A hard Brexit PM must face reality- take up May’s WAB or prepare to rat on Northern Ireland, with DUP support

We will leave the EU on 31 October, deal or no deal.”

This is Boris Johnson’s mission statement, fresh out of the leadership traps . Typical Boris, brave or giving an unnessary hostage to fortune, depending on your point of view.  Even at this crucial moment, Boris doesn’t do caution.

The collapse of Theresa May’s premiership could bring about an even more volatile and dangerous phase, as the latest deadline of October 31 approaches.

The euro election results will show the Tories will be toast if the UK hasn’t left by then.  So it  means no snap Westminster election.  Farage’s Brexit party would have entered the Westminster lists with these voting elections today. It could present a formidable threat to the Tories and let in Labour.

Westminster Voting Intention: LAB: 26% (-3) BXP: 25% (+1) CON: 22% (=) LDM: 12% (+1) GRN: 4% (+1) UKIP: 2% (=) CHUK: 2% (-1) Via @OpiniumResearch, 17-20 May

Staving of the Farage threat  also means a hard Brexit PM . We can assume the DUP  will cling to the new prime minister’s coat tails even if it means a hard border. It seems an outcome Johnson for one would be prepared to live with.

A supporter of Johnson said he would make an effort to secure changes to the current deal to try to ensure the Northern Ireland border backstop would not endure indefinitely, but he would press ahead with leaving on 31 October if that cannot be agreed with the EU27.

That sounds less than hopeful.   Still the Brexiteers clutch at the straw of the Bready compromise of  “alternative arrangements” on the border and dark threats of withholding £39 billion settlement payments if the EU doesn’t  bend on the backstop. And still Leo Vardkar  insists “ we will hold our nerve”.

And it could get worse. The anti No Deal majority would find  it difficult to stop Johnson or another Brexiteer PM leaving with EU without going near the Commons this time. Maddy Thimon Jack of the Institute for Government makes the point  

The no deal provision in the EU Withdrawal Act 2018 – which would have required the Government to hold a vote in the Commons if no agreement had been reached with the EU by 21 January – has long expired.

It looks like a near impossible task for MPs to stop a prime minister who is determined to leave the EU without a deal. Parliamentary procedure offers no route, and the only apparent way to blocking no deal – a vote of no confidence – would be a massive gamble for Tory MPs.

But Johnson could not guarantee a majority for the default of No Deal. In a vote of confidence  the Remain rump of  40 or so  Conservative MPs would have to at least abstain to stop No Deal. That would mean a complete break with the party.  Under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act if the government couldn’t win the support of  the House within a fortnight, a general election would be called.  These are circumstances no new PM should want to risk. It suggests compromise along familiar lines.

Peter Foster the admirably objective Europe editor of the passionately Bexiteer Daily Telegraph has a twitter thread  which will give cold comfort to the DUP

Am told that the interviews between DUP and @BorisJohnson and @DominicRaab have been a rather nasty shock in Belfast. Though they shouldn’t have been surprised. If Ireland becomes a block to #Brexit, hard to bet on Ireland winning that fight.

Recall the leaked @BorisJohnson letter from June 2018 (h/t @faisalislam from memory) which a very reliable sources tells me was the fruit of a trip to Ireland in which it dawned on BJ that the border is indeed tough nut to crack

Not clear to me how you get to an @BorderIrishSea as long as @duponline are in confidence and supply with govt, but that only speaks to the fact that the new Tory PM will face same constraints as the last one.

Divisons aside, the DUP still wants #Brexit because it believes it will lead to the same sunny uplands as some Tory Brexiteers….although @duponline manifesto has a *very* curious request for more police. You might ask, if Brexit so brilliant, why need more cops???

Getting the Stormont executive back together might provide another avenue for legitimising ‘special status’ for NI (which it already has to some degree)….but I don’t hear huge optimism about prospects for this.

My contacts on UK side are willing, keen, but gloomy….the window for a deal, even with government support on both sides is tight – needs to be done before the cash-for-ash #RHI @BiomassScandal enquiry reports, since @DUPleader Arlene Foster will not come out well from it

In their negotiations for new confidence and supply deal  it would be very much in Northern Ireland’s  interests for the DUP to press a hard Brexit PM to “reverse ferret” on a threat of No Deal by depriving her or him of a majority in a vote of confidence. But they won’t. Even though s/he will need the DUP a lot more than vice versa.  They’ll  just cling on for dear life with eyes and minds tight shut.

Theresa May’s abandoned Withdrawal Bill has a compromise that is as good as it gets. Would her successor adopt it or prefer to bang his or her  head against the Brussels brick wall?  e.g. (report of 22 May)

A commitment that, should the backstop come into force, the Government will ensure that Great Britain will stay aligned with Northern Ireland.

In this commitment, Mrs May implicitly acknowledges that under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, if such “alternative arrangements” for the border have not been found, then the backstop will kick in.

This pledge is aimed at the Democratic Unionist Party and it promises that Northern Ireland will not be left with a “special status” with a customs border in the Irish Sea. In short, Mrs May is making a pledge to protect the UK’s constitutional integrity from the prospect of a go-it-alone “English” Brexit.

The negotiating objectives and final treaties for our future relationship with the EU will have to be approved by MPs.

 The UK will seek as close to frictionless trade in goods with the EU as possible while outside the single market and ending free movement.

This is a reheat of Mrs May’s Chequers plan. The key words are “as possible” while making good on the two key demands of Brexiteers, which is to leave the single market and end free movement of people.

The reality, EU sources warn, is that the UK will discover in the trade negotiation that outside the single market, trade cannot be all that “frictionless”, but Mrs May essentially hopes to park that reality for long enough to get her deal over the line.

We will keep up to date with EU rules for goods and agri-food products that are relevant to checks at border, protecting the thousands of jobs that depend on just-in-time supply chains.

This is more from the Chequers blueprint, designed to reassure Labour MPs and soft Brexiteers that Mrs May’s deal is likely to evolve into a close relationship, and give some legal certainty to that outcome being a binding ambition of the future relationship talks.

 The Government will bring forward a customs compromise for MPs to decide on.

This is where Mrs May gets woolly, since the customs conundrum has never been squarely confronted by either Labour or the Conservatives.

In essence Mrs May puts forward the Government’s dual-tariff customs partnership which has repeatedly been rejected as technically and politically unworkable by the EU. (Last night Sir Ivan Rogers, the UK’s former ambassador to Brussels described this as the “definition of insanity”. Still, Mrs May proposes it here.)

 

 

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