Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Boris Johnson's vision for Brexit won't break deadlock

Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Editor's Viewpoint

Boris Johnson has done what he promised - and what many people thought was impossible - by presenting his vision of how to forge a deal with the European Union before leaving. That is the charitable view of the proposals he unveiled yesterday but which have been received in a lukewarm manner by both Brussels and Dublin.

Effectively, the proposals would see Northern Ireland remain tied to the EU single market for goods but leave the customs union. They would also give a reconvened devolved government at Stormont the power to vote on whether to keep the arrangements every four years.

What is most surprising is that it has taken all this time for any new thinking on Brexit to emerge and there certainly is insufficient time for any deal to be agreed, never mind signed before Mr Johnson's self-imposed October 31 leaving date.

While there are some who feel the proposals have legs - the DUP has welcomed them warmly even if there is a suggestion of a border in the Irish Sea, a former red line, and that other goods as well as those from the agri-food sector would retain regulatory alignment with the EU to prevent a hard border on the most susceptible industries - political opponents have been quick to accuse the DUP of rowing back on its former hardline stance on Brexit, a charge denied by leader Arlene Foster.

Others see the proposals as more smoke and mirrors by the Prime Minister. He is accused of giving the impression of wanting a deal but secure in the knowledge that proposals - at least in their current form - will not be accepted and thence he can opt for a no-deal Brexit and accuse the EU negotiators of bad faith or, in his words, a failure of statecraft.

Brexit has been a hugely divisive issue and in Northern Ireland the split between those wanting to leave and those wanting to remain has been largely along Orange and Green lines. That has created a very toxic debate and, as with all such issues, it all boils down to zero sum politics.

If one side is seen to win any concession this is interpreted as a loss for the other side, and hence compromise and leadership is abandoned in favour of remaining in respective secure silos.

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To date the most positive suggestion to emerge is for a time-limited backstop. That would give Northern Ireland the best of both worlds, but most of all create a less toxic breathing space where a positive deal could be agreed.

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