Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has insisted he will not allow Britain to bully Ireland with threats of a No Deal Brexit.
The warning comes as Ireland has become one of the key areas of disagreement as the UK tries to reach a withdrawal agreement with the EU.
British Prime Minister Johnson insists that the controversial back stop, the agreement that the UK will stay closely aligned to EU regulations to ensure there is no hard border in Ireland, must be dropped before there can be any discussions about a trade deal.
So far, both Ireland and the other 26 EU countries have insisted that the backstop must remain to ensure there is no hard border that could undermine the Good Friday Agreement that has helped maintain peace in Northern Ireland for the last 20 years.
Johnson and hard right Brexiters in his government see the backstop as a plot to keep the UK effectively trapped by the EU even after it leaves. They say that if the backstop is not removed, Britain will leave the EU with no deal at all and take whatever consequences that brings.
This would see trade tariffs introduced between Britain and the other EU countries. It’s estimated that this could result in the loss of at least 50,000 jobs in Ireland, possibly many more. However, Ireland imports more from Britain than it exports so it’s likely there would be a similar loss of jobs in the UK if trade was interrupted.
This doesn’t seem to concern Johnson, who has ordered that an extra £2.1 billion pounds be spent on planning for a No Deal Brexit.
It’s become a mantra among UK Brexiters that you have to appear tough in negotiations and be prepared to walk away if you don’t get what you want. It’s hoped this no compromise approach will ‘bring Ireland and the EU to their senses’ and make them realise that dropping the backstop is in their interests if they don’t want to lose trade and jobs.
The fact that most economists and business experts across the world believe that a No Deal Brexit would be far more devastating on Britain than the EU doesn’t seem to concern Johnson and his allies.
However, there is no suggestion so far that the tough talking is working, either with the Irish or the rest of Europe.
When asked if he would give in to UK demands, Mr Varadkar replied: “Absolutely not. You know Ireland isn’t going to be bullied on this issue and as a Government and as a country, I think we are going to stick by our position. Brexit wasn’t our idea.”
The President of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, has also insisted the backstop will not dropped. That’s the view echoed by leaders across the EU, including Emmanuel Macron of France and Angela Merkel in Germany.
With both sides so entrenched it’s hard to say where there could be room for compromise or which, if either, of the two sides will blink first.
Written by Andrew Moore