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Analysis

Brexiters’ latest unicorn is already lame. Time to move on

by Luke Lythgoe | 05.02.2019

Last Tuesday the government let another Brexit unicorn roam free – the so-called “Malthouse Compromise” – in a bid to keep the disintegrating Conservative party together. Less than a week on, and the unicorn is already lame.

Even as Theresa May prepares to make a speech in Northern Ireland promising to secure a deal with the EU that “commands broad support” and a majority in Parliament, and a gaggle of soft and hard Brexiters gather to discuss the options, it’s clear that divisions in the Tory party won’t be fixed.

Many pro-European MPs have called out the Malthouse unicorn for what it really is, with former universities minister Sam Gyimah denouncing “fantasy politics”. But it is the Tory hard Brexiters, whom May is bending over backwards to accommodate, who are putting up the most resistance.

Yesterday, while meeting MPs from the Commons Brexit committee, the European Commission’s secretary-general Martin Selmayr offered legal guarantees that the controversial “backstop” would only be temporary. That could be presented as a fundamental change to May’s deal. But the two Brexiters in the meeting – Andrea Jenkyns and John Whittingdale – said they would still not be able to support it.

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The problem is that the Brexiters have gone Full Malthouse: demanding a renegotiation of the backstop and relying on technological solutions (which don’t exist) to keep trade flowing freely across the Irish border. It’s a fantasy the EU can’t accept, as Angela Merkel showed by again ruling out the reopening of the withdrawal agreement.

Perhaps the Brexiters are deluded over what they can achieve. But this “compromise” looks a lot like a cynical ploy to run the Brexit clock down to “no deal” on March 29. And even if Brexiters were given everything they want on the backstop, it’s unlikely that many would support May’s deal even then. Boris Johnson’s Telegraph column yesterday made that abundantly clear, laying into the “staggering” divorce bill, “protracted and humiliating” transition period and May’s “bonkers” plans for future relations with the EU.

The more reasonable members of the Tory party need to quickly dispatch this lame Malthouse unicorn to unicorn heaven. It’s already wasted another two weeks of precious time. MPs must resist creating new fantasies and focus on rapidly exploring the remaining Brexit options on the table: Labour’s proposals, “Norway plus”, “managed no deal”…

Once all of these are written off as either unviable or disastrous, there is only one democratic way to break the deadlock in Parliament. Backing a People’s Vote.

10 Responses to “Brexiters’ latest unicorn is already lame. Time to move on”

  • It appears likely that Brexiters have a not so secret wish to have the idea of a technological solution applied to all EU borders in order to achieve friction-less trade without joining the customs union or the internal market. If only they can bamboozle EU into joining the dream.
    Maybe they should invest a lot of money into developing such a system. It would be a unicorn chase but if they (unlikely) could do it, they could sell it worldwide.
    Believe me, I have worked for EU in this field.

  • You lot love your Unicorns!

    From a logical perspective, surely the EU (and Ireland) would rather have a deal which keeps an open border between north and south, and gives the EU lots of our lovely lolly and other goodies. If we do in fact end up with no deal then there will be an open border between the north and south due to the UK not implementing a hard border, the Irish not implementing a hard border and the EU not implementing a hard border as this is all sides stated position.

    No, it is the extreme remainers who are trying to kill of any deal that actually means we leave the EU as they (with the help of sites like this) cannot accept anything other than remaining members of the EU!

  • Peter,

    Indeed we do wish to keep the deal we have, which is far superior to any that has been so far suggested. What sort of idiot pays good money to follow rules made elsewhere with no say in their making, when they currently have a seat at the table and a veto? If no-deal wasn’t going to be such a disaster for the country I would support it myself over May’s deal.

    It wasn’t remainers however who promised the electorate that we would have a deal that would allow us to have our EU cake and also eat it because the German motor industry would demand it. Nor was it us who coined the phrases ‘they need us more than we need them’ and ‘we hold all the cards’.

    Maybe if the leading advocates of leave had been a bit more honest and informed the electorate that a leave vote would demand invoking the spirit of the Blitz in order to survive it the outcome of the referendum might have been different.

    Unicorns indeed.

  • Peter
    I didn’t hear people like you clamouring to exit the EU in 2013. It wasn’t an issue back then other than for a rump of right wingers in the Tory party who had bleated for years. Why? Simply because they saw the EU as a barrier to their making loads of money from their investment businesses. Stand up Redwood and Mogg.
    The referendum was about shutting these guys up but it backfired and now we are all being wagged by these same people. The referendum has split the country in two. Nothing to do with remainers or leavers. It is all about keeping the Tory party in one piece. If you cannot see how the country has been lied to and deceived then you have your head in the sand. By the time you wake up it will be too late.

  • Peter, your suggestion that all sides involved simply throw open the Irish border has only one major problem: it is illegal.

