New version with new information
Hands up those of you were surprised by the DUP veto? Honestly now. OK you got it right tonight at any rate.
.No one has ever won a prize for discovering their YES gene.
I admit I thought May and Juncker would have squeaked through with words that made a clear enough distinction between continuing membership of the customs union and a proposed parallel customs arrangement for NI. Call it “regulatory alignment” if you like, rather than “no divergence”.
More has emerged about the stalled deal with doubtless more to come.
It would protect farmers, energy prices and transport links and is capable of expansion, depending on the consent of the NI parties, including of course the DUP.
“Regulatory alignment ” leaves harmonisation of these matters in British hands. That, it was thought, should have satisfied the DUP’s insistence on no divergence from the rest of the UK.
It actually anticipates Ireland’s and the Remainers’ dream of a soft Brexit with a parallel customs agreement between the EU and the UK..
Key part of the agreement text quoted in the Irish Times.
“The UK remains committed to protecting N-S cooperation and a guarantee of avoiding a hard border The UK’s intention is to achieve these objectives through the overall EU-UK relationship.
Should this not be possible, the UK will propose specific solutions to address the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland. In the abscence of agreed solutions, the UK will maintain full alignment with the internal market, customs union and pritection of the Good Friday Agreement”.
This is very strong stuff, a far greater concession than I expected the British government to write down at this stage. And there’s more. It also appears to set the aim of achieving a soft Brexit in the trade negotiations to come.
Tbis is what the DUP are presently vetoing.
It will of course enflame the militant Brexiters and raise the awkward question of why the DUP weren’t squared in advance.
So would it require the DUP’s anathema, an economic border between NI and GB? Say it quietly, but this would not be favoured by Irish business either. It is the burning question that has to be urgently addressed.
Fool that I am, I haven’t quite given up hope.
The DUP’s nervous self regard may be infuriating but that is no reason to undersestimate them.
Were they consulted at all during the last stage of the negotiations?
Not much if at all, if Foster was moved to call May, interrupting her fateful lunch with Juncker.
What did May expect? Either she thought she had them on board and was deceived; or she reckoned on toughing it out and facing them down to become an even more reviled minority among the Commons majority.
And yet May says she will “reconconvene in Brussels before the end of the week and conclude this positively”.
That looks like a very bold claim. Let’s hope it turns out to be justified.
The DUP have never been in a stronger tactical position. If you listen hard, you might even pick up echoes of the Ulster Unionists of 1912 during fhe Home Rule crisis. This does not mean they have a grasp on the right strategy.
But Conservative Brexiters are flocking to their standard.
The government’s Brexit strategy looks like unravelling if May is humiliated by Friday. Either she can persuade the DUP to back down or she appeals to the Commons as a whole to back her strategy and risk a split within the Conservative party much earlier than she might have expected.
The DUP needs her personal attention over the next few days. A lot hangs on it.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London