the Irish backstop not only represents the withdrawal treaty’s backbone, but also the key to our future economic status. If the UK rejects any kind of internal sea border for tariffs or regulations, it follows that Northern Ireland will dictate Great Britain’s future status. In the absence of agreed alternatives, a backstop demands a permanent customs union for Northern Ireland – and so the UK must also commit to that possibility.
And if the UK must remain in the whole single market so goods can travel freely on the island of Ireland, that will reveal itself at least implicitly in the withdrawal text. The only alternative is for Great Britain and Northern Ireland to go their separate economic – and ultimately perhaps political – ways. May has already declared that no UK prime minister could allow that, and if she tried, she would remain UK prime minister only a few moments longer.
Consequently Brexit becomes blind only through a government which has its hands tied and still tries to blindfold us. The British people will view this relationship clearly enough: a near-vassal state scenario in which the UK remains in key EU institutions without any meaningful say or vote in them. Such an endgame is loathed by Leavers and Remainers alike.
How taking the simplifications of Brexiters and trying to turn them into the complex realities of policy represents a major failure of political leadership by the Prime Minister and her government, Professor Chris Grey writes in an exclusive piece for our magazine today.