It’s the backstop stupid

In the UK the political issue is not “it’s the economy stupid” at present, it’s the Irish border backstop.

The issue which is primarily likely to lead to the Withdrawal Agreement not being passed by the House of Commons is that backstop for the Irish border. Remove it, or allow the UK to withdraw unilaterally in specified circumstances and a majority might be cobbled together in the vote. It is an imperfect deal, but then who has ever negotiated a “perfect deal”?

There is lots of wishful thinking about options in parliament at the moment and unfortunately lots of either misunderstanding (deliberate or otherwise) or people being economical with the truth. Politicians don’t seem to be able to construe legal documents or in some case don’t want to.

Revoking article 50 is an example. Some are presenting this as a solution, but regardless of what the ECJ opines on the  UK’s ability to unilaterally revoke the notice in the current case, what is clear, is that revocation means a return to EU membership.

Revocation is not be a mechanism for an extension of negotiations as some are claiming – an extension of the period can only be achieved under article 50 and would have to be agreed by the EU. Some remainers are being economical with the truth on this issue.

There is a further campaign that the UK should adopt the Norway option of EEA membership. The CEO of the Norwegian Employers Federation (Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise) in today’s FT suggests that this will not be acceptable as if the UK were to not fulfil agreements or get into dispute with the EU as an EEA member this would affect other EEA states like Norway. He goes on to suggest a separate unique EEA agreement for the UK would be required.

Too many Westminster politicians claim that they have the silver bullet in terms of a deal, but all fail to address all the issues (which is not surprising given the complexity).

Much has been made of the second referendum choice, the cheerleaders of this campaign are well connected in the media. However, what is not being reported is the concerns of Labour MPs from leave constituencies about the sense of betrayal of their constituencies if a second referendum is called. The outcome of a further referendum is far from clear as is whether these MPs would vote for it.

My conclusion is that if the parliamentary vote goes against the Withdrawal agreement, then the choices are fairly stark. It’s no deal or further negotiation with no backstop in a revised deal. The EU will have to work out whether the Irish demand for a backstop is worth the risk of no deal. The UK doesn’t have an alternative to no backstop to get the Withdrawal Agreement voted through it would appear, sometimes that strengthens your negotiating position.


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