Peter Foster @pmdfoster Europe Editor of the Daily Telegraph. Formerly based in Washington DC, Beijing and New Delhi. Opinions my own. Jun. 25, 2019 5 min read

So what to make of @BorisJohnson comments on #Brexit and the Irish border?

My guess is that it is aimed more at Dublin than at Brussels....some thoughts. 1/thread

 https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2019/06/25/irish-government-will-come-huge-pressure-boris-johnsons-coming/ 

First, the content of what he is saying.

1. The Bill. He wants to attach strings about "when and how" the money is paid over.

This is old Brexiteer (@DavidDavisMP) thinking - the 'bill' as down payment on future, rather than EU view of settling debt /2

It's a sensitive subject in Brussels, but I think it's about wanting to argue for a changed dynamic in phase 2.

Boris will argue he will 'tackle hard' in second half, but needs more than warm words. Needs to point to leverage. /3

Alas it's illegal. And the EU will say 'no' - but they might dress up a 'timetable of payments' as conditionality (the settlement is disbursed over a long period anyway, so perhaps this could be dressed up). /4

 https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2019/06/16/cox-legal-advice-could-thwart-boris-plan-withhold-brexit-bill/ 

Then there is the border question - Boris wants an 'implementation period' to thrash out what he calls the 'abundant technical fixes' on the Irish border.

I suspect many of the ideas laid out yesterday by @ShankerSingham1 - see here and Tweet threads from y'day.

Link here, with pertinent thoughts from @SamuelMarcLowe @ManufacturingNI @DavidHenigUK about the obvious shortcomings....but the point is that Borisworld believes they CAN work and - one way or the other - via deal or no deal, in the end will work /6

 https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2019/06/24/can-irish-border-trilemma-solved-new-brexiteer-focused-group/ 

This might seem like a statement of the obvious, but I think it is important part of the thinking - that the in the end the Irish government and Irish people cannot expect 'no change' from Brexit. They are clinging on to a maximalist approach that can't hold. /7

This is why @ShankerSingham1 at yesterday's Alternative Arrangements conference was prepared to dilute the 2017 commitment to 'no infrastructure' and no *related* checks and controls.....which brings us back to PM Boris and phase two/8

There is some talk that a 'time limit' to the backstop might be sufficient concession for Boris to get the deal through parliament.

Again. Something concrete that he can point to, to argue that the Phase Two dynamic will be different. That AA will have to be made to work /9

But others in Brexitland say this is NOT enough - the backstop (time-limited or otherwise) must be ditched and we go straight to the hunt for 'Alt Arrangements', no 'backstop' safety net - a position the EU and Ireland could (we are told) never accept....except.... /10

What if the alternative is 'no deal'?

Then the choice facing Dublin is between 'no deal' chaos now (and guaranteed economic damage) - or a concession that leads to a prolonged hunt for alternative arrangements, and the much more distant risk of a 'no deal' /11

In short the EU is fully expecting a 'no dealer' UK govt to put the heat on Dublin - reminding them that a 'no deal' =

a) 4% GDP loss in year one, per Irish Central Bank

b) a return to a border in Ireland, assuming Dublin wont want checks with EU26. /12

And as I report today the EU26 are now asking for details of how that border will work if the UK does not - as the EU demands in it's no deal notices - live up to the 'letter and spirit' of the Good Friday deal and push checks back to the Irish Sea. /13

 https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2019/06/24/ireland-eu-pressure-lay-plans-border-fears-mount-no-deal-brexit/ 

So how 'cunning' is this plan? Might it ever work?

Particularly if a Johnson administration could show a majority for WA with a 'time-limit', and the 'fix' could be sold as a great 'win' and act of statesmanship by @LeoVaradkar to save the day.

Mmmm... /14

Lots of problem here.

1) Leo has politics too! Polls show 8/10 Irish votes want him to stand firm on the backstop.

If British pressure goes on with veiled economic threats, you could see that figure going to 10/10!

In short, bullying will likely backfire. /15

2. This misses the EU's role - they don't want the Irish border issue bilateralised; they don't want to hand great victory to a 'populist' - as they see him - like Boris Johnson.

So while an flex is always 'Ireland decision' - it is not limitless. /16

3. It also underestimates Ireland's broader strategic decision throughout the Brexit process to hang its long term future on the European Union - just as Brexit is not all about economics for Brexiteers, not is solely about economics for the Irish. /17

4. In that vein, the Irish also have the EU for back-up.

If they sit tight and refuse to budge, then they get either

a) A general election, new maths/government

b) a no deal, but with the EU doing the arm-twisting. /18

The EU Commission has made it clear in is no deal notices that UK co-operation on the Irish border is a "precondition" of any talks on the future - so PM Johnson can forget his dirty GATT XXIV trade deal if the border is a mess. /19

Perhaps that is why, if you read between the lines of the Alternative Arrangements Commission document, you can see already the groundwork being laid for an NI-only backstop....which is what @LeoVaradkar outline in Brussels last week when asked. /20

For now - and with the DUP still needing to be on board - this is a solution that dare not speak its name.

For now, Brexiteers remain firmly wedded to the belief they can leave EU single market & customs union and deliver a tech border in pretty short order. /21

That will remain the state of play until, one way of another - an election, a 'no deal', a 'no deal' election - something gives.

Because, for the reasons outlined above, I'm not betting yet on Ireland, or the Irish border communities folding and accepting half-measures./22 ENDS


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