Perhaps still a moment too soon

Back in June, when the Tories did a deal with the DUP in order to remain in power, I wrote a post explaining how it meant that the only likely outcome would be that the whole of UK would remain in the EU single market and customs union. This is a extract from it:

The DUP save our bacon

There is only one thing that the DUP really want from this deal, which is that the Six Counties are not treated in any way differently from the rest of the UK. If the DUP were not in such a pivotal position, I would have put money on the eventual solution to the problem of the border between the Six Counties and the Twenty-six being that the effective border between the EU and UK post-Brexit would be the Irish Sea, and that customs and immigration checks would have been carried out at the ports and airports rather than at the land border. Logistically, that is by far the best way of handling things because the tickets of any people or goods would have to be checked anyway when they boarded the ferries or planes to cross the Irish Sea, so discretely checking their customs/immigration documents at the same time as their tickets would result in no additional inconvenience.

However this arrangement is the one thing that the DUP will absolutely oppose, because in the event of a hard Brexit it will make the Six Counties—in practice if not in name—part of the EU single market and customs union and therefore economically, as opposed to politically, part of a united Ireland.

The only alternative to this is for the UK as a whole to remain part of the EU single market and customs union. And for me this now looks to be the most likely outcome. Essentially, the UK will have a similar relationship with the EU as Norway, and the border between the Six and Twenty-six counties will become as irrelevant for day-to-day purposes as the border between Norway and Sweden. Such an arrangement will also solve the problem of the border between Gibraltar and Spain, allowing Gibraltar to remain British without taking a massive financial hit from the loss of thousands of workers who make the daily commute from Spain.

Syniadau – 9 June 2017

Well, after six months of a Tory government trying its best to avoid reality, we are about to see if this prediction is going to prove accurate. The Independent seems to think it will:

Simply, the only way to obey the Irish and EU demand of no hard border on the island of Ireland is for Northern Ireland to remain in the EU customs union. The only way for May to keep her majority in Parliament is to make sure Northern Ireland (NI) does not leave the EU on different terms than the rest of the UK. So therefore the only way to progress to EU trade talks, and not simultaneously collapse her Government, is for the entire UK to stay in the customs union. It is that simple, and there are no other options.

Independent – 4 December 2017

The only real thing that might have changed is that hard-line Brexiteers within the ranks of Tory MPs might not accept the UK remaining in the customs union and single market (CU and SM), not least because months and months of prevarication by a directionless Tory government have encouraged them to believe that they might get their way. For Theresa May, it might not actually matter what the DUP think, if her government is going to be brought down anyway by these hard-liners refusing to accept anything but a hard Brexit.

Either way, there is a real possibility that a vote of no confidence will bring down the government, and that Labour will win the general election that follows. The $64,000 question is what platform Labour will campaign on. I have no doubt that public opinion will eventually come round to the UK remaining part of the SM and CU, if not remaining as a full member of the EU. But I'm not sure that we have reached that point yet. I thought we'd have to wait to see that it was impossible to get a good deal before public opinion swung significantly enough to encourage Labour to stand, and win, on that platform.

It's all just a little bit too soon. So perhaps the best outcome is for the EU and UK to fail, yet again, to make sufficient progress before the upcoming summit and for everything to be put back until next year. If the squabble is seen to be between the Tories and the DUP or the Tories and Ireland, that won't weaken the Tories one bit. But if the squabble shifts to being a bloody battle between two factions in the Tory party, then Labour will easily win an election next year either on a platform of remaining in the SM and CU (more or less on the same terms as Norway, but with a few tweaks) or halting Brexit entirely.

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