Thursday 7 February 2019

Things start to become clearer: we shall leave the EU but stay in something like a customs union

Theresa May speaking in Northern Ireland yesterday said that under no circumstance would she permit a ‘hard border’ between Northern and Southern Ireland.

That was very stupid. A hard border would not conflict with the Good Friday Agreement by which the British government accommodated the IRA terrorists, but Mrs May sounds like she means it and that means there will be no hard Brexit.

If so, the backstop does not matter.

If the British government leaves the EU's customs union and single market, as Mrs May wants, checks would be required on products coming in and out of Northern Ireland, though possibly these checks could be made electronically. If checks happen, there is some sort of hard border. If customs officers are standing at the border it is what she means by a hard border. 

Nowhere in the world is there a border between countries that are not in a customs union where there is not some sort of hard border, though sometimes it is almost invisible. The more customs duties, the harder the border.

Crossing from Italy to Switzerland or from Sweden to Norway you do not notice the customs posts, but they are there, out of view. You don’t notice because Switzerland and Norway, which are not in the EU customs union, closely align their customs and regulations with the EU in order to have an almost seamless border. Nevertheless if you are trying to import a lorry load of squealing pigs or other agricultural goods into Switzerland you have to pay customs duties.

Things start to become clear now. The EU and the British Remainers start to see that there will not be a second Brexit referendum. The British public will not permit it. European politicians realise this and the cleverer ones see that Brexit will split British opinion for decades. If Britain did vote to remain in the EU a recalcitrant Britain would effectively sabotage the EU, even if this wasn’t the British government’s intention.

What will happen instead is a deal with the Labour Party leader whereby Britain stays in 'a' (but I hope not 'the') customs union. 

Both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn’s first priority will be not to split their parties or alienate their own voters. Both of them have their work cut out there. 

Their second priority will be to make things as hard for one another as possible. In Mr Corbyn’s case that may mean agreeing to a bad deal with the EU that he can later criticize.

What is odd is that Theresa May is a Remainer trying dutifully to implement Leave and Corbyn is a passionate Leaver pretending that he is Remain. But their principles are very much secondary to their attempt to act in their own personal and their parties’ political interests. This is how politics works, I'm afraid. The politicians who do operate according to strong principles, such as Brexiters like Jacob Reese-Mogg, are considered by most people to be fanatics. Although unreconstructed Remainers like Anne Soubry are not, which is odd.

I could live with close alignment or staying in the Single Market, if it were the Norway option, even though that means free movement of people. After all, we could renegotiate a Norway type deal in the future if we decide we cannot stomach free movement and can think of a better arrangement. 

I fear that trying to negotiate a bespoke deal will mean a deal that is much worse than Norway’s – does not permit us for example to leave the ECHR, reduce taxes or keep control of fisheries, worst of all leaves us in the existing customs union which means if the EU makes a customs union with, say, Brazil Brazilians can export to the UK without paying a tariff while Brazil levied tariffs on British imports.


  1. I don't get why a border equals bombs. John Korst

  2. Dominic Cummings said that without immigration Leave would have lost, without enlisting the NHS on Leave's side Leave would have lost, and had it not been for the failure of David Cameron to come back with a renegotiation of EU membership Leave would probably have lost. So Brexit is another of Angela Merkel's achievements. The contemptuous attitudes of Remainers towards Leavers helped Leave, according to Cummings. (The friendly advice of Obama, Juncker and other foreigners also won votes for Leave but was marginal.)

  3. 'Even if Mrs May’s deal is approved, we ought not to expect relations to get much better. The Tusk inferno strategy could last another two years, as we try to negotiate a trade deal. It’s quite possible that Michel Barnier, the EU’s irritatingly effective Brexit negotiator, ends up succeeding Juncker. We might then discover that some free movement of people is seen as the price for free trade, and the £39 billion bill might just be the start. In many ways, the last two years have been the easy bit.'

  4. We are where we are. Another vote would most likely make matters worse, and I'm a keen remainer.

  5. I don't see my "A" customs union is so different from, and better than, "the" customs Union. Perhaps you could explain.
    Also I recently read an article about Farage's animosity to the current head of UKIP. Apparently the difference being that Farage is pretty happy with the UK's Muslim component.. The focus of his anger is entirely EU immigration, whilst the new Head of UKIP whose name I isn't recall see the islamisation of the UK as the main issue. I was wondering on which side of that particular fence you stand (I think I know the answer.. But then why are so keen on Farage?)

  6. Immigration is not the main reason for Brexit for NF or me. in fact end of free movement means more 3rd world immigrants. I would like a moratorium on non Europeans settling in Europe –they can work like we can in the UAE on contracts and then return. I do not know why people dislike NF but nor would I say I am particularly keen on him. I am so far away and never watch TV so I do not feel I know much about him.

    Still he is clearly the most important British politician since Churchill or Attlee because without him Brexit would not be happening. And for that I honour him even though it is all going terribly wrong.

  7. Stop spreading these destructive stories. There must be no customs union. Mark Griffith