by Martin Odoni

On analysis of the proposal mooted by UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, for a solution to the border problem in Ireland created by Brexit, I can see three possible explanations, and only three. Here they are, in order of likelihood; –

  1. Johnson is ‘tabling a Habsburg ultimatum’.
  2. Johnson is trying to get around the problem by playing word-games, proposing a solution that plainly fails the purpose, but produces an outcome that is not word-for-word the same as what must be avoided.
  3. He really is as incredibly stupid as he looks.

To explain; –

The proposal is inherently absurd. The requirement of the Good Friday Agreement is for there to be no ‘Hard Border’ between Eire and Northern Ireland, which, as is well-recorded, rather clashes with the Brexit aspiration of ‘the UK controlling its own borders’. Johnson therefore wishes to impose a temporary ‘buffer-zone’ from the start of 2021, with its boundaries approximately five miles either side from the border itself. Customs checks would be carried out at these buffer zone boundaries instead of at the border, and this arrangement would carry on until a joint Anglo-Irish council arranges a final settlement in 2025.

So in short, Johnson’s answer to the requirement for there to be no active border between Northern Ireland and Eire is for there to be two active borders between them.

Proposed Irish border-buffer zone

Boris Johnson is proposing a ‘Brexit buffer zone’ around the Irish border for four years. In effect, this will mean TWO borders in Ireland.

This proposal is one of the daftest yet, and not just because it violates the Good Friday Agreement. In the long term it will violate the Act Of Union 1800 as well, which guarantees a Customs Union between Great Britain and all British-held territories on the island of Ireland. This requirement is undermined by the fact that trading conditions in Northern Ireland will quite explicitly cease to be aligned with the rest of the UK, especially after 2025.

Setting the deadline to 2025 is a very long-winded way of saying, “Let’s just kick finding a permanent solution to the problems of the border-in-Ireland into the long grass for five years, by which time, all the people who made this mess will probably have moved on anyway”.

It is a worst-of-all-worlds proposal.

Note the arrogance of putting the ‘buffer zone’ so far into Ireland’s sovereign territory for Brexit’s sake. This is not an Irish policy, it is a British one, so if Johnson wants a buffer zone, he should put it entirely on the UK side of the border. (Even then, it would still be an awful thing to do, as it creates serious freedom-of-movement issues for those living inside it – any buffer zone would in a sense become a third Ireland. But at least it would be the British accepting the price for a needless problem the British have created.)

So reflecting on all of this, here is what I mean by the three possibilities mentioned above; –

  1. Johnson is deliberately putting forward a proposal that is designed to be rejected, so he can claim that he came up with a solution but others are not co-operating with him. (Like the preposterous demands the Austro-Hungarian Empire placed on Serbia after the assassination of the Arch-Duke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 – hence my coining the term “Habsburg Ultimatum”.)
  2. Johnson imagines he has found a loophole in the description of the problem Brexit has created. He is thinking, “Well, they’re saying a Hard Border, which is to say one Hard Border, is unnacceptable, but they said nothing about more than one, so let’s go for two!” as though quibbling over the precise wording of the problem will be enough to make the ‘solution’ acceptable to Republican and Unionist communities alike.
  3. Johnson genuinely means this proposal as a way of reconciling Brexit with the Good Friday Agreement. Because his ‘lovable clownish buffoon’ image is not an act after all, and he really is that much of a congenital moron.

Loopholes are dirty tricks, every time. and they can get people around the letter of an agreement. But the desire to keep the Good Friday Agreement intact is no procedural quibble, trying to keep the paperwork valid merely for the sake of it. There is a purpose behind the attempts to make sure Brexit does not violate the Irish peace process – to prevent a resumption of the civil war known as ‘The Troubles’. The success or failure of that purpose is what will count. Not whether the solution just about fits the wording, but whether it is acceptable to the people whose futures will be most affected by it. To shift blame, to play word games, to mess around with loopholes, or just to behave with reckless, ignorant stupidity over the peace process is absolutely certain to harm it, when lives depend on its continued success.

This is yet another example of Johnson’s manipulative cynicism, of which we have already had too many in just the two months he has been Prime Minister. With his already relentless displays of blustering and deceit, I do not think I am being especially hyperbolic when I suggest that Boris Johnson could be the death of us all.