Today’s publication of the legal agreement that could underpin the UK’s withdrawal from the EU confirms that the government’s cake-and-eat-it strategy is as alive and well as ever.
Despite the last-minute fudge agreed by the UK and the EU in December, today’s document makes clear that the government’s preferred strategy for the border in Northern Ireland is pie in the sky. Indeed, the only workable solution appears to involve keeping Northern Ireland in the customs union; something which Theresa May has consistently ruled out.
With only six months until the deal needs to be ratified, we’re yet to see any evidence that the government’s proposed plan to withdraw from the single market whilst simultaneously avoiding a hard border is a workable solution. Though the EU is open to this in principle, the UK has so far failed to produce any proposals that would solve the problem.
Instead, today’s document seeks to establish a “common regulatory area” in Ireland that covers a range of areas such as agriculture, energy and VAT rules, amongst others. It also grants the European Court of Justice (ECJ) jurisdiction over Northern Ireland and proposes customs arrangements that are strikingly similar to the existing customs union, thereby breaking Theresa May’s red lines on Brexit.
The prime minister has defiantly rejected the EU’s proposal but is yet to offer an alternative vision for how the border could work in practice post-Brexit.
So what now? Leaked correspondence from Boris Johnson to Theresa May shows the Tories are still prepared to gamble with Britain’s peace and prosperity by even contemplating a hard Brexit. This would be catastrophic for the future of the country and put jobs, standards and stability at risk.
Peace is Northern Ireland should not be taken for granted and being part of the customs union is the only realistic way to preserve the Good Friday Agreement, which brought an end to 30 horrible years of bloodshed and sectarian conflict. That’s why Labour’s commitment to keeping the UK in the customs union, as Jeremy Corbyn outlined on Monday, is the only sensible basis on which to discuss Britain’s future with the EU.
But we shouldn’t stop there. The draft withdrawal agreement published today also outlines the terms of the so-called transition period. This would see Britain subject to all EU legislation without any decision-making powers, with no clear trajectory for what would happen next.
It would be an act of unbelievable recklessness to leave without knowing where we’re going at the end of the Brexit process. Moreover, it would be simply foolish to swap our existing deal for an inferior one. Unless or until the government can guarantee that Britain will get a better deal than our existing relationship with the EU by leaving, it would be an unquantifiable act of self-harm to do so.