May’s Irish Border plan ensures her days are numbered
Today, the UK and the EU almost announced a joint agreement to resolve the Irish Border problem.
In the morning, a draft document was leaked which contained this key line in reference to the Irish Border.
In the absence of agreed solutions the UK will ensure that there continues to be continued regulatory alignment.
This document seems to have been agreed by the UK and Irish governments according to Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister.
Later in the day, Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker pulled back from the draft document. They advised us that there are still a few issues to iron out.
It is clear what the main issue is. May wants to agree to a frictionless border but if she does the Hard Brexiteers in her own party will stab her in the back.
Before we delve deeper into that point lets clear up a misconception.
I have seen many Scottish independence supporters asking why Scotland can’t also have a bespoke deal like the one that was almost agreed for the Irish Border. The DUP is also upset as they don’t want a separate deal for Northern Ireland as they are worried about any move that might lead to a united Ireland.
However, these seem to be moot points. The UK Government has confirmed that there won’t be a separate deal for Northern Ireland. What today’s events reveal is that the UK Government almost agreed to keep regulations for the whole of the UK aligned to those of the EU going forward.
As May’s official spokesperson confirmed this morning:
The PM has been clear that the UK is leaving the EU as a whole, and the territorial and economic integrity of the UK will be protected.
However, there are big issues with May’s plan of keeping UK regulations aligned with the EU.
The first issue is that the Hard Brexiteers in her own party are not going to be happy, which is probably the main reason the announcement was put off. The Hard Brexiteers wanted to take back control from the EU and have a bonfire of the regulations, but this draft deal crushes that plan. If it were to happen then he Cabinet would be split down the middle. There is a very strong possibility of open rebellion. The Prime Minister knows that if she goes down that route she may well be out of a job soon and we could well be heading for another General Election.
The second issue is that even if May proceeded with the agreement and survived an insurrection, there is a good chance that she may not be able to negotiate the trade deal she wants anyway. This is because of the elephant in the room; free movement. The EU has said time and time again that a free trade deal is reliant on free movement of people. The EFTA countries, who have the best trade deal with the EU still have to accept free movement of people and even they are not in the Customs Union. So, even if May avoids a rebellion, it would still be hard for her to deliver a friction-free border without reversing her own pledges on immigration.
The last issue that comes to mind is this. If we are about to commit to sticking to EU regulations then what is the actual point of Brexit? Those Hard Brexiteers who may soon be in open rebellion wanted to scrap EU regulations so they could increase trade with other countries. That plan would probably be a disaster but at least it makes Brexit purposeful.
Currently, all we seem to be doing is using Brexit to be as similar as possible to how we were before.
This has come at a great cost. We still have to pay billions of pounds to the EU but have less influence, the pound has crashed, our economy is flagging, we have a shortage of workers, businesses have already begun leaving and key EU institutions are also moving elsewhere.
It seems pointless to weaken the country with uncertainty just to end up agreeing to the same rules as we had before. We could have avoided a lot of damage by not proceeding with Article 50 or by at least getting to where we are now a lot earlier.
Today, it looks like May’s prefered option for ending the uncertainty is to stand up against the Hard Brexiteers.
Yet she clearly got cold feet at the last moment and delayed the announcement. No doubt the Hard Brexiteers told her they would oust her if she went ahead. The problem for May is if she wants to progress the talks she has to cross them. Yet if she placates them, and the talks break down, the more sensible members of her own party will ensure she is gone anyway.
The other option would be a bespoke deal for Northern Ireland but, as we have seen today, the DUP will bring her down if she tries that.
It’s hard to see how she can hang on to power going forward.
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