Boris Johnson is still trying to negotiate a Brexit deal with the EU before the October 31 deadline. The Times also revealed today that the Prime Minister has requested EU leaders block any attempts to extend Article 50 from Parliament. MPs are trying to postpone the rapidly approaching Brexit deadline, because the EU and the UK cannot agree on a solution to the Irish border. Theresa May’s Government proposed a temporary ‘backstop’ between the Republic of Ireland and its neighbour in the 2018 Checkers’ deal. Having a backstop would mean there would be no border posts, physical checks or barriers between people and goods crossing between the two countries. However, this would supposedly mean Northern Ireland stayed in the EU’s customs union and single market, potentially threatening the union.
Parliament repeatedly rejected this deal, with many opposing the backstop in particular, which led Mrs May to ask the EU for a six-month Brexit extension.
In Kevin O’Rourke’s 2019 book ‘A Short History of Brexit: From Brentry to Backstop’, the historian explained how disagreements over the Irish border have been prominent for decades.
He said: “My colleague John FitzGerald tells the story of how an Irish delegation to London in the Sixties therefore requested that British goods exported to Ireland be clearly labelled as ‘Made in Britain.’”
Former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Denis Healey who was the Defence Secretary at the time, then “asked with some irritation” if “he was supposed to stamp ‘Made in Britain’ on the balls of every bullock shipped to Ireland”.
The historian explained: “The Irish Minister’s retort was that bullocks don’t have balls.”
Denis Healey and Boris Johnson (Image: GETTY)
Mr Johnson and Mr Varadkar (Image: GETTY)
As Mr O’Rourke added: “The anecdote is pedagogical in multiple ways and provides us with an early illustration of a technological solution to border frictions that – with the best will in the world – could never have worked.”
This conflict between Dublin and Westminster took place before Ireland and the UK both joined the EU in 1973, when the two nations were agreeing to the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement which would abolish most tariffs on each other’s products.
Ireland refused to have products from the UK’s Commonwealth countries imported without tariffs, so the goods from Britain and countries such as Australia needed to be distinguishable.
This would be a similar arrangement to the one the UK is trying to secure now, by preventing EU goods passing into the UK without checks.
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Mr Varadkar with the President of the EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker (Image: GETTY)