Its proponents still refuse to confront realityby George Peretz / January 29, 2019 / Leave a comment
In the last 24 hours, a group of MPs representing different strands of opinion within the Conservative Party has put forward the “Malthouse Amendment” as a proposed way forward on Brexit. The amendment consists of a Plan A (a revised withdrawal agreement without the Ireland/Northern Ireland backstop) and a Plan B (a suggested way forward without a withdrawal agreement).
Unfortunately, neither Plan A nor Plan B works.
As for Plan A, the background is that the backstop negotiated between the EU and the UK seeks to fulfil the declared commitments of both sides to maintain an invisible Irish border. It does so by providing a fall-back if the EU and UK are unable to negotiate a final trade deal by the end of the transition period (now extendable to 2022 but not beyond), that enables the border to be kept open. Controversially, it keeps Great Britain and Northern Ireland in a customs union with the EU and Northern Ireland (in effect) in large parts of the single market for goods.
The backstop is expressed to be both temporary and in default of agreed alternative arrangements to keep the border invisible: and, as I argued in an earlier piece for Prospect, the detailed mechanisms in it should satisfy any politician who (a) genuinely believes that maintaining an invisible border is important and (b) genuinely believes that alternative arrangements, of a kind that meet both the UK’s and the EU’s reasonable requirements, can be made to secure an invisible border even in the absence of a customs union or strong regulatory alignment for goods. It is hard to see why the backstop is such a problem for politicians who claim to be believers in both those things.
In any event, Plan A is touted as an alternative to the backstop. It cross-refers to a document hopefully entitled “A Better Deal,” which was produced by the pro-Brexit European Research Group and its knitting circle of selected trade advisers in December. This proposal aimed to replace the backstop with a somewhat “back of the envelope” annex (which could in any event be terminated after 10 years) providing for zero tariffs plus an agreement to agree on rules of origin, a general mutual recognition obligation, and a requirement that the UK and Ireland cooperate on technical solutions to avoid a hard border.
Features of the “Better Deal” that made most trade experts somewhat dubious about its connection with reality included: the fact that…