Leading article

Backstop provides essential guarantee during Brexit chaos

All the indications are that we are moving into a defining period during the Brexit crisis, with the motion which the Labour Party is due to publish at Westminster tomorrow perhaps the last chance of avoiding a no deal catastrophe.

When the Conservative cabinet minister Michael Gove yesterday pointedly refused to confirm that the British government would abide by any legislation which may be passed, he summed up the constitutional chaos which has been allowed to develop since Boris Johnson became prime minister.

The idea that even as cavalier a figure as Mr Johnson would follow his enforced suspension of parliament with an attempt to ignore the law of the land is breath-taking, but his refusal to distance himself from Mr Gove's intervention was telling.

Another sign of the desperation surrounding the prime minister were the reports – again followed by official silence – that he intends to prevent Tory MPs who vote against a no deal EU exit from standing in the next general election.

Given Mr Johnson's own record of blatant disloyalty when Theresa May was in office, and the fact that eight current cabinet ministers had defied the party whip by voting against her Brixit deal earlier this year, the former Conservative chancellor Philip Hammond was fully entitled to conclude that a `staggeringly hypocritical' plan was emerging.

The insurance policy provided by the Irish backstop arrangement has become more important than ever, and the unequivocal support offered to the measure by the Scottish Nationalist Party's Westminster leader Ian Blackford in his Irish News interview today was timely.

Mr Blackford, who has emerged as an influential ally of the Irish government, was completely correct to describe the backstop as "recognition of what is required to be delivered through the Good Friday Agreement".

At a stage when the London administration appears entirely apathetic about the dire consequences a no deal Brexit will have for Ireland, north and south, it is reassuring that voices of sanity like Mr Blackford are speaking out firmly.

With the EU's top Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, providing an equally strong endorsement of the backstop yesterday, it is clear that, during dangerous times, it must be retained in the best interests of Irish people from all traditions.

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