yahoo.com.


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