After eighteen long months, the government has for the first time privileged pragmatism over ideologyby Jonathan Lis / December 8, 2017 / Leave a comment
Let us call this now: hard Brexit is dead. It is no more; it has ceased to be; it is an ex-hard Brexit. Today’s deal on the first phase of withdrawal is the final nail in the coffin for the government’s attempts to leave the single market and customs union. It cannot now do either of them while satisfying the agreed wording for the deal, available to read here.
Paragraph 49 is crucial. It states that “in the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future (my emphasis), support North-South cooperation… and the protection of the 1998 [Good Friday] Agreement.”
The fact it mentions both the single market and customs union is key. Dublin and Brussels have not, at any point in these negotiations, wavered from their belief that an open Irish border requires both customs and regulatory harmonisation between Northern Ireland and Ireland, as now. The single market ensures equal standards, so goods do not need to be checked at the border; and the customs union guarantees that no tariffs need to be paid either.
There is no precedent for an open border between two European states unless they share both the single market and customs union. Norway is in the European Economic Area, but still faces and imposes tariffs on some agricultural and fish products, and Norway and Sweden must also perform rule-of-origin checks on goods crossing their shared border. Turkey, on the other hand, is in a partial customs union with the EU but not in the single market, and there is heavy infrastructure on its border as well.
In other words, any “agreed solution” to the hard border problem will, for all intents and purposes, involve continued single market and customs union membership. That, simply, is the new reality. Any effort to put a border in the Irish sea would be unacceptable to the DUP and a number of Conservatives. Brexiteer claims that unspecified “technology” could prevent a hard border are not credible.
But what if the two sides don’t find that solution? According to paragraph 49, even if there is no specific agreement on Ireland, the UK will be compelled to harmonise itself with the EU on those parts of the…