What should Theresa May do now? Stop fudging and pledge to stay in the customs union

 

Tonight if she wins by whatever margin, Theresa May should declare a victory and press on. No messing with hints that she’ll quit voluntarily in March next year.

She needs more than reassurances from the EU that the backstop is dispensable. The huge question is, what can replace it?

She should accept the challenge of the core Brexiteers and pledge that the UK will remain the customs union indefinitely.

Under the looming shadow of No Deal,  she should go to Dublin and  press Varadkar to accept  her pledge that if  the Commons vote for the withdrawal agreement so amended   the backstop is still  legal but becomes conditionally redundant .

It is firmly in Ireland’s interests to do so; see the latest evidence the Irish Times

Meanwhile, a no-deal Brexit could almost halve Irish economic growth next year, the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has warned.

In its latest economic commentary, the ESRI found that if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, and assuming World Trade Organisation rules then apply, this would curtail growth here to 2.6 per cent compared to 4.2 per cent in the absence of Brexit.

The ESRI also warned that the forecast probably understated the full impact of a no-deal Brexit on the Irish economy as it assumed a smooth adjustment, which was “probably unrealistic”

The UK and the EU with Ireland in a leading role should  set up a joint task force to  settle the controversy over the degree of regulation needed north-south and east- west.

The withdrawal agreement amended to include a British pledge to remain in the customs union will further split the already divided Conservative party. But to vote by a majority  against it without an agreed alternative when they have voted to keep May as leader would make them look ridiculous. Continuing membership of the customs union also fulfils the essential requirements of Labour or at least enough Labour back benches to support it. And the support of the DUP would not be needed.

The political alternative that would satisfy the hard line Brexiteers is  a managed withdrawal and a free trade settlement that leaves services up in the air. There would be not be a Commons majority for it.

The Brexiteers have thrown down the gauntlet to the inchoate forces who wish to maintain a close relationship with the EU. The governance of Britain, British-Irish relations and the prosperity of both islands are now at issue. Their challenge should be accepted.