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Analysis

May wrong to present UK’s choice as her deal or no deal

by Luke Lythgoe | 17.09.2018

Crashing out of the EU with no deal is terrible. But the prime minister’s plan to turn us into a rule-taker is miserable. We can do better: cancel Brexit entirely.

The latest stage in Theresa May’s battle with Boris Johnson – over the Irish “backstop” – is, as Nick Clegg told the BBC today, an “insult to the intelligence of British voters”. It ignores a perfectly good solution: if we stay in the EU, there don’t have to be customs checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, or in the Irish Sea.

Because the prime minister has failed to come up with a workable solution, the EU has devised its own compromise aimed at “de-dramatising” frontier controls between the EU and Northern Ireland. This would trust UK officials – rather than the EU’s – to carry out checks on goods moving from British ports to Northern Ireland, deploying technology such as tracking with barcodes and signing companies up to “trusted trader” schemes, according to the FT.

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But this is still in effect a customs border in the Irish Sea, with a different regime between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK – albeit with checks happening in firms’ warehouses, at ports or on ferries. That’s exactly what the DUP, which props up May’s government, says it cannot abide. It’ll take quite the feat of de-dramatisation to convince it.

Meanwhile, Johnson is right to attack the prime minister’s Chequers proposal for turning us into rule-takers. He says in the Telegraph that this would be the “first time since 1066 our leaders were deliberately acquiescing in foreign rule”. This won’t just bother the former foreign secretary. It will stick in the craw of patriotic pro-Europeans too.

However, Johnson’s assertion that naive Brexiters such as himself were “taken in” by the December deal on Ireland, which he agreed to as a cabinet minister, is a bit rich. It looks more like he wasn’t on top of the detail.

The other problem Johnson has is that his own “solution” – which involves checking goods away from the border – will not work. May was right when she told the BBC: “You don’t solve the issue of no hard border by having a hard border 20km inside Ireland.” That’s still a hard border, with physical customs infrastructure – exactly what everyone has been trying to avoid to maintain Irish peace.

Given the bankruptcy of what hardline Brexiters have to offer, May says it’s either her deal or no deal. But of course there is a third way. Give the decision back to the UK public. If they don’t want to choose between either being rule-taker or jeopardising peace in Ireland, they should be given the chance to say so.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

2 Responses to “May wrong to present UK’s choice as her deal or no deal”

  • Johnson’s asserts that “naive Brexiters such as himself were “taken in” by the December deal on Ireland”

    One wonders if they were also taken in by the £350m on the side of the bus, and all the other nonsense that they put about?

  • Was Johnson asleep during ALL his history lessons at Eton?
    The French Dauphin came to England at the invitation of rebellious nobles in 1216 to help them get rid of King John.
    William of Orange was invited in 1688 (by, among others, John Churchill, later Duke of Marlborough) to kick out James II.
    I suppose he picked “1066” for literary effect rather than any sordid association with the facts. Typical.