The headline claim comes from a sparsely detailed and frequently contradictory exclusive by The Sunday Times newspaper in Britain, suggesting that Brussels has “conceded” to a draft Brexit deal proposed by London, ignoring Dublin’s concerns about the return of a hard border around the UK’s anomalous territory on the island of Ireland. According to anonymous sources who have spoken to the right-wing publication, the European Union has accepted in principle a new set of proposals by the United Kingdom to unblock its stalled withdrawal negotiations with the EU. These will permit the UK to remain in the bloc’s customs union during its exit transition, albeit with a clause stating that Britain can terminate its membership of the customs area if it wishes to do so. At the end of this extension, a post-EU UK could then seek various forms of economic partnerships or trade deals with Europe.
The article strongly implies that the suggested settlement would free London from honouring the UK-Ireland backstop agreement insisted upon by Brussels, primarily at the behest of Dublin. This would allow Britain to obfuscate or ignore the understanding, which was designed to protect the decades old Irish-British peace process in the UK-occupied Six Counties. Or as The Sunday Times gleefully reports the situation:
“The PM will be able to say there’s no more backstop, we’ve got rid of that — success,” a senior Whitehall source said. “It is UK-wide — success. There’s an exit mechanism — success. And you’ve got Canada. The small print is that Ireland is f*****.”
The whole story is decidedly odd and sounds decidedly unlikely. As the sceptical pro-Brexit academic Richard North points out:
The EU, it appears, is now prepared to accept the regulatory checks can take place “in the market” by British officials, meaning that they can be conducted at factories and shops rather than at the border.
If that is the case, there is clearly an inconsistency in the report, as such checks are related to Single Market administration. Mrs May would have to be conceding a level of regulatory alignment commensurate with full participation in the Single Market. There is no way the EU could allow regulatory checks on the basis described without that concession.
Yet this goes way beyond anything that she could possibly get past the “ultra” faction of her party as it would go back on her commitment to take the UK out of the Single Market. If Mrs May is intending to put this to her colleagues on Tuesday, she is going to have a hard time of it.
In the unlikely event that she did manage to get it past the cabinet, the chance of her getting it through Parliament is not much better than the proverbial snowball surviving a journey through Hell.
Some underhand political game is clearly afoot in Britain, though what faction of the ruling Conservative Party in London is issuing these suspect off-the-record briefings to the British press remains to be seen. Whatever the case, peace and stability for the peoples of Ireland continues to be a secondary consideration for our noisome neighbour to the east.