Re-imagining the Past
It is so long ago now but do you remember how you voted in the EU Referendum? Philip Hammond appears to remember it clearly: you voted for “a smooth and orderly Brexit”. He also remembers that you “didn’t vote to be poorer”. Remember it better now? If not have another look at the ballot paper:
You didn’t really think “Leave Means Leave” did you? Obviously it’s more subtle than that. If you couldn’t read between the lines you should have put your cross in both boxes to reflect your confusion and let your betters make the right decision for you. Perhaps you were also half-deaf at the time and didn’t hear how much worse off you’d be if we left so put your cross in the wrong box. It’s not your fault though, millions made the same mistake.
Of course you preferred a smooth and orderly exit and didn’t want to be poorer. You probably thought the EU wanted the same and that, with some give and take from both sides, we could reach an agreement that wasn’t too bumpy or impoverishing for any of the 28 nations. When the previous Prime Minister said “Brexit Means Brexit” you probably thought that this encapsulated her other mantra, “we are leaving the EU, the Customs Union and the Single Market on the 29th of March.” You probably weren’t expecting her to agree when Michel Barnier suggested she accept what he wanted before they discussed what she wanted.
Having agreed that the UK would be a rule-taker without a say and would never be a competitive challenger there was (and is) no need for the EU team to agree anything further. That has led to the current impasse, it is not what most of you remember voting for but what did you expect if you couldn’t make the right choice?
Interviewed on the BBC’s Today programme (9th October) Irish Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe agreed that if there is no deal there will have to be customs checks from Ireland’s side to protect its trade within the EU, although these would be as limited as possible to minimise or avoid border infrastructure (aka a hard border). The Irish government and the EU Commission have promised that in no circumstances would they install any customs infrastructure in Ireland so presumably the checks would take place away from the border and avoid any new physical customs posts. That sounds very similar to Boris Johnson’s proposals so why not share those plans with the UK, they might be acceptable to all parties?
Nick Robinson, the BBC’s interviewer, raised this point. He asked whether the Irish government was saying there can’t be customs checks anywhere near the border or whether it was trying to trap Northern Ireland and make it separate from the UK. Donohoe responded that his government ‘respected’ the British people’s decision and were not seeking to trap anyone because they had experience of referendums themselves (and how to overturn them, but he didn’t mention that). They didn’t want customs checks anywhere in Ireland so ‘constructive engagement’ was essential (that was what the previous Irish government was doing before the present one pulled out of discussions).
“So,” asked Robinson, “will the Irish introduce customs checks if there is no deal?” “Yes, some kind of arrangements,” replied Paschal. “That means a customs check then,” said Nick, “your government is preparing to introduce customs checks within days of a no deal Brexit but won’t agree a deal that might introduce customs checks in months or years time.” The answer he got was, “It will cause problems. We must, and are, putting all of our energy into finding a solution.”
The hypocrisy is obvious but it is shocking. The Good Friday Agreement requires the consent of all the parties to a separation of Northern Ireland from the UK, yet Dublin, Brussels and Labour say that hiving off Northern Ireland into a separate legal zone, with huge areas of its laws set and judged by a foreign power, respects the Agreement. Or maybe not in the case of Labour, ambiguity is its game. This risks renewing the bloody conflict. Robinson let the Finance Minister’s blarney go!
Tony Blair has begged MPs not to fight a general election because of a “substantial risk that we end up with a no-deal Brexit.” He means that voters might elect a government that will leave the EU whatever happens, “no ifs, no buts”. He wants a second referendum instead. He might prefer to ask the simple question: ‘Do you want to be poorer?’ and let him decide, himself, what to do about the voters’ preference.