A number of EU rules need to be agreed to unanimously: new members, treaties, taxation, IIRC.

Ireland (the Republic, not NI) has repeatedly stated its concerns with the re-introduction of a hard border, a concern the backstop was designed to avoid.

The new UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson talks a fair bit about engaging with the EU to remove that backstop and talking to Merkel and Macron. But ultimately, is Ireland fully capable of blocking a Brexit deal that it considers unfavorable, just by exercising a veto? In which case, why the emphasis on discussing the backstop with the EU as a whole or Germany and France, if Ireland can pull the plug at any time?

Does Ireland have an explicit and formal veto power on amending the backstop agreement if it feels it goes against its interests? If so, seems to me as if Boris Johnson needs to sell whatever he's selling to them first and they've been unambiguously critical of adjusting the backstop.

Or would such arrangement fall under EU majority rules, rather than needing unanimous approval?

As I recall, the EU-Canada trade deal came very close to being derailed due Wallon (Belgium) objections concerning either cattle or dairy. This wasn't resolved until Belgium got some concessions and everyone more or less acknowledged Belgium's right to veto. I can't see anyone forcing Ireland to swallow concessions about something that's as important to them.

Note that I am not talking about future treaties the EU and the UK might enter into past Brexit. That's an unanimity-required domain.

  • related why-is-boris-johnson-visiting-only-paris-berlin-if-every-member-of-the-eu-need but I think they, like me, also confused extension unanimity with agreement unanimity. Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 6:26
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    To be fair, Boris Johnson talked with Irish leaders, over the phone, at least. Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 7:10
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    "If so, seems to me as if Boris Johnson needs to sell whatever he's selling to them first and they've been unambiguously critical of adjusting the backstop." This also assumes that what Johnson is selling is for the EU's consumption at all, which isn't clear. He might in fact be building a story that puts the EU (and its two most visible leaders) in a negative light for how "unreasonable" they are for his own citizens to consume and to strengthen his own political position.
    – Ellesedil
    Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 17:45
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    @aCVn not particularly Euro here just being shorthand for European - it's a long title. feel free to edit. Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 19:20
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    @Ellesedil Considering how he painted Theresa May as incompetent for not getting a better deal, but now where Johnson can't even get the EU to talk about a better deal it's all "EU is unreasonable, inflexible, etc. ", I'd say it's all theatre aimed at the British public.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 23:27

1 Answer 1

  • The withdrawal agreement requires a qualified majority by the remaining EU members (Article 50 section 4).
  • Any extension of the negotiating period must be unanimous (Article 50 section 3).
  • EU members have been known to engage in "blackmail" to get an effective veto in areas which do not require unanimity by threatening a veto in unrelated areas which do require unanimity.
  • Various EU members have publicly declared that they back the Republic of Ireland and that they will agree only to deals which satisfy the Republic of Ireland. Such political statements are not a legal guarantee.
    • People who take those statements at face value should try to convince the Republic of Ireland, and then go to the other capitals with that endorsement.
    • People who believe that it will all come down to an eleventh hour backroom deal would disregard those statements and go directly to the major EU members.
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    @o.m. BTW, doesn't the (well known) member state capacity to threaten blackmail on unanimity rulings give Ireland an implicit (not explicit) veto here? My understanding is the UK can't negotiate trade deals with 3rd parties until it leaves the EU. And I don't think the Brexit deal covers trade yet either. So a pissed-off Ireland could possibly be outvoted on article 50, but then could just veto any future UK to EU trade deal, could it not? rendering victory Pyrrhic indeed. Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 5:45
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    +1 but the last point is a little more subtle than that. Other EU members do not back Ireland solely out of the goodness of their heart. Even if you assume it's essentially possible that the EU would ultimately throw Ireland under a bus in an 11th hour deal, a qualified majority requires more than just Germany and France, it requires the support of a host of other countries who are rightly afraid of German and French influence in the EU. Germany, France, or the UK would therefore need to sell it to them and avoid the impression that it is a compromise handed down from Berlin or Biarritz.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 12:21
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    Also, the GFA allows NI born people to become citizens of the ROI at any point, but presumably only Remainers would take this option, so the negotiation mandate of the EU on behalf of NI citizens is a hard "make sure that NI remains in the EU". The EU throwing Ireland under the bus would not go unnoticed by citizens of other EU states. Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 14:38
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    @Evargalo, do you like the added links?
    – o.m.
    Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 16:43
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    @Orangesandlemons Depends who you ask in Northern Ireland. Have you forgotten that many places in Northern Ireland regard themselves as wholly Irish, and not British? Some Northern Irish folk take only a British passport, some take only an Irish. Some take both, like me; and a record number identify as neither unionist nor nationalist these days. Northern Ireland voted to stay. We could have enjoyed a unique position as being in both the UK and EU by pushing the regulatory border to the Irish Sea, but our leaders decided otherwise.
    – user8398
    Commented Aug 22, 2019 at 9:50

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