DUP threatening to bring the government down over a customs union – or are they?

An interview with Nigel Dodds for the PolticsHome website is headlined:

DUP warns it could bring the government down if Northern Ireland kept in customs union – and let in Jeremy Corbyn? (my addition).

Mr Dodds said continued membership of the customs union would “cross a very big red line for” for his crucial bloc of 10 MPs.

He said: “For us there is the fact that if as a result of the Brexit negotiations for instance there was to be any suggestion that Northern Ireland would be treated differently, in a way for instance that we were part of a customs union and a single market and the rest of the UK wasn’t.

“If there was anything like the EU’s definition of the backstop arrangements that was agreed in December – for us that would be a red line, which we would vote against the Government, because you might as well have a Corbyn government pursuing openly its anti-unionist policies as have a Conservative Government doing it by a different means.

Supporters of the customs union argue that it is the best way to maintain an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, but the DUP is firmly against any plan that would see Northern Ireland subject to different post-Brexit arrangements from the rest of the UK.

While Mr Dodds said he had “no reason” to believe Mrs May – who has repeatedly ruled out customs union membership – would keep Northern Ireland in the bloc, he warned that the DUP would not countenance any suggestion “that Northern Ireland were to be treated differently, in a way that Northern Ireland didn’t agree to”.

But James Rothwell of the daily Telegraph’s  Brexit bulletin doesn’t see it quite that way

COULD THE DUP SWALLOW A CUSTOMS CLIMBDOWN?
Nigel Dodds, the deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has done a rather interesting interview with Politics Home. He is bullish and bombastic about the risk of Theresa May crossing any of his red lines. Most newspapers have picked up on his threat to bring down the government if that line is crossed.

But dig a little deeper, and there are some interesting points put across. Mr Dodds appears to be satisfied with “whatever we end up with,” so long as a wedge is not hammered between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, such as an east-west customs border.

Does this mean the DUP would be amenable to a partial customs union – which will probably be dressed up by the government as a “customs partnership”in any case – provided that it applies to the whole of the UK?

If so, those remarks may be viewed in No 10 as the DUP throwing a life jacket to Mrs May.

Why? It seems increasingly inevitable that some kind of compromise will have to be made on the customs issue, if only to move on the wretched, stagnant dispute about the Irish border.

But signing up to a partial customs union will please no one. Pro-Brexit supporters of “Global Britain” will feel betrayed as powers on setting tariffs, a key bargaining chip in trade talks, will stay with Brussels.

The Remainers, on the other hand, will correctly point out that a customs union is only one piece of the puzzle. They may observe that the UK is yet to figure out how it can diverge from EU regulations on product standards without requiring checks on goods entering southern Ireland. Plus, handing victory to the Remain camp on customs may spark a similar campaign to stay in the EU’s single market. And, if that succeeds, there is arguably little point in leaving the bloc at all.

The UK would be, as Jacob Rees-Mogg likes to say, a “vassal state,” locked within the pages of the EU rulebook.

 

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