EU will not compromise its fundamental values so British MPs need to stop opposing everything and make a choice between May’s deal and a second referendum.
An answer to the Irish border question posed by Brexit could risk the Good Friday Agreement and the integrity of the European Union’s single market.
So when MPs decided to send Theresa May back to Brussels to renegotiate not the answer itself, but the ‘backstop’ arrangement in the event that one cannot be found, they were setting her a Herculean task.
Despite the passage of more than two-and-a-half years, no one knows how to square the circle of how it’s possible to have a hard(-ish) border between the EU and the UK but not between Northern Ireland and the south.
Hard Brexiteers don’t like the backstop because it could theoretically keep the UK as a whole in the EU customs union forever if it turns out that there actually is no answer. But the suggestion of a time-limited backstop would mean it wouldn’t perform the function of a backstop.
The EU does not want a no-deal Brexit, but it also can’t break its own most fundamental rules or let down a member state for the sake of one that’s leaving. So Brussels may try to make some limited concessions, but not to the satisfaction of hard Brexiteers. They may have had considerable success as the tail of the Conservative Party wagging the British bulldog, but the 27 other EU states are unlikely to be similarly moved, particularly as developing a reputation for weakness in international diplomacy is never a good idea.
So when May returns to the Commons, a big question will be whether the hard Brexiteers will accept reality and vote for her deal. If so, Brexit is likely to proceed. If not, MPs will face a choice that really shouldn’t be a choice: a second referendum – because having asked the people, it would be wrong to simply overturn their decision without asking permission – or the potential economic catastrophe of a no-deal Brexit.
Our politicians keep saying what they are not in favour of: a second referendum, May’s deal, or a no-deal. There is an urgent need to decide what they want to happen from the available choices, whether or not they are ideal.
For while our politicians dither, the world is turning. Financial giant Barclays yesterday got approval from the High Court to move £166 billion in assets from London to Dublin as it “cannot wait any longer” to implement its no-deal contingency plan. Actually, it wasn’t £166bn, it was €190bn.