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Analysis

PM is shaking the UK to its foundations

by David Hannay | 23.10.2019

Few aspects of the Brexit saga are more counter-intuitive than the way three successive leaders of the Conservative and Unionist Party should have acted in a manner which is shaking the union of the U.K. to its foundations.

David Cameron, by holding a referendum so soon after a narrow escape in the Scottish independence vote, which was certain , whatever the overall outcome, to pit the four nations of our union against one another; Theresa May by deciding at the outset, and without any prior consultation with the devolved institutions to quit the EU’s customs union and its single market, thus greatly accentuating the damage that would be caused by Brexit in any case; and now Boris Johnson by doing a deal which would involve installing a customs border arrangements between Great Britain and Northern Ireland of a kind which both his predecessor and he himself had said could not be contemplated by any British Prime Minister.

Bad enough, you might think, but worse still when you look at the detail. Northern Ireland is to be saddled with an import regime of extraordinary complexity for goods coming from Great Britain or from other countries outside the EU with tariffs having to be paid upfront and not reimbursed until it was certain that they were not going through a duty free backdoor into the EU (and all this controlled by European institutions in which they would have no representation). This will inevitably impose substantial costs on businesses in the province. It is hard to believe that these new arrangements will not, as Jonathan Powell who played a key role in negotiating the Good Friday Agreement , has pointed out act as a steadily increasing incentive for the province to become part of, and not just a quasi-colony of, the EU, in which they voted to remain in the first place.

For Scotland, the equation is even worse, despite the fact that they voted to remain in the EU by an even larger majority than Northern Ireland. They will have access to none of the provisions thrashed out for Northern Ireland and will, in terms of their future trade access to the EU be entirely dependent on whatever future deal the government in London May negotiate with the EU – and that government could well turn out to value regulatory independence higher than frictionless trade. Is it surprising that support for Scottish independence was on the rise even before the terms of Johnson’s deal were known?

And Wales, which did vote, narrowly, to leave is equally, like Scotland being discriminated against when you compare their position with the Northern Ireland deal.

This really is a topsy turvy outcome which the Parliament of our union is being pressed to accept. If that union is, as Theresa May so frequently said, precious, as it certainly is to many of us, then the simplest way to strengthen it is to d3cide to remain in the EU or, less conclusively, at least to negotiate a customs union with the rest of the EU.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

Categories: Brexit

10 Responses to “PM is shaking the UK to its foundations”

  • Well, it’s a little incoherent but I get the general message – i.e., a Conservative government is bad news for the UK as a whole and the devolved governments in particular. We all knew that anyway. We are here because DC didn’t have the balls to face down his backbenchers, TM invoked Article 50 without any strategic plan to withdraw (even Cummings said that should have taken two years to thrash out) and as for BJ, well, ’nuff said.

  • 1.0 million people in Scotland voted to Leave the EU

    1.6 million people in Scotland voted to Leave the UK – more even than the winning side in Scotland in the EU Referendum (1.4million)

    There is a lot of scope for sentiment in Scotland to continue to move against continuing membership of the UK.

  • Another excellent article from David Hannay. I don’t understand the comment above about incoherency, it’s all perfectly clear to me.
    But I am appalled at the willingness of the Conservative and Unionist Party MPs to so meekly go along with Johnson’s Northern Ireland “solution”. It frankly beggars belief that it has not been opposed by them. Until one reads the jaw-dropping comment of Andrea Jenkins that Northern Ireland is a long way away from her constituency and she was only concerned with her constituents interests. What an irresponsible, appalling statement. She should be ashamed of herself and roundly criticised.

  • Well said. What we are seeing is the transformation of the Conservatives into a narrow-minded Little England nationalist party with no interest in maintaining, let alone fostering, the bonds with the other three jurisdictions.

    Tragic, but perhaps an unsurprising consequence of our national parties in Great Britain not having a presence in NI, and contesting seats there in their own right.

  • Why publish a photograph of Boris Johnson with an Aston Martin when the mechanical underpinning is Mercedes AMG, a supply chain that would interrupted with Brexit?

  • The apparently cowardly behaviour of MPs which has been a feature from the beginning probably reflects a degree of intimidation. The fact is that the Remain side has not behaved in a threatening and gangsterish manner as has the Leave side, backed by strident and powerful voices in the tabloid press. MPs are, I would guess, in a very vulnerable position, we are not far away from the kind of lawless situation where MPs who do not watch their step may meet with unexplained accidents. The veneer of civilised values is very thin and our memories of Britain as a benign and tolerant place have been undermined by what is happening now.

  • John King, the willingness to believe that brexiteers will resort to violence if they do not get one of their various sorts of Brexit, whilst remain voters shed tears into their hankies and melt away into nothingness, keeps surprising me. By now Brexit, and certainly the loathsome behaviour of some of its proponents, has the country on a sharp edge and some sort of violence from any side would not at all surprise me.

  • Johnson’s and the Tories whole rhetoric is now about, ‘lets get on with it’, and ‘get Brexit done’, hoping the understandable fatigue of people will help bounce MPs and Parliament into accepting the current Deal. However, this is just a mirage. If the Deal turned out being for membership of the Single Market, Customs Union or the Norway option, the calls for ‘lets get on with it’, would evaporate. (Much as the DUP’s support has suddenly disappeared).
    The calls to ‘Get Brexit done’ is based on the narrow definition of Brexit defined by Johnson, Michael Gove and Rees-Mogg.

  • Alex –
    Only way to get Brexit done is to revoke, but it’s a catchy soundbite. Our rejoinder should be “Brexit? Bin it”

  • The people of NI voted to remain and Boris is delivering on the logic of that vote. However, it is a grooming act to prepare the people of NI for a border poll as per the Good Friday Agreement. It enrages the DUP who are desperate to maintain the territorial and customs integrity of the Union in order to maintain political hegemony. The fear that their Brexit stance may be challenged at the polls by the more moderate UUP is currently resulting in intimidation of UUP members, requiring the intervention of the police (PSNI). Interestingly, the constituency most affected is North Belfast, held by Nigel Dodds, that intrepid Brexit parliamentary performer (whose wife carries out similar functions as an MEP). The Boris deal is of course shocking for Scotland, no better for Wales but could safeguard growth areas in the SE of England. The Sunderland or Workington man will be big losers.