Leader comment: UK-EU deal exposes the contradictions of Brexit

For supporters of a '˜soft Brexit', Theresa May's deal with the European Union appears to be good news '“ judging by the Brexiteers' reaction.

Anti-Brexit campaigners wave EU and Union flags outside the Westminster Parliament. (Picture: Getty)

For supporters of a ‘soft Brexit’, Theresa May’s deal with the European Union appears to be good news – judging by the Brexiteers’ reaction.

Arron Banks, founder of Leave.EU group, was distinctly unpleasant about the pro-Brexit MP Priti Patel, calling her a “typical Tory traitor” after she described the agreement as an “important step forward”. And former UKIP leader Nigel Farage tweeted huffily that “we can now move on to the next stage of humiliation” – a slightly odd turn of phrase given stage one was the decision to leave the EU.

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It was left to the likes of Nicola Sturgeon to provide more measured comment. Scotland’s First Minister welcomed the deal, as it will allow the talks to progress to trade, but noted the “devil is in the detail and things now get really tough”.

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What Brexit deal means for Irish border and other issues

Ms Sturgeon also made a not unreasonable point, for a nationalist, that the deal showed an independent Scotland would not necessarily mean a hard border with England; Scots Tory leader Ruth Davidson then made a not unreasonable point, for a unionist, that the First Minister should stop banging on about independence.

A key part of the 7,200-word document is where the UK agrees to “maintain full alignment with those rules of the [EU] internal market and customs union which, now or in the future, support North-South [Irish] co-operation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 [Good Friday] Agreement” unless some other arrangement is made.

So the UK would be outside the Single Market, have no say in any of its rules but still would have to abide by many of them, even ones the EU brings in after Brexit. You can see why Banks and Farage are so cross.

But, in reality, Ms May and the Government had little choice but to make the deal, as Cabinet Brexiteer Boris Johnson appears to have belatedly realised.

The only alternatives would appear to be either creating a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic – risking the Good Friday Agreement and causing Britain to crash out of the EU with no trade deal – or putting a hard border between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain, and thereby, as Ms Davidson warned, threatening the integrity of the UK.

When they campaigned so glibly for Brexit on the grounds the UK would “take back control” from Brussels, the Brexiteers do not seem to have thought these issues through. If anything, Brexit seems to be giving more control to Brussels.