British customs move means an Irish border

Posted By: February 07, 2018

Brian Feeney. Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The British Cabinet sub-committee on Brexit meets this morning and tomorrow morning. Initially, the advertised purpose was to agree (can you use that word about this British government?) a policy on trade after leaving the EU so they could tell the EU27 what they want. Now it’s obvious that Theresa May has sold the pass and allowed the Brexiteers to trample over her.

On Monday, two days before this morning’s meeting, Downing Street issued a statement saying, ‘we are categorically leaving the customs union. It is not our policy to stay in the customs union. It is not our policy to stay in a customs union.’ That means there’s going to be a border in Ireland for the Republic will remain in the customs union and single market. Cue crowing from the idiots in the DUP who, despite their statements both ignorant and mendacious parroting the British government’s deceit, are so determined to strengthen the Border that they are prepared to wreck The North’s agriculture at a stroke.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, officials are busily working away at the withdrawal treaty which translates the phase one agreement of December into the legally binding language. It seems there’s not much difficulty with most of it but, you’ve guessed it, the British have no intention of abiding by what they agreed on the Irish border. How can they if they are leaving the customs union and not going to have a customs union?

It’s becoming clearer every week as the Brexiteers paralyze May that the British were prepared to sign up to anything in December in order to get through to talks on transition.

Ireland north and south is going to be collateral damage but the Brexiteers don’t care any more than they care about their own party in their headlong rush to put their ideology into practice.

The Brexiteers are determined to be able to trade freely with any country, something which has now made the EU27 think again about their negotiating guidelines. There’s growing concern among them that the hardliners like Johnson, Gove, and Fox want to create a replica of Singapore off the EU mainland. Low corporation tax, dirty emissions, an end to workers’ rights, low wages and what they call a ‘bonfire of regulations’. Remember, this is what the DUP supports and why they give this dreadful government their guaranteed backing. The EU27 is now working on ways to write in blocks to these outcomes in any final trade agreement.

There are two connected ways to block these outcomes in Britain. One is disastrous Conservative results in the English local government elections in May which precipitate a leadership challenge or general election or both. The other is that the Labour party gets its act together in the autumn and votes down the withdrawal agreement.

Labour’s Brexit spokesman Sir Keir Starmer, who apart from Ken Clarke and Anna Soubry, appears the only sane person in the House of Commons, has laid down six tests for an acceptable withdrawal agreement. One of them is ‘a deal which retains the benefits of the single market and the customs union’. Now it’s pretty obvious that anything Theresa May or the Brexiteers want can’t do that. If a combination of Labour and pro-Remain Conservatives vote down the deal May will have to resign.

However, the arithmetic is tight. There are plenty of Leavers among Labour MPs and discipline in the Labour party is terrible. One straw in the wind is that Len McCluskey the leader of Unite wants a vote against the withdrawal agreement partly because he’s convinced workers’ rights will be removed but mainly because for him the priority is to get rid of this Conservative government at any cost,  and you can’t fault him there. The question is can he and people of like mind in the Labour party persuade the party’s Leave MPs to vote down the withdrawal treaty?

That’s all fine up to a point. However, if the withdrawal treaty is voted down what is Labour’s alternative? Can they agree on one? So far they’re all over the place. In order for Labour maneuvres to be of any use to people on this island, they have to stay in the customs union.