I have followed this process closely since the referendum and Johnson’s plan is yet another refusal to accept obvious realitiesby Peter Foster / October 3, 2019 / Leave a comment
Read Peter Foster’s definitive overview of the Brexit talks so far
For longtime followers of the Brexit process it became clear at some point in late 2017 that there would be no magic bullets to solve the crisis. And if there was any lingering doubt on that score, then the EU’s polite rebuff of Boris Johnson’s new Brexit “plan” has surely dispelled it.
As I wrote in Prospect last month, Theresa May tried briefly to solve the central riddle of the Irish “trilemma”—but in the end slumped to the table defeated, opting instead to just park the entire UK in the customs union. So having rejected the May deal which prioritised an open Irish border over a hard Brexit, it should come as no surprise that Johnson—elected to the Tory Party leadership on a hard Brexit platform—has now chosen to prioritise Brexit over the border.
To recap, the Irish trilemma asked how the whole UK could leave the EU single market and customs union (which had obviated the need for borders in the first place) while simultaneously avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland or in the Irish sea.
Johnson has now “solved” that trilemma by accepting its insolubility and conceding the need for a customs border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Yet he doesn’t want to call the border a border, or even to acknowledge that—by definition—it will require checks and infrastructure that no one in Dublin or the Northern Ireland business and border communities wants to see.
Oddly, Johnson’s “solution” to avoiding a hard border is actually the creation of two borders—a light-touch customs border between NI and the Republic, and a full regulatory border between NI and GB. Depending on your point of view, that is either “splitting the difference” or, as one major Northern Irish trade group put it, the “worst of all worlds,” leaving NI facing friction on both its frontiers.
Downing Street now spins this to a domestic audience as a grand compromise, but to the EU it just looks like another attempt to square the political circle in Westminster (remember May’s Chequers “deal”) without serious regard to what is negotiable in Brussels.
There is nothing that has been said in the last three years—to David Cameron, Theresa May or Boris Johnson—that suggests the EU is prepared to compromise on the integrity of its single market or the…