Hugh O'Connell: 'Government's bizarre 'lather, rinse, repeat' strategy a worrying trend with 72 days to go'

Take a step back from all the high rhetoric, claims, counter-claims and confusion Brexit brings about on a daily basis and consider this: The UK government is now operating on the basis that, after it leaves the EU in 72 days’ time, a hard Border on the island of Ireland will return.

That this is the case represents an enormous failure by politicians on all sides. It now appears that they have failed in their commitment – given repeatedly and forcefully in the aftermath of the UK voting to leave the EU in June 2016 – that there would be no return to the Border of the past.

Instead, the UK’s working assumption, according to the leaked Operation Yellowhammer papers, is that the hard Border is coming back as the temporary measures put in place in the immediate aftermath of a crash-out Brexit prove unsustainable.

Downing Street has been doing its best over the past 48 hours to dismiss the leaked papers as old news produced by Theresa May’s government, but all indications are that these documents were produced as recently as this month.

The documents warn there will also be road blockades in the North after disruption to key sectors – including agri-food – and job losses, as well as an increase in smuggling and the potential for a disruption to electricity supply in the North.

Effectively, everything politicians said they would strive to avoid will now come to pass if these papers are to be believed.

And if anyone was in any doubt what this could mean for the peace process, there was another reminder yesterday when police officers narrowly escaped injury in a bomb explosion in Wattle Bridge, Co Fermanagh, close to the Border with Co Cavan. The PSNI said it had no evidence to indicate the explosion was directly linked to the Brexit impasse but they are already on record, along with An Garda Síochána, warning that dissidents will try to exploit a hard Border.

So who is to blame for this predicament? Politicians on this side of the Irish Sea are quick to point the finger at their counterparts in Westminster. They would be right to an extent, given the shambles on display there on an almost daily basis.

But given the precarious situation we now find ourselves in with just over 10 weeks to go to the October 31 deadline, what is the Irish Government doing to avoid the return of a hard Border the UK now believes is inevitable? Where is the detail on how checks at the Border will be avoided while satisfying obligations to the maintain the integrity of the EU single market? What supports will be given to the sectors which will be crucified by the UK’s sudden departure at Halloween?

Right now, all we get from Irish Government figures are the same talking points we’ve been hearing since last year when the Withdrawal Agreement was finalised. Even though this deal has been rejected three times by the UK Parliament and effectively dumped by Mr Johnson’s new government, the position of the Irish Government is still unchanged.

Communications Minister Richard Bruton, the wise old hand of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s administration, was yesterday extolling its virtues, saying politicians needed to “recognise afresh” the benefits of this dead deal. This ‘lather, rinse, repeat’ strategy is utterly bizarre and deeply worrying now we are facing down the barrel of a catastrophic crash-out Brexit.

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