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Analysis

“Gove” plan may be wrecked on Northern Ireland rocks

by Hugo Dixon | 01.12.2017

Michael Gove may be the most powerful person in the government. That’s because, unlike our hapless prime minister, he has a plan for delivering Brexit. Put simply, the “Gove” plan seems to be to do whatever it takes to get a deal, however rotten it is.

So we see the government offering around €50 billion (£44 billion) to the EU this week for our divorce. Gove blessed that. He even got Boris Johnson, who seems to have become his junior partner, to give it the thumbs up – despite the fact that it makes a mockery of their promise to channel £350 million each week to the struggling NHS. The foreign secretary gave the game away, explaining that “now is the time to get the ship off the rocks”.

For Brexit extremists, the only goal is to get to the promised land of Brexit. Crashing out with no deal – which is what would happen if we refused to pay the EU our dues – might actually torpedo their dreams as most sensible Brits, including many Tory MPs, would recoil in horror. This presumably explains why offering the EU a giant wad of cash barely provoked a squeak from hardline backbench Tories.

The next stage of the “Gove” plan –  which of course hasn’t been fully revealed and so is to some extent guess work – will be to roll over and accept whatever the EU demands in return for giving us a “transition” deal to cushion the blow of Brexit.

Tory Brexit ayatollahs will surrender every red line in their book to get a transition. Accept free movement? Yes sir. Follow EU rules, even new ones, despite the fact that we won’t have a vote on them? Of course. Submit to the European Court of Justice, even though we’ll no longer have a judge? Why didn’t you ask before? Gove will go meekly like a lamb to the slaughter because he knows that otherwise there will be a cliff edge and the public may then be sensible enough not to jump off it.

The “Gove” plan won’t end there. He will be happy to abandon any attempt to keep access in the long run to the EU’s vast single market on anything like our current terms. Forget all Johnson’s talk of having our cake and eating it. Gove is smart enough to know the EU won’t agree to that. The only priority is to hide the truth from the voters until it is too late for them to change their minds.

There is, though, one flaw in this crafty plan: Northern Ireland. Nobody has come up with a way to stop a border in Ireland if the UK pulls out of the EU’s customs union and single market – as the House of Commons Brexit committee explained today. The snag is that the Republic of Ireland has made clear that border controls are not on – and the other EU countries are backing it.

On the other hand, if only Northern Ireland stays in the customs union and single market, it won’t be possible to stop a sea border between Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain – and the DUP, which is propping up May, is threatening to go apeshit if that happens. Although the Irish foreign minister today revealed that Dublin had held back-channel talks with the DUP and expressed hope that there might be some way of squaring the circle, he didn’t say how.

As if this isn’t bad enough, as the Tories nuzzle up to the DUP, they risk undermining their Brexit plans in other ways. Their unholy alliance has already moved the Labour leadership, who are close to Irish nationalists, to suggest they could stay in the single market and customs union permanently. What’s more, Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader, hasn’t even tried to hide her disgust at the DUP. Her posse of 13 MPs is even larger than the DUP’s 10.

Gove is clever – perhaps even very clever. But his plan may yet come a cropper.

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe

3 Responses to ““Gove” plan may be wrecked on Northern Ireland rocks”

  • Hugo Dixon keeps telling us how clever Gove us. He’s not the only journalist to peddle this line – I wonder if it’s anything to do with the journos’ old boys network.
    So can we knock this on the head once and for all? Admittedly, Gove himself plainly thinks he’s clever. Admittedly, too, the bar for cleverness among Brexiteers is very low. But as a Minister Gove has a track record of sputtering, often ill-informed initiatives, summed up by his laughable leadership ‘challenge’ and its unravelling. Not the stuff of high political intelligence. So please, Hugo, stop flattering this desperately self-indulgent man.

  • Can anyone explain why Gove is hell bent on going down that crazy road? Is there anywhere an explanation of the perceived advantages of such a course of action? Are there any?

  • Nothing remains of the Brexit promises and yet we are still charging full speed ahead for that cliff. Of course, this is to respect democracy and the 51% of those who voted cannot be let down by a change of plan. We are reminded of this obligation time and time again and the show must go on!

    Putin is laughing is his socks about all of this of course. He is in a win, win, win position so any development will just add to his good spirits.

    Fantastic plan. Destabilise the EU, UK and the USA all in the space of a few months. John Le Carre must have had a hand in creating this drama.