A hard border or a close relationship with Europe. Pick oneby David Henig / July 17, 2018 / Leave a comment
Nothing fundamental has changed with regard to Brexit in the last two weeks.
The Chequers Declaration, if it still remains government policy, did not change anything. The White Paper contained lots of details, and overall was intended to change fundamentals. But it will not do so.
Yesterday’s amendments to the Customs Bills mean that the government’s negotiating position is increasingly unclear—and possibly contradictory—with regard to the Irish border. It also indicated that the Conservative Party is more split than ever, which may be highly relevant for future negotiations.
But these amendments didn’t change the fundamentals, and neither will any amendments to the Trade Bill.
For the fundamentals are these. The EU will not agree to a Withdrawal Agreement and any future economic relationship without certainty that there will be no border on the island of Ireland after the implementation/transition period.
In the coming months the UK must therefore choose to have a border, either on the island of Ireland or in the Irish Sea, a continuing close relationship sufficient to avoid a border, such as something like European Economic Area membership, or to ask for an extension of either the Article 50 process or the implementation period. Or possibly some combination of these such as an elongated implementation period sufficient to allow completion of a continuing close relationship. The government currently rules out all of these options.
The votes in parliament don’t change this situation. A parliamentary vote cannot bind a subsequent vote, so if the government was to bring primary legislation which overrules previous legislation that would be fine. Always assuming that it could get a majority of course.
It is that need for a majority that typically leads governments negotiating major international agreements to seek some form of cross-party consensus before the process starts. That didn’t happen in this case, with consequences in terms of the fraught debates that we see. But that fraught debate doesn’t change the fundamentals.
Similarly those carrying out the negotiations cannot be bound by parliament. As civil servants those negotiators work for the government of the day, and it is up to the government not parliament to determine how the negotiations proceed.
There has been much talk on one side of the Brexit debate that technology can solve the need for any border infrastructure in Ireland. But outside the EU all…