30 January 2019

Is Labour's call for a full-blown Customs Union the UK's last chance to avoid a No Deal Brexit?

Business leaders must have been squirming on the golf course yesteday as the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn gave Theresa May's government a lesson in what's best for the UK economy.

So why isn't the Conservative Party trying harder to help business?  After all, it's they that claim to care about business and finance and by failing to embrace a nationwide Customs Union, rule out a No Deal Brexit, or at the very least, consider a second referendum on the final deal. The Conservatives are, as it were, biting the hand that feeds them.

The answer, however,  is not as simple as it might seem. The problem the government faces, is that, because it has no overall majority in Parliament, its ability to compromise on any EU deal is difficult, not only by the need to maintain the support of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), but also a much larger group of hard-line Conservative Brexiteers who favour a clean break from the EU, or No Deal.

The DUP's position is confusing, but, in a nutshell, the DUP is adamant that they will not accept a deal that treats Northern Ireland differently to other UK countries. It follows that, without a UK-wide Customs Union, or a No Deal Brexit, the DUP, along with 100s of others in Parliament, find it impossible to vote for May's deal, a deal which centres on the so called Irish Backstop.  For those who find the notion of a Backstop difficult, all it really is is a political mechanism designed to make special arrangements through a natonwide Customs Union that keep the EU border between Northern Ireland open to trade and people.  If the Backstop were permanant the DUP would, because it's nationwide, accept this, however, to Conservative Brexiteers, an Irish Backstop that leaves the EU in control of when the border between the EU and the UK can be lifted, is unacceptable and feels to them like being half-in Europe.  


Given the history of Northern Ireland and an appreciation of the DUP's stated position to preserve the Union and remain inextricably linked to the UK, the DUP's attitude to the Irish Backstop shouldn't have been a massive surprise to the May Government.  Preserving the integrity of the United Kingdom is a purpose the DUP share with the Conservative Party, which, alongside supporting the owners of property, wealth and the monarchy, have developed to protect the Union of countries which now make up the UK. This, of course, is why the DUP has the word Unionist in it's name, why the Tories have the official label of The Conservative and Unionist Party and why the DUP insists on being welded to the UK
So, despite the perception of the Conservative Party as the natural party of business, the Theresa May government appears to be marching the UK towards an economically suicidal No Deal Brexit and, in the process, risk damaging the business community they exist to protect.
It follows that remaining half-in the EU via a Customs Union, whether that be a Custom's Union negotiated separately with the EU, or one part of a permanent Irish Backstop, is, by far, the best comprise for UK business.  Some will say that, if we have access to the Single Market through a Custom's Union, then we may as well, in economic terms at least, have voted Remain? I understand that, and have written about it on this blog, but the point I'm trying to make here is that, if the Conservative Party remains the champion of business and truly believes in the integrity of the United Kingdom, then they must now work with Labour and the majority in Parliament, to jettison a No Deal and put in place Customs Union so that the UK can, at last, wriggle free of this appalling political impasse.

Brexit could take 10 years and might not happen at all. (Written the day after the 2016 IN-OUT EU referendum 

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