There is a logic to what Boris Johnson is doing with regards to Brexit. It’s easy to spot. It is that by saying he will not blink Ireland, the EU, or both, will. That is his whole strategy. It is based on three premises.
The first is that he is tougher than them.
The second is that the UK is more important to either than their own domestic concerns.
And third, it is based on the belief that they will agree that keeping Johnson and his party in power is more important than anything else they might have previously thought of.
The first of these suggestions is easily dismissed. Johnson’s has already lost his majority and control of parliament, which has already legislated to prevent him getting his way. He has very little power at all.
The third can also be dismissed: it is very hard to imagine that any country is that keen to keep Johnson in power. Usually they would be indifferent to whoever held office in the UK, accepting this to be a choice for us alone. But with Johnson I suspect indifference is not an option. Can you be indifferent to someone who treats you with contempt?
So let’s get to the second issue. And let’s start with Ireland, because although it does not determine EU policy if it remains determined that does settle the matter for the EU.
As someone who has self identified as Irish since I realised I had the choice, and has always considered himself a nationalist (which is not in anyway an endorsement of violence, for those inclined to misinterpret such things) I can see no way at all that Ireland is going to agree the UK position on Johnson’s deal.
Johnson wants to suggest that the Irish border is a mere technicality of little consequence: that was apparent from his speech yesterday. There may be many in the Britain (I use the word advisedly, but I might even need to clarify it as England) who share this view. He, and they, are wrong. This is not some mere technicality: this is about Irish identity.
It baffles me that however many times it is now said that there are some politicians that do not realise that the whole essence of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement is that it simultaneously allows Unionists to identify with the UK whilst nationalists, north and south of the border in Ireland, can identify as being Irish within a single united island - which the very obvious absence of a border implies to be the case. And in that context not only is any border - as Johnson now wants - deeply disruptive economically, it is profoundly politically unacceptable to the vast majority in Ireland as a whole, north and south.
It takes the most extraordinary misunderstanding of Irish history, of which only a Tory is probably capable given their long history of miscalculation on this issue, to not comprehend this fact. Technicality is almost inconsequential when it comes to the border - although the fact that there is very obviously no technical solution in what Johnson has to suggest compounds the incomprehension as to his actions. What matters is the issue of identity, and there is no way on earth Ireland is, after centuries of struggle against English oppression, going to concede anything that compromises that identity now.
And that is precisely why Johnson is wrong about who will blink first. Johnson thinks that on the technicalities he is bound to win: he can’t see why they’re worth arguing over. But the reality is that Ireland, and so the EU, is operating on a wholly different agenda and appraisal scale, which Johnson appears not to know exists.
The EU and Ireland will play with care. What they will do is point out all the issues, such as the absurdity of there being two borders, and not one. They will point out that technically the proposed schemes cannot work, as is undoubtedly true. And they will be patient, because they’re good at that. They will leave the UK parliament to point out the illegality of what is proposed, because it is also undoubtedly that. But will they blink? There is no chance of that. Johnson has got this very, very wrong. He isn’t the first Tory to do so. I just hope he is the last.