Submitted by Taps Coogan on the 10th of February 2019 to The Sounding Line.
When the UK joined the EU it reserved the legal right to leave. If the UK were to accept the Irish backstop in Theresa May’s original deal with the EU, North Ireland would be forever bound to the EU customs union.
Under the Irish backstop, if the UK and the EU cannot agree to a trade deal that eliminates any border between Ireland and North Ireland, North Ireland will remain in the EU customs union. There is no withdraw or sunset clause to the Irish Backstop. Inevitably, the EU will claim that the only deal that completely eliminates the need for a border is one that involves North Ireland following all EU rules, regulations, submitting to EU courts, and paying into the EU budget. It means, practically speaking, remaining in the EU customs union. Except this time there is no Article 50 and no way out.
If, in the course of trade deal negotiations, the UK proposes anything other than a Norway style Brexit-in-name-only deal, or anything at all that the EU doesn’t like, the EU will say no and remind the UK that no deal means severing North Ireland from the rest of the UK. Because of the way the Irish Backstop is structured, whether or not the terms of a deal actually create a border is secondary; whether the EU agrees to a deal is what is really important. Because of the Irish backstop, the EU has no motivation to negotiate in good faith and has all of the negotiating leverage.
Not surprisingly, the UK parliament overwhelmingly rejected Theresa May’s deal and requested a renegotiation of the Irish backstop.
The EU has said over and over that they will not renegotiate the Irish backstop, and they won’t. Because Theresa May spent the last two and a half years negotiating the transition instead of a trade deal, the EU is going to force the UK to choose between Hard Brexit with a few days notice and no plan on one hand or the Irish backstop on the other. The EU does not believe that the UK parliament is prepared to choose Hard Brexit with no plan on a few days notice. The EU is probably right.
Nonetheless, Hard Brexit would be better than entering into two more years of Brexit negotiations with zero leverage only to end up with the choice of a terrible Brexit-in-name-only deal or losing North Ireland. As we have written many times, the only way to meaningfully get out of the EU is going to be some form of Hard Brexit. The sooner the better.
If you are wondering why Nigel Farage recently launched the Brexit Party, my guess is that he has done the same math and concluded that the odds of a meaningful Brexit are plunging.
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