By Kai Dattani
Boris Johnson’s latest Brexit plans come in the context of months of dangling the apparent inevitability of no deal over Parliament and the public, a consequential split in the Conservative Party, and an unlawful prorogation of Parliament. In light of the Benn Act, which forces Johnson’s hand in asking the EU for an extension of Article 50, if no deal can be agreed, this new Brexit plan may be the only way Johnson can keep his promise of leaving the EU on 31st October (Halloween).
However, there are inevitable hurdles to overcome – hurdles that appear very similar to the ones that cost Theresa May her Brexit deal and her job.
This sounds like something that may just have the potential to tick all the boxes
So, what’s actually in it? Boris Johnson has knocked together something that departs from May’s deal, in the sense that there is no longer any ‘backstop’ that could keep the United Kingdom tied into the Customs Union. In its current form, the deal attempts to overcome the Irish border issue through the creation of a Northern Irish regulatory alignment with the EU, which can be amended through a vote in the Northern Irish Assembly every four years.
In terms of custom checks, the language and rhetoric being used continues to be vague and un-detailed, referencing electronic checks away from the border. The actual details of any potential system remains buried away, possibly in the archives of some think tanks, with the EU still remaining unconvinced as to the feasibility of these measures.
The language and rhetoric used continues to be vague and undetailed
On paper, this sounds like something that may just have the potential to tick all the boxes and work its way through the current fractured Parliament. The DUP retain a level of control over Northern Irish customs, whilst harder, ERG-type Brexiteers can see that the UK will not have to enter the Customs Union. Some Labour MPs, fearful of the wrath of their Leave voting constituents if they do not deliver Brexit, have even offered their lukewarm support.
However, this has all the signs of another Chequers situation. Johnson’s new plan is about to undergo a long and ‘intensive’ phase of negotiations and inevitable modification. What has started as ‘regulatory alignment’, subject to a vote in the Northern Irish Assembly, may eventually evolve into full membership of the Customs Union for Northern Ireland, something that the DUP and some harder Brexiteers would not accept.
This has all the signs of another Chequers situation
Johnson may be forced to choose between a compromised Brexit deal, or the potential of no Brexit at all – something that could both destroy his premiership and the modern Conservative Party as we know it.
Furthermore, as both Labour and the ex-Tory rebels become more ardent in their Remain credentials, this Brexit crisis continues to exist as a hung Parliament crisis. Too hard for some Tories and too soft for the ERG, the risk still exists that our broken and divided Parliament may not be able to pass any Brexit deal at all.
Image by EU2017EE Estonian Presidency via Flickr