    Under the rules of the WTO, countries may only give favourable treatment (such as an open-borders policy, or even the distributed-paperwork concept being waved by the PM) as part of a negotiated and ratified trade deal. Outside of such a deal, you are obliged to apply the same rules to all without discriminating on origin. So if the UK or the EU decided to apply no controls in Ireland, they would be obliged to be equally open for anything that anyone else tried to bring in from anywhere else – no matter whether it was up to standards or even safe.
    Of course, there’s nothing in theory stopping the UK and EU negotiating such a deal. But such negotiations tend to run to years if not decades, and involve agreeing to either keep common policies or accept inspections on a host of areas – standards, third-party tariffs, et cetera.

    There’s also the political impossibility, as well as the legal. The hardline Brexiters are committed to being able to diverge on the policies mentioned earlier, which will require barrier controls between Dover and Calais. British Unionists of all stripes are committed to having no barriers between any one part of the country, such as Northern Ireland, and the rest. The EU holds the lack of barriers between its members, including the Republic of Ireland, as a fundamental tenet. And the RoI and the UK are bound by international treaty to have no barriers between Northern Ireland and the RoI. Which, unless your name is Escher, makes an impossible cycle: Dover /= Calais = Dublin = Belfast = Dover simply does not work.
    We can only make it match up by breaking at least one set of commitments:
    – Impose barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, alienating many voters (plus the MPs bribed to keep the Government in power), and opening the wedge to the disintegration of the entire country.
    – Impose barriers between Northern Ireland and the Republic, thus breaking an international treaty, potentially threatening a shaky peace in the region, and potentially setting the stage for a break-up of the UK.
    – Expect the EU to throw the Irish under the bus, thus betraying their entire reason for being, (and probably threatening the peace even more, by forcing the Irish Republic into a sort-of British Empire against its will barely a century after it seceded!).
    – Wind our neck in and accept that the UK will have to remain aligned with the EU on standards, tariffs, third-party deals, et cetera.
    I don’t know about you, but I can see a clear winner there. It least to a two-way choice:
    – The UK follows the EU’s lead without a say, on the basis of who’s the more economically powerful entity and has more leverage.
    – The UK helps to lead and direct the EU’s policy from the inside.
    Again, no need for much consideration there.

  • It’s agreed on all hands that a technological solution to the Irish border problem doesn’t yet exist. One might wonder whether those resident near the border (its 310 miles with its 275 crossing points) would ever welcome being being constantly surveilled by such technology as doesn’t yet exist but which we’re told might at some time in the future be devised and put in place.

  • Dear Theresa, William and Alex,
    It’s always nice to see rebukes to people with such half-witted comments.
    I’ll admit it’s quite frustrating but also impossible to engage in any meaningful debate with this type of mindset.
    Therefore, let’s try a few statistics to relieve the stress, and talk about the cost of the EU to the UK. I’ll admit it’s a great digression from the article above but hey ho!
    Anyway, this is about UK taxable income versus net payments to the EU.
    The UK’s planned budget expenditure for 2019 is £776 billion. A mouthwatering figure. This of course needs to be balanced against taxable income to avoid government borrowing. We know there is a budget deficit therefore any reduction in trade i.e. through recession, just increases borrowing. So what about the UK government’s net payments to the EU out of this sum, in comparison? It’s actually ca. 9 million pa – representing ca. 1% of budget. Not a lot really.
    I’m quite sure that this very modest annual fee to the EU club (allowing tariff-free trade) has permitted the UK to generate substantially more annual income, year by year, in comparison through this frictionless free trade. This makes the EU membership seem quite a good deal doesn’t it?
    In conclusion? It’s maybe not easy to argue the above to the regular Brexiter but it’s there just as a reminder, and always worth a try.

  • Got the EU juices flowing with this one!

    I knew that leaving the EU was the right thing to do way before 2013. In fact as soon as the euro came into being as was never purely monetary but the 1st major step toward European integration. I still strongly believe that the project is doomed to failure some time in the future and I want us out before it gets messy. Please show me how and who, EU politician wise would be willing to change the direction of the EU – Guy Verhofstad perhaps?
    Oh and the Irish border – illegal or not, who will put up a hard border?????

  • Any deal negotiated by Theresa May’s government is only a delay to Hard Brexit. The hard brexiteers are even prepared to see the Transition period extended until 2021, on the condition they get ‘No Deal’ then. So do we want chaos, now or then? It’s just a matter of timing. If we could get them to tell us what sacrifices they are happy we should make for them to make a few more million pounds each, Brexit would be toast. James O’Brien of LBC tried to get Jacob Rees Mogg to comment on Minford’s economic model, which he is a fan of, but he obfuscated claiming Minford was taken out of context. We are waiting for him to put into context, or any Brexiteer for that matter.
    http://patrickminford.net/wp/E2016_1.pdf Page 5.

  • To Peter
    You missed the point completely. There was absolutely no public clamour for a referendum before it came out of the mouths of Tory politicians . You may not have liked the EU since the Euro was introduced but the U.K. has been given dispensations galore by Euro. There was never any chance of this country joining the Euro- ask Gordon Brown. In the meantime our lives have been inextricably tied into the EU. Attempting to unravel everything is causing mayhem. Why would you ever want such disruption. Even so you want to leave. And what is your vision of the future, Peter? Weren’t you the one talking about Unicorns. I