Thursday 10 October 2019

If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars


The summit between Messrs Johnson and Varadkar yesterday took place away from the eyes of the press and was followed by a joint statement saying they could “see a pathway to a possible deal.” 

This was surprising and promising. Did they mean it or is each trying to look as if a breakdown in talks is not his fault? 

Few people were there and so we know little about what was said.

A piece in the Times says they looked at proposals “that would have had Northern Ireland staying in both the U.K.’s customs union and the EU customs union.”

The Irish Times says it would amount to a version of “the customs partnership” proposed by Theresa May (which sounded like the customs union under a different name) but applied only to Northern Ireland.

It would mean the U.K. levying customs rules on goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland but people in 
Northern Ireland who received those goods getting the money they had paid back, since they are in the U.K. 

That would mean the entire U.K. leaving the customs union, as promised by Boris, but with an administrative customs border in the Irish Sea. 

The DUP, that represents most of the Ulster Protestant Unionists, would be very stupid indeed not to agree, as it will help the Northern Irish economy in general and Protestant farmers in particular. Boris is keeping very close to the DUP. If they don’t agree Boris no longer needs them as much as Theresa May did, as he no longer has a majority in the House of Commons even with them. If they oppose the deal some in the European Reform Group, the hardcore Brexiteer Tory MPs, may find it hard to support it, but I think they will. For them there will not be a better chance.

Michel Barnier has now agreed, after meeting Stephen Barclay this morning, that the negotiations can move to the “tunnel” (intensive secret negotiations). That means this might work, but time is very short indeed.

If it fails, what next? Boris will remain in office but not in power until eventually an election or referendum is called. If it is an election he must campaign with a proposal and, as an alternative, leaving with no deal.

The Tory party obviously cannot win an election saying, 'We want to leave the EU but will not countenance no-deal'. Clearly a deal is impossible unless leaving with no deal is on the cards.

If the Tories win, leaving with no deal will be likely, but that is only a stop on the path to a deal.

Remaining in a customs union with the EU, as Philip Hammond suggests, 
with the right for the UK to leave this customs union by giving one year's notice, in some ways makes sense at least temporarily. It would take us out of the EU and let an election decide whether we should stay in the customs union, but Nigel Farage would (unfairly) call it Brexit in Name Only and this might well sink the Tories, leading to a Corbyn (Trotskyite, hard left) government backed by the Scottish Nationalists in return for a promise of another referendum on Scottish independence.

But my feeling is that the new proposal may work. I hope so and so do most people, apart from those irreconcilable Remainers, like Tony Blair and Sir John Major, who want to prevent any Brexit, despite the referendum result. They probably make up 20% of the population. 

7 p.m. Bucharest time: More hopeful news. A statement is issued by Arlene Foster, leader of the DUP, advocating "a balanced and sensible deal" that makes no criticism of the putative dual customs system for Northern Ireland. This sounds very much like she backs the plan.

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