Com­pared with this, get­ting cap­tive pan­das to mate is a cinch

The Guardian - Journal - - News -

There was a time, per­haps, when the gov­ern­ment’s in­ep­ti­tude over Brexit was al­most funny. There is noth­ing funny about it now. For 15 months Theresa May has groped her way to­wards an ap­proach that could rec­on­cile her party’s Europe-loathers with her party’s Europe-prag­ma­tists. All too pre­dictably, none of her efforts have suc­ceeded. Mrs May now has a month be­fore the June Euro­pean coun­cil at which the UK and the EU are due to review progress. She has five months be­fore some kind of deal is struck. Progress? Deal? These words have lost all mean­ing. Get­ting two pan­das to mate in cap­tiv­ity turns out to be a cinch com­pared with get­ting the Con­ser­va­tive party to agree what it wants.

Mrs May’s lat­est sug­ges­tions for turn­ing Brexit dross into an agree­ment that can be mar­keted as golden is a so-called “time-lim­ited goods ar­range­ment”. Essen­tially, this is an at­tempt to keep the UK within the EU’s ex­ter­nal tar­iff sys­tem af­ter Brexit until it can come up with an ef­fec­tive tech­no­log­i­cal al­ter­na­tive to a postBrexit hard border in Ire­land. That way, the loathers would get their Brexit, the prag­ma­tists would get some­thing they could call a fric­tion­less Ir­ish border, Mrs May would have a united party for a few weeks and the UK would not crash out of the EU un­pro­tected.

The prob­lem with all this is … well, where do we start? In the first place, this agree­ment is not nailed down yet. Boris John­son, who is try­ing to get sacked in the hope this will help his dwin­dling lead­er­ship am­bi­tions, op­poses it. Michael Gove, at­tempt­ing to po­si­tion him­self as the civilised al­ter­na­tive to Mr John­son, does too. Out­side the gov­ern­ment, prag­matic pro-Euro­peans like Damian Green think the plan could be a starter. How­ever, Ja­cob Rees-Mogg dismisses it as a vi­sion of “per­pet­ual pur­ga­tory”.

Sec­ond, although ac­tu­ally more im­por­tant, the rest of the EU has not been con­sulted. Even if the Tory party im­prob­a­bly comes to­gether be­hind the idea, the real ne­go­ti­a­tion is with the EU and, on the key is­sue, with the Ir­ish gov­ern­ment. These talks have not taken place yet – not a small point. Ac­cord­ing to our Brus­sels cor­re­spon­dent, EU re­ac­tions range from the charge that the UK’s ideas are mag­i­cal think­ing to the view that they are “less use than a deodor­ant”. Ire­land’s taoiseach, Leo Varad­kar, mean­while, says none of it “re­motely ap­proaches” the kind of terms that would avoid Bri­tain’s trade re­la­tions with the EU plung­ing over a cliff at high speed in March next year. This could all be brinkman­ship. It could also be true.

There are also the small (not) mat­ters of par­lia­ment and the peo­ple. Nei­ther has been con­sulted yet. Both have to be taken se­ri­ously. Mrs May has to let MPs into the process at some point if she wants the much amended EU with­drawal bill to be­come law. Both the par­lia­men­tary num­bers and the mood sug­gest she could lose a vote on the cus­toms union, the very is­sue on which she is try­ing to strike a com­pro­mise in the cab­i­net. That’s why Mrs May has not def­i­nitely de­cided when to bring the bill back to the Com­mons.

And then there’s the peo­ple – in two con­texts. One is that MPs may still de­cide to put the even­tual deal

– if there is one and even if there isn’t – to a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum. The other, re­port­edly in Mrs May’s mind when she con­fronted Mr Rees-Mogg on it this week, is that North­ern Ire­land vot­ers might re­ject a hard Brexit and, in ef­fect, go in with the Repub­lic on a soft border ba­sis. Peo­ple like Mr John­son and Mr Rees-Mogg don’t think about such pos­si­bil­i­ties. They are real not imag­i­nary. Their con­se­quences would be im­mense. That is rea­son enough to say that the time for laugh­ter, if it ever ex­isted, ended long ago.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.