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January 17, 2019

How Irish insistence on backstop backfired

Newton Emerson looks at what the Westminster debacle means for Ireland, concluding that the Irish strategy to insist on a backstop has backfired. Not only did it not solve the problem of securing the Belfast agreement, it also worsened the relationship between the UK and Ireland. In a poll last weekend, only a few British conservatives named the backstop as a reason to oppose the withdrawal agreement. A majority among them focused on the agreement to extend the backstop provisions to the whole of the UK.

The Irish have sold the backstop as a sine qua non to secure the Belfast agreement in all its parts. The need for a backstop has often been expressed as a prerogative question of trust. This is linked on the perception that that Brexit breaches the Belfast Agreement, a mistaken but persistent conclusion according to Emerson. Now that the UK cannot guarantee any deal at all, it is worth revising this Irish negotiation tactic and thinking about new ways of rebuilding trust between the two countries. 

This starts with re-establishing consensus on what the Belfast Agreement means. The backstop and the Belfast agreement should be considered on their own merits. At the very least, so Emerson, the number of Brexit problems viewed as potential breaches should be reduced by both sides to a shorter shared list. This would require Ireland to negotiate with the UK bilaterally, something they have been reluctant to do so as not to upset anyone in the EU. But if the objective is to secure the Belfast Agreement in all its parts, it may be necessary to make this work again. 

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January 17, 2019

Will Germany blink? Probably not

There was one Brexit prediction we made after the referendum that did not come true: that  German industry would put pressure on Angela Merkel. One reason to explain this is that Germany never treated a hard Brexit as a possible outcome. But this is changing now, and still there is not much pressure. In this context we noted a comment by Marcel Fratzscher, head of the DIW economic institute, who says that the costs of a hard Brexit are often overrated. There would be some transitional costs, he told Die Welt, but it would have no economic impact. If that were true for the rest of the world, it would logically have to be true of the UK as well. If there were no trade effects for the UK trading partners, then surely there will be no trade effects for the UK. But the important point to make at this point is not whether the statement is correct or not, but that the perception of a manageable hard Brexit could have some self-fulfilling properties.

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January 17, 2019

How Tsipras' confidence vote and Prespes vote are linked

Alexis Tsipras survived his confidence vote - 151 to 149 - but it might come at the politicalcost of losing the crucial To Potami votes for the Prespes agreement on the Macedonia name change.  There were no surprises in the confidence vote: on top of the 145 votes from Syriza Tsipras got the support from one independent, two now ex-Anel ministers, two Anel MPs and one now ex-To Potami MP. 

To Potami leader Stavros Theodorakis threatened before the confidence vote that he would withdraw support for the Prespes agreement if his lawmaker Spyros Danellis came in to rescue Tsipras. Now this has happened, Theodorakis and the two other To Potami MPs who were expected to support the Macedonia deal are reconsidering their position. There are a couple of options according to Macropolis. They might abstain, which would allow Tsipras to get a majority of those present but would weaken the legitimacy of the Prespes Agreement. Or Theodorakis might seek to get Tsipras to confirm an earlier date for snap elections. Whatever the outcome, To Potami is fighting for its survival with now only 5 MPs, of which two are against and three are in favour of the Macedonia name deal.

So far, Tsipras has 149 votes secured for the Prespes Agreement. Without Potami he will have to fish for other votes. Dimar, another small party, might come on board, but this means he is still one vote short of a majority. The schedule is that the agreement will first get to the Parliamentary committees this Friday, and to the plenary next week. Tsipras has another couple of days to convince some of the MPs who have not yet made their positions clear.

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