Boris Johnson’s proposed ‘solution’ on Brexit has caused many to wonder if he is deliberately tabling a proposal worse than Theresa May, in order to justify then pressing ahead with ‘no-deal’ on 31st October. As well as moving further from the Single Market by downgrading to a free trade agreement type relationship for the UK and EU, his proposals for Ireland have completely departed from the Government’s previous guarantees.
It used to be that Theresa May’s government was intent on frictionless trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Free movement is integral to the peace and stability that has been enjoyed over the past twenty years. But in order to placate the DUP and right-wing Conservative Brexiteer MPs, Johnson is now proposing that Northern Ireland departs entirely from the customs union and imposes a tariffs frontier with inspections and checks – albeit he claims will magically happen ‘away from the border’ by as-yet unspecified technologies. I am staggered that he thinks the government of Ireland let alone the EU will not question how this can sit with previous commitments (also enshrined in UK law!) to respect the settlement of the Good Friday Agreement.
By proposing a customs frontier and hard border in this way, the Prime Minister is clearly less bothered about getting a deal agreed with the EU and more bothered about appealing to his own Tory MPs and the DUP. Whereas Theresa May got agreement with the EU, she lost her majority on her own benches. But equally there’s no point Boris Johnson getting agreement on his own benches if he can’t reach agreement with the EU.
My suspicion is that Boris Johnson’s top priority is shoring up divisions in the Conservative Party and weakening Brexit Party support, so he can head towards a general election – and brush aside the risks of endangering the Good Friday Agreement and a Brexit deal in the process. He seems content to head towards crashing out with no-deal, regardless of the consequences for jobs and livelihoods in Nottingham or elsewhere. This is not a good state of affairs.
Fortunately the Safeguard Bill – now the Benn Act – requires the PM to request an extension to Article 50. Johnson pretends he won’t abide by that law, but he has no choice in the matter. This will be several weeks of high drama politics ahead. But we cannot allow Johnson to put his party political priorities ahead of doing the right thing for the country on Brexit. And I still believe that a final say referendum represents to best way to resolve Brexit, once and for all.