Ireland’s deputy Prime Minister and chief Brexit negotiator, Tánaiste and Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, this week makes a direct appeal to the Irish in Britain about the need to preserve the Northern Ireland backstop after Brexit to keep the peace and prosperity of the past twenty years.
In his appeal, in this week’s the Irish World, Mr Coveney acknowledges that the ramped-up attacks on Ireland and the Irish government from some quarters of British media and politics mean that for the first time in a very long time “these may be unsettling times to be Irish in Britain.”
It comes as poll findings show that most Northern Irish people – from all communities – favour keeping the island of Ireland in regulatory alignment and keeping the current ‘seamless’ Border.
The British government’s own leaked emergency planning document, Operation Yellowhammer, published last weekend admits that in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit attempts to prevent a hard border will be unsustainable.
It says there will be “no new checks with limited exceptions” on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland but admits this is “likely to prove unsustainable due to significant economic, legal and biosecurity risks and no effective mitigation to address this will be available”.
Nearly three out of five voters in Northern Ireland favour a “border in the Irish Sea” Brexit compromise – the original proposal by former PM Theresa May’s government – to avoid the predicted economic shock to Northern Ireland’s food and farming sectors and up to 40,000 job losses.
The online poll by Belfast-based polling and market research company LucidTalk found most nationalists, a clear majority of Alliance and Green Party voters, and one in six unionists support the Northern Ireland-only backstop as a way of averting a hard Brexit.
The poll also found that more than four out of five Northern Ireland voters believe the British government is handling Brexit negotiations badly, two out of three said ‘very badly’, and just 13 per cent thought it was doing well.
The Irish position is expected to receive further support in Paris and Berlin this week when Prime Minister Boris Johnson has his first meetings with President Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The French and German governments they lead have said that whatever changes may be made to the political declaration accompanying the Withdrawal Agreement, the backstop must stay if a disruption in Northern Ireland is to be kept to the minimum.
In this week’s Irish World, Mr Coveney attempts to counter the distorted, one-sided and propagandist coverage of the backstop in some parts of the popular British news media.
He writes: “A lot is being written and a lot is being said in parts of the media here about Ireland, about the Irish Government and about our approach to Brexit.
“Some of this commentary is ill-informed on substance and strident in tone, and is a source of annoyance, and even hurt, to the many Irish people who have made their home here.
“Such commentary seeks to distort the Irish Government’s motives and intentions.
“It is largely best ignored or countered with a reminder that at the heart of all of this is a precious peace process that remains fragile and which both governments have a duty to uphold.
“Please know that the Irish Government has no hidden agenda here. Safeguarding peace is what we are trying to achieve and we will not be diverted or distracted by unfair comments or provocative language.”
“The Withdrawal Agreement, including the backstop, still represents the best available compromise, the fairest deal and the right way to protect the peace process.
“In supporting that peace, the Irish community in Britain has been a stalwart friend. In the weeks and months ahead, your support remains as crucial as ever.”