On Tuesday Channel 4 news asked regular British people to draw the Northern Ireland border and we got to laugh at their ignorance. On Wednesday RTE news asked Irish people to draw some borders too and the results were only marginally better.
I didn’t judge too harshly, because I keep having to look up the difference between the customs union and the single market. Oh and when RTE created this great interactive map for all of us to try I barely made 70% accuracy. Geography might be a pass subject, but Brexit is all very honours.
However, my research was worth it because the penny finally dropped – the DUP is the best thing that happened us.
My theory from the beginning has been that Brexit is such a total disaster, it can’t happen. A do-over was the obvious option, but failing that the mess could be mitigated by the British agreeing to stay in the customs union and preferably, the single market too. Alas, the nutters rose in the ascendancy and utterly bizarrely the DUP ended up with the balance of power.
For example – Nigel Dodds genuinely implied that it was thanks to God that they had this extraordinary power.
Sebastian Hamilton from The Daily Mail has been saying to me from since the start that there is no point talking economics to the Brexiteers – Sovereignty is a religion for them. And now with the DUP holding the ace, that’s no metaphor. It really is a religious issue. So even though Northern Ireland outside the customs union would face World Trade Organisation tariffs of 50 per cent on meat (and 100% on some cuts) when God is British – that simply doesn’t matter to them.
But that’s ok now: Because I’m arguing in the Times, that what we need is actually a version of Nadir-Leninism.
“Things have to get really bad in order to create the conditions for the revolution of common sense.”
In other words, Boris Johnson will have to be hung by his ankles over the abyss of economic ruin until he agrees to stay in the customs union and/or single market.
Why would he do that? They’ve made it clear they don’t want that because the whole point of leaving the EU was to obtain their imaginary global trade agreements.
Well, Brexit was supposed to be about immigration, and they’ve agreed to safeguard the rights of EU citizens. A few months ago Johnson told the EU to “Go whistle” on that divorce bill and they’ve agreed to pay their obligations in full. Without a whimper of protest. Cave-Central.
So that leaves just Ireland and since the start of this some people argue this means Ireland will be sidelined. But I’ve been thinking quite the opposite – and with Tusk’s unequivocal statements last night – am more convinced than ever that Ireland is actually the EU’s winning card.
Because the EU end-game *should* be to force the UK to stay in the customs union and preferably single market.
As I say in my column:
- According to the principles of the Interlaken agreement of 1987 any trade agreements with 3rd party countries must follow key principles which in essence mean that strict trade rules must apply.
- That means that if the UK leaves the customs union and single market, *there must be an actual border*. You cannot have goods crossing over and back between the UK and the Republic of Ireland without that produce being checked to ensure it complies with say, health and safety regulations.
It just can’t happen. That’s why Bertie Ahern’s suggestion that a blind eye could be turned to various cross border activity is dodgy. Very dodgy.
- But the EU is committed to protecting the Good Friday Agreement. So that means they cannot support a return of a border.
- Therefore the only solution that satisfies (1) and (2) is that Northern Ireland stays in the customs union and preferably single market.
- But the DUP they will bring down the British government rather than agree.
- That means that the only solution is that the entire United Kingdom stays in the customs union or single market.
This leaves the Brexiteers on their own with their red line: they either stay in the customs union and single market or a hard Brexit it is.
Will they cave or will they walk?
And that’s what I call it the abyss moment. That’s when the 27 must sit tight and stare into their crazed Brexit eyes. It won’t be about Ireland pleading for a deal. It’ll be about what is the best thing for the entire 430 million people in the European Union not to mention the 66 million inhabitants of the United Kingdom.
What will happen next?
Johnson and the rest have caved on everything else, so, they could cave on this.
Or, are they mad enough to walk away? Maybe so.
But we must not panic then.
Because then – surely then – we reach the trough of what I called Nadir-Brexitism today.
The members of the House of Commons, two thirds of whom are against Brexit, must finally be pushed into a revolt against the madness.
So far they have whimpered about respecting the will of the people; but the people, as our television news programmes have established, don’t understand geography never mind World Trade Organisation tariffs. And by the way – the people voted to leave the EU. Leaving the CU/SM was announced later. The “will of the people” can still be “respected” by insisting the trading institutions stand.
A hard Brexit is a disaster the sane politicians – who are in a majority – simply cannot inflict on their country. And this is why the EU 27 must cling to this reality and not blink. It was a bit annoying the way “senior hurling” became a cliché, but this really is it.
I don’t know if they do game theory for these things, and if anyone is coaching the negotiators. But surely the Ken Clarkes would find their voice and lead a House of Commons revolt and simply not allow BoJo to inflict a Hard Brexit on the people.
But it will require nerve. Hopefully Barnier and Tusk have it. I think they do. Judging by the mood music.
If they don’t that’ll be very disappointing. I think we’ve got this.