12:02 GMT28 September 2020
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    It is entirely possible that Brexit will take place as scheduled if the Parliament votes for Prime Minister Theresa May's deal, according to UK Trade Minister Liam Fox. This comes as the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has stated that the bloc is ready to give Britain more guarantees that the Irish backstop is intended to be temporary.

    Sputnik has discussed this with Donnacha O'Beachain, associate professor at the School of Law and Government, Dublin City University.

    Sputnik: Brussels assures London that the backstop will not be in place indefinitely but what actually happens afterwards if the two sides fail to figure out how to avoid a hard border?

    Donnacha O'Beachain: Well, in terms of what London is looking for, which is legally binding changes to the withdrawal agreement that will somehow make the backstop a temporary phenomenon, Brussels simply is not willing to provide such a change. It can provide, and this is what Michel Barnier said, it can provide clarifications, it can provide assurances and it can provide expressions of intent, but these are additional to the backstop. They're not a substitute for the backstop. There's no reopening of the withdrawal agreement and, therefore, what we're engaged in now it seems almost a running down of the clock closer and closer to this cliff edge of the 29th of March.

    What the British are looking for in terms of changes is they'd like a time limit to the backstop or a unilateral exit mechanism whereby they could withdraw at any moment from the backstop, and that's simply not a runner, otherwise it's not a backstop of course. A backstop is an all-weather insurance policy and it's a way of trying to reconcile Britain's red lines.

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    Britain has said it wants to leave the customs union, it wants to leave the single market and then the question is how will that impact on the border in Ireland, the British border in Ireland. And as far back as 2017 the British agreed to a backstop, they're only realising how important it is now, they agreed to it when David Davis was Brexit Secretary and when Boris Johnson was Foreign Secretary.

    These are prominent Brexiteers, and it's a UK-wide backstop, and that was done at the insistence of the British government. So as I said there's no evidence that the EU intends to open negotiations on this issue. So there's a large sense of theatre about this current process of visiting different capitals, trying to meet different leaders when ultimately the positions aren't fundamentally changing in London, in Dublin, or in Brussels.

    Sputnik: Professor, to what extent could the controversy over the border mobilise divisions on the island and undermined the Good Friday agreement?

    Donnacha O'Beachain: It's already mobilised divisions and it's already undermined the Good Friday Agreement even before Brexit has come into effect. Indeed, that's the major cause of there being no power-sharing government in Northern Ireland because the DUP is essentially in alliance with the ruling Conservative Party in Britain. There's no incentive to be involved in a power-sharing government in Northern Ireland, and what Brexit has done is, it has unilaterally undermined the Constitution, the very delicate constitutional settlement of the Good Friday Agreement by taking Northern Ireland out of the European Union against the will, and this has to be stressed, against the will of the majority of people in Northern Ireland who want to remain in the EU.

    So this has led in turn to increased calls for a border poll on united Ireland once the Brexit dust has settled, and, of course, it has implications for Scotland as well. There's talk of a second referendum there on independence.

    Sputnik: With the Brexit date just around the corner what chances does Theresa May stand to sell her deal to the lawmakers?

    Donnacha O'Beachain: Oh, I think there's no chance at all. Firstly it's not her deal, it's a deal that was signed on behalf of the British government with the European Union. British commentators tend to stress it's her deal to undermine its legitimacy, but it's a British government deal with the European Union. She's already put it to the British Parliament. It's already been tried, the verdict has come in and it has been comprehensively defeated and the parliamentary arithmetic hasn't changed dramatically since that huge defeat in the Commons. So there's no reason to believe that it would be passed on the 12th of March.

    Sputnik: What scenario do you think is most likely for March 29? Will the country leave the bloc?

    Donnacha O'Beachain: There's a whole range of scenarios that are possible. That's why it's so dramatic and each of them enjoys a certain degree of plausibility. At this stage it looks like an extension might be on the cards, but to have an extension, first, you to have to get the British government to ask for one, that will, of course, annoy influential elements within the Conservative Party who want to be out of the European Union, who want Brexit by the end of this month even if it means jumping off a cliff economically. You'd have to get parliamentary approval for such an extension.

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    That as Theresa May has discovered in the past is not something that is easy to get. And finally, you'd have to get the European Union to agree to such an extension. The European Union has made it clear that it's not going to simply agree to an extension if it just gives the British more time to decide. They just have to make a decision and then maybe there might be an extension to implement that decision, but it's simply not to give more time to deliberate. That time has now passed.

    Sputnik: Changing the topics slightly professor, what are the prospects of the UK trade with other nations post-Brexit and, in particular, with the United States? Trade Minister Liam Fox says that he won't except things in trade talks with United States that are against the interests of British consumers…

    Donnacha O'Beachain: Well, he may say that, but the question is how can he guarantee that. The prospects are not good to be frank. Negotiations firstly take time and, for example, the EU-Canada agreement took seven years to negotiate. So there's not going to be any instant agreement. These things will take a lot of time, they won't be the next year or two.

    The British government is desperate to get these new deals to replace the existing European Union ones and its perspective trading partners know this and, indeed, have already made clear that they will expect concessions from the British side to secure such deals. You have this obvious asymmetry of power. Donald Trump was brought to prominence in America on an America First mandate. So if you have two negotiating partners, one is America First, one is Britain First and America's economy is so much greater, so much more powerful than Britain's we know who will come out the stronger for this.

    And we've already seen that dynamic in British negotiations with the European Union, we will see it again with negotiations with China. So what we're seeing is a rather painful lesson on the fundamentals of global politics and economics that the powerful do what they have the power to do and the weaker have to accept it. And the UK, unfortunately, is leaving a powerful trading bloc to be on its own in the world. And I think one of the tragedies that you will get Brexit, Brexit will happen but it won't be in the form that the British public were led to believe it would come.

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    It certainly won't be as promised. And, indeed, it reminds me of that old, wise saying of that legendary Irishman Oscar Wilde, who said there's only one thing worse in the world than not getting what you want and that is getting what you want. And, indeed, with Brexit there's only one thing worse in the world than not getting Brexit and, as the British electorate will find out, that will be Brexit.

    The views expressed in this article are solely those of Donnacha O'Beachain and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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