Boris snookered on customs, May snookered too

by Hugo Dixon | 18.05.2018

The prime minister’s scheme to stay in the customs union indefinitely demonstrates both Boris Johnson’s impotence in the Cabinet and her own impotence in the Brexit talks.

The foreign secretary was “outgunned” when Theresa May bounced him into agreeing this proposal on Tuesday. He must be mad as hell because the prime minister’s scheme means following EU tariffs beyond the transition period, which was supposed to end in December 2020. The idea is to avoid border mayhem because the whizzo technology the government hoped would solve the problem can’t be magicked up in time.

May says we’ll still be able to cut trade deals. But how can we do that if we have to follow EU tariffs?

Striding the world like a latter-day Walter Raleigh was supposed to be one of the big benefits of Brexit. Like so many of Johnson’s promises, it was based on fantasy. We have much more clout in global trade as part of the world’s biggest trade bloc than we would on our own. That said, if we can’t clinch trade deals, Brexiters will be asking what’s the point of the whole goddamn business.

Their rage must be reaching boiling point because they know that May’s concession on tariffs isn’t her last. She was told by the Irish leader at a summit in the Balkans yesterday that staying in the customs union won’t be enough to avoid border controls. We’ll also need to follow many of the EU’s single market rules. Leo Varadkar said: “I very much emphasised that resolving the issue of a hard border requires more than customs.”

Demand a vote on the Brexit deal

Click here to find out more

And that’s not all. In return for a longer transition, the EU may insist on “full acceptance of single market rules, regulators and courts”, not just some of its rules, according to the FT. That would mean also extending free movement of people and being forced to agree to “perpetual UK budget contributions”.

Finally, May’s hopes for a “time limited” period in limbo land could be dashed. The EU could insist that any backstop deal to avoid border controls in Ireland is a lasting guarantee. This means that, if the Brexiters’ magical technology never works, we would be stuck in customs purgatory year after year.

The prime minister is snookered because she knows it would be crazy to quit the EU without a Brexit deal – and the EU is adamant that there’ll be no deal without a solution to the Irish border. Meanwhile, the Brexiters are snookered because they can’t get rid of her. Half of Tory MPs need to vote against her in a confidence vote to trigger a leadership contest – and they don’t have the numbers.

Johnson didn’t think any of this through when he campaigned for Brexit two years ago. May didn’t think any of it through when she triggered Article 50 last year. We are likely to end up with a really miserable deal. All the more reason for the people to get a vote on it.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

4 Responses to “Boris snookered on customs, May snookered too”

  • IMHO, May is hell bent on a hard brexit, whatever the social, business and financial costs to the UK.
    She has been procrastinating for months, and she continues to flannel around potential but unworkable options, to keep people guessing.
    When her very wealthy backers decide the time is right, she will declare that we have no choice but to leave without agreement.
    She will, illogically and incorrectly, blame EU intransigence in negotiations, and on the 29th of March 2019 we will no longer have the hundreds of important benefits, of EU membership.
    But, she will have stopped the new EU company anti tax avoidance legislation becoming law in the UK, and will be on the way to creating Europes largest tax haven for the wealthy.
    The rest of us, the serfs and plebs, will be required to pay more tax.
    Complete lunacy, but who will stop her?

  • Graham,
    I think that you’re overdoing the pessimism. It would appear that logic will finally prevail in the House of Commons. The majority of MP’S are not going to vote for a hard Brexit – you must have seen the arithmetic and the voting intentions in recent weeks and months?
    I recommend that you read through some of these InFacts articles which should provide you with the supporting data on this.

  • New thoughts upon Brexit.

    How much longer before the penny drops
    and British folk realize Brexit is for clots ?
    The Brexiters sold some of us a pup
    A poison chalice in a glittering cup.

    Money isn’t only what its all about,
    Peace and security the young ones shout.
    With Scotland and Ireland off the scene
    Great Britain will only be a distant dream.

    The size of promised savings were really crude
    Yet with this promise the voters they did delude.
    As every day living standards fall
    Some regret there was a Brexit vote at all.

    Tony Blair has risen from the ashes
    and told folk the truth as the pound now crashes.
    Donald Trump is a good reason to stay together
    As now we head for stormy weather.

    Today John Major underlined the risks
    They should not lightly be dismissed.
    The cost of divorce will be astronomic
    UK relations with the EU will at best be platonic.

    Now article 50 has been triggered
    an upfront payment must be considered
    The pound will continue on its downward path
    And the twenty seven will have the last laugh.

    Today George Osborne has appeared
    To underline again his deepest fears.
    When negotiations with the EU stall,
    Again the Sterling pound will fall.

    The Brexiteers are cushioned by high pay.
    Those who have been conned must have another say.
    The Brexiters-in-chief Boris and David Davis
    Got us into this unholy mess must now save us !

    The Pound versus Dollar has dropped again
    I am simply forced to take up my pen.
    To raise awareness of the path we’ve taken
    and explain how confidence is shaken.

    The thousand Dollar question is can we go back
    Can we give those Brexiters the sack ?
    Can they be charged with serious offences
    and accept the verdict and dire consequences.

    Have you noticed the increase in prices?
    Cost of fuel, food, holidays will cause a crisis !
    For holidays at home you’ll have to settle,
    And for your favourite drink put on the kettle.

    © David Watmough File: New thoughts on brexit 180518

  • Is May perhaps playing a long game? Procrastinating just long enough for the Brexit “logic” to self destruct? She was a Remainer and probably she still is. But she is running a divided party and needs to hold that together too. I suspect she would not want to challenge the referendum, although IMHO it was fraudulent in so many ways so letting the Brexiteers self destruct would provide some considerable satisfaction. Especially when you consider who they are and the harm they have caused. Hopefully this will be the end of several failed careers.