All of Brexit’s theoretical flaws lead to one practical and as yet insoluble problemby Jonathan Lis / March 8, 2019 / Leave a comment
Perhaps it is because Brexit is so all-enveloping that it keeps folding back on itself within our national conversation. After three years of rudderless policy and pointless humiliation, we return, over and over, to the same problems. How can we continue frictionless trade while introducing new barriers with our largest trade partner? How can we preserve both an invisible Irish border and full economic integration within the UK while diverging on regulation? How can we reclaim sovereignty or “take back control” while handing over our trade policy and renouncing our voting rights? All of which theoretical questions lead to one entirely practical and as yet insoluble problem: how does Theresa May ever get the numbers for her deal?
The problem has been clear since November and indeed long before. The deal is unacceptable to Brexiters because, principally through the backstop, it keeps us aligned to EU rules indefinitely and without democratic oversight. It is unacceptable to the DUP because it keeps Northern Ireland alone in a single market for goods and thus produces a regulatory border in the Irish Sea. It is unacceptable to the Labour Party for all these reasons, in addition to the lack of negotiated customs union and guarantees on workers’ rights. And it is unacceptable to a number of Remainers who know a turkey when they see one, and wish to consult the public before the government forces them to eat it.
It is this toxic combination which in January condemned May to the worst parliamentary defeat for any government in modern history. Since then, precisely nothing has changed. The government has promised to renegotiate the backstop and refused to listen when the EU has repeatedly refused. As expected, the talks have achieved nothing.
May has promised to bring the deal back to parliament by Tuesday at the latest. It is inconceivable that she will be able to entice MPs with any cosmetic improvements. If it was a university assignment she would be failed on the spot. After all, a deal that was too poor to accept in January should, without substantial alterations, be too poor to accept in March. But this politics has now become almost entirely personal. Every group has short-term and long-term interests, and the predicament offers a unique…