‘Boris Gang‘ leader Boris Johnson is looking increasingly isolated as it appears his Brexit strategy is completely unworkable. This is largely thanks to the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Sinn Féin and the US Congress.
US congress will block trade deal if there’s no backstop
Republicans and Democrats in the US congress have made it clear that if Johnson’s Brexit strategy continues to exclude the Irish backstop, then Congress will block the US-UK trade agreement promised by Donald Trump. This is because the exclusion of the backstop could jeopardise the Good Friday Agreement (GFA).
Republican co-chair of the Friends of Ireland group Pete King said:
I would think anyone who has a strong belief in Northern Ireland and the Good Friday agreement [and] open border would certainly be willing to go against the president.
This follows comments earlier this year by House speaker Nancy Pelosi:
If there were to be any weakening of the Good Friday accords then there would be no chance whatsoever, a non starter, for a US-UK trade agreement.
Amanda Sloat of the Brookings Institution in Washington, meanwhile, stressed that:
There will be significant resistance, as Speaker Pelosi has said, to ratifying a trade agreement that is seen to harm the Good Friday agreement or the interests of people in Northern Ireland.
At the same time, Sinn Féin has made it equally clear that it will insist on a border poll if the backstop is abandoned. On a visit to Northern Ireland by Johnson, Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald said:
In the event of a hard Brexit and a crash Brexit, I don’t know for the life of me how anybody could sustain an argument that things remain the same … I don’t know how Britain could crash this part of Ireland out of the EU with all of the attendant harm and damage economically and politically and, with a straight face, suggest to any of us who live on this island that we should not be given the democratic opportunity as per the Good Friday agreement to decide our future. I think that would be quite scandalous.
This is agreed under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement:
It is hereby declared that Northern Ireland in its entirety remains part of the United Kingdom and shall not cease to be so without the consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland voting in a poll held for the purposes of this section in accordance with Schedule 1.
The Agreement adds:
But if the wish expressed by a majority in such a poll is that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland, the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament such proposals to give effect to that wish as may be agreed between Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom and the Government of Ireland.
And if a border poll shows a majority support for a united Ireland, then Irish unification would become a reality.
Regardless, the DUP insists it will reject the backstop.
A UN treaty that cannot be easily changed
The Good Friday Agreement came about partly in an attempt to reconcile the nationalist and unionist communities in the north of Ireland and to end sectarian and state-sponsored violence. It is a UN treaty and, as such, no change can be made to it without the full agreement of the UK and the Republic of Ireland.
In October 2018, the deputy head of the Irish government (and minister for foreign affairs), Simon Coveney, confirmed this arrangement:
It [the Good Friday Agreement is a treaty that is lodged with the UN. It’s not a piece of legislation that can be changed by one government. So the British government can’t unilaterally change the Good Friday Agreement and I don’t believe that the British government wants to do that.
The Irish backstop problem would appear to be insoluble. And it will probably remain that way, even if Johnson calls a general election (or is forced to call one) and wins enough extra seats in parliament to avoid dependency on the DUP. That’s because Johnson doesn’t want the backstop either, as it will mean the UK will effectively be in a customs union and single market with the EU. As he recently said:
…we have to have that backstop out of the deal, we cannot go on with the withdrawal agreement as it currently is.
Consequently, given all the complications, Johnson’s Brexit strategy now seems entirely unworkable.
Note: This article originally appeared in The Canary. For the unabridged text, click here.
writes for The Canary