PM calls backstop undemocratic: he has odd idea of democracy

InFacts, 12.08.2019
David H.A. Hannay, miembro de la Cámara de los Lores y ex embajador británico (UE-ONU)

No 10’s spokesman has taken to metronomically calling the Irish backstop “undemocratic”. Is it in any way justified?

Well, there is no doubt at all that the people of Northern Ireland voted by a substantial majority in 2016 to remain in the EU. So the backstop, which is merely designed to ensure that the economic relationship between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland remains the same until effective alternative arrangements, which do not currently exist, are put in place to avoid any new border controls replacing those removed by the Good Friday Agreement. So the only thing undemocratic in Northern Ireland terms is the Democratic Unionist Party’s insistence on removing the backstop.

What about the UK as a whole, which did vote to leave the EU in 2016? Well the Good Friday Agreement is part of the constitutional order of the UK, and maintaining it by avoiding any new border controls was entrenched in statute in the 2018 EU Withdrawal Act. So that can hardly be said to be undemocratic.

If the UK leaves the EU without a deal it is not the EU which will necessitate the levying of tariffs on goods crossing the border between the two parts of Ireland. It will be the obligations which both the UK and the EU have entered into democratically under their membership of the WTO which will require that.

So where is the claim of a lack of democracy in the Irish backstop coming from? Presumably it lies in the determination of a majority of the Conservative party to reject that part of an agreement freely entered into with the EU by the previous prime minister – ignoring the fact that the current prime minister signed up to the core principle in December 2017 when he was foreign secretary? (See para 49 of the “Joint Report”). That is a pretty odd definition of democracy.

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