The prime minister tries to sound conciliatory. But his Brexit plan is designed for UK hardliners and no one elseby Jonathan Lis / October 3, 2019 / Leave a comment
If Brexit didn’t threaten to drive the economy into a wall, plunge the lives of millions of people into immediate chaos and endanger the peace process in Northern Ireland, you would have to laugh at it. Here is a true masterpiece of its absurdist genre: the more things change, the more everything stays the same.
Boris Johnson has trodden a familiar path in the last two days. Indeed it is so familiar that it more or less exactly follows the script his predecessor obeyed a year ago. That is: appear triumphant at Conservative Party conference, present proposals to the EU, have the EU dismiss them for being wholly unworkable, then suffer inevitable defeat first in Brussels and then in Westminster. Theresa May lasted an improbable eight months after her humiliation. A gambler might give Johnson rather less time.
The deal may have changed from the old backstop, but only to make it even less palatable to the EU. Under May’s plan, the whole UK would remain in the customs union for an indefinite period and Northern Ireland would remain in the single market for goods in perpetuity. That was unacceptable to the DUP because it created a regulatory border in the Irish Sea, and unacceptable to the Tory Brexiters because it outsourced the UK’s tariff rates to Brussels while removing the ability to shape them. Conversely, it was acceptable to Dublin and Brussels because it guaranteed the continuity of the customs arrangements until they consented to a legally operable replacement.
Johnson’s plan imposes that entirely untested alternative not for some unspecified date in the future, but the end of next year—a mere 15 months away. If it is not ready by then, tough. Ireland will have customs infrastructure whether it likes it or not. The plan also ditches any concept of indefinite arrangements for the single market regulations. Not only can the DUP effectively veto new single market arrangements agreed by 27 other countries representing 440m people—not one of them represented by the DUP—but after four years the DUP can ditch Northern Ireland’s single market alignment altogether. Put simply, the proposal lets a hardline faction of unionists arbitrarily re-impose, if it chooses, a fully hard border on the island of Ireland.
If the UK government thinks anyone in Brussels or Dublin will agree to that, they have another think…