With min­is­ters and DUP up in arms, May has no good op­tions

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - OPINION - By Hugo Dixon

As Theresa May gets closer to clinch­ing a deal with the EU, her chances of ram­ming it through Cab­i­net and Par­lia­ment get slim­mer. She faces a near-im­pos­si­ble Trin­ity – sat­is­fy­ing hard­line Brex­iters, the DUP and pro-Euro­pean Tories all si­mul­ta­ne­ously. If she buck­les to the de­mands of one group, she loses the sup­port of one or more of the oth­ers.

The prime min­is­ter’s cur­rent pro­posal – to keep the en­tire UK in a cus­toms union with the EU in­def­i­nitely while also agree­ing to reg­u­la­tory checks in the Ir­ish Sea – has an­gered two of these groups: the hard­lin­ers and the DUP, with­out whose 10 MPs the govern­ment doesn’t have a ma­jor­ity. But it shouldn’t please pa­tri­otic pro-Euro­peans ei­ther – as it will dam­age our power, pros­per­ity and peace.

When May put the plan to her Brexit “war” Cab­i­net yes­ter­day – sev­eral min­is­ters in­clud­ing Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Do­minic Raab and Liam Fox ex­pressed con­cerns, ac­cord­ing to The Tele­graph. Three Cab­i­net min­is­ters who weren’t in­vited to the meet­ing – Penny Mor­daunt, Es­ther McVey and An­drea Lead­som – are said to be threat­en­ing to re­sign.

Mean­while, Ar­lene Fos­ter, the DUP leader, has damned what she de­scribes as a “one-way turn­stile from North­ern Ire­land into the rest of the United King­dom” and ef­fec­tively called on Cab­i­net min­is­ters to block the prime min­is­ter’s plans. The DUP is threat­en­ing to pull down the govern­ment if it doesn’t get its way.

So, what will May do? Her main op­tions are to press on re­gard­less, back down to pres­sure from the DUP and hard­lin­ers in her Cab­i­net or play for time.

If she presses on, she may hope her Cab­i­net crit­ics will crack. She may also hope to buy off the DUP with an­other bung. In­deed, she is pre­par­ing to hand tens of mil­lions more to the DUP to buy their sup­port – on top of the GBP 1 bil­lion she gave them to back her govern­ment in the first place, ac­cord­ing to The Sun. But a DUP source told The Tele­graph: “Money to sip poi­son to the Union slowly isn’t ex­actly a great of­fer.”

If press­ing on re­gard­less seems hope­less, back­ing down to pres­sure from Tory hard­lin­ers is equally des­per­ate. They say they want a “Canada-style” deal. But the EU will only give the UK such a deal – which would be even worse for our pros­per­ity than the mis­er­able one the prime min­is­ter wants – if we agree to keep the land bor­der in Ire­land open in all cir­cum­stances. That would mean an even harder sea bor­der. The chance of get­ting the DUP to ac­cept that is vir­tu­ally nil.

In the cir­cum­stances, May seems to be re­vert­ing to type and try­ing to avoid tak­ing a de­ci­sion. She wasted months dur­ing the spring and early sum­mer be­fore she fi­nally brought things to a head at Che­quers in July. Down­ing Street is now say­ing she would “never agree” to a per­ma­nent cus­toms union and any such agree­ment would be “time limited”.

The prob­lem is that the EU will not agree to any deal to keep the Ir­ish land bor­der open that is time limited. So, if the prime min­is­ter is now go­ing back on what she was in­di­cat­ing she could ac­cept, she won’t have a deal. The EU may even de­cide to can­cel a spe­cial Brexit sum­mit pen­ciled in for next month on the grounds that there hasn’t been the “de­ci­sive progress” they are look­ing for.

If so, May’s back will be re­ally to the wall – and she will have to make yet more con­ces­sions in the fi­nal mo­ments of the talks to avoid tak­ing the coun­try over a precipice.

The prime min­is­ter has no good way for­ward. What­ever she does, the only sen­si­ble ap­proach will be to ask the peo­ple whether they agree – or would pre­fer to stay in the EU af­ter all. Hugo Dixon is the chair­man and ed­i­tor-in-chief of https://in­facts.org/

In­Facts,

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