Total Pageviews

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Boris Johnson can play the Brexit blame game all he likes – the world won’t fall for it (Guardian)

The Guardian title: Boris Johnson can play the Brexit blame game all he likes – the world won’t fall for it

The Guardian subtitle: On his first day in office, the prime minister said the buck stopped with him. No wonder he’s desperate for a scapegoat

Opinion by: Bobby McDonagh, Ireland’s ambassador to the UK from 2009 to 2013

Date of publication: 10 October 2019

"The Brexit blame game has moved centre stage. The strange thing, however, is that the game is already up.

The British government, as the champions of the Brexit project, understandably attach increasing importance to this blame game. Fearful of being caught red-handed as the foolish project increasingly runs into reality, their aim is to shift the focus on to others. As the immense damage to the UK’s interests, influence and wellbeing becomes clearer, their search for Brexit culprits is vital. The risk of a no-deal departure from the EU, which would maximise the national and international damage, intensifies this frantic hunt further.

The blame game has become so important that few people are able to assess the real intention of Johnson’s latest Brexit proposals, which in their present form could never form the basis for agreement. It is impossible to be sure whether they represent a genuine attempt to negotiate an agreement or are rather designed to provide further ammunition for blaming others for the collapse of negotiations.

The EU still hopes the proposals are sincere and remains open to working towards a deal. Johnson and Leo Varadkar’s meeting in Liverpool today in principle has been convened to find a compromise over the Northern Irish backstop – but the ultimate hope for the prime minister may be to point an accusatory finger at the taoiseach in the event of failure.

It matters little to the Johnson government who is at fault, as long as the finger is not pointed at Downing Street. The accusation that Ireland is manipulating Brussels has been interchangeable with the directly conflicting assertion that Brussels is manipulating Ireland. Preposterously, the EU has been compared to the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Personal targets also abound. Jean-Claude Juncker, Michel Barnier, Emmanuel Macron and Varadkar are just some of those randomly included in the identity parade of the innocent.

There are also plenty of domestic British scapegoats. Britain’s courts and judges have been vilified. Its civil service has been pilloried. Its parliament is falsely portrayed as being in opposition to the people, and parliamentarians tarred with the brush of surrender and collaboration.

The funny thing is that despite all the huffing and puffing, the outcome of the Brexit blame game is already known.

The clue to the real culprit was given by Johnson himself on the day he took office as prime minister. Standing outside Downing Street, referring explicitly to Brexit and the backstop, he pronounced with admirable candour that the “buck stops here”. Rarely has a truer word been spoken.

But there is another reason why the blame game has become a very limited one – almost everywhere outside Britain, the issue of whom to blame has already been pretty well resolved.

All around the EU, including in Ireland, the responsibility for Brexit and for where the negotiations now stand, is correctly attributed to the British government. There is a shared awareness – apart from some on the European hard right – that the EU has bent over backwards to accommodate British concerns. It agreed a compromise agreement with May’s government that fully respected every British red line. Now, three years and three months after the initial referendum, Johnson has tabled new proposals laced with a variety of unconvincing and smudged red lines.

In Northern Ireland, the majority is against Brexit itself and many oppose the new proposals. It is remarkable that the strongest criticism of Johnson’s plan has come neither from Brussels nor Dublin but from the Northern Ireland business community, transcending traditional political differences.

Across the world also, there is bewilderment about Brexit – as well as an appreciation of the delicacy of the Good Friday agreement. In the Commonwealth, for example, although friendship with Britain will presumably remain strong, there is an awareness of the history of British-Irish relations and an empathy for the Irish experience.

The US will no doubt retain its close friendship with the UK. Johnson will also take some comfort from his personal relationship with Trump based on their evident similarities. There is little doubt, however, that the traditional deep solidarity with Ireland among US politicians will remain as strong – and few there will blame Ireland for prioritising the peace process and its own interests.

Even in the UK itself, the strategy of the prime minister and his team seems to be about zeroing in on the portion of the electorate who will swallow his blame narrative in an attempt to win the next general election. That limited segment of British public opinion is now the only real focus – but after any election, the British government will have to engage once again with a wider world with little appetite for sharing the blame."

No comments:

Post a comment