We are currently entering the “tunnel” stage of EU negotiations. Regular contributor, Sean Walsh gives his analysis on the current situation.

Attempting to leave the EU while remaining implicated in any part of its Customs Union is like trying to leave the Catholic church while continuing to attend Confession. The European project is religious in character, and the CU is one of its sacramental orthodoxies, a defining part of the overall teleology.

So what, we might wonder, is Boris Johnson up to? As we move into the “tunnel” phase of the
negotiations over a document he himself has declared to be dead? This is the bit, you’ll recall, when the EU deploys the mechanism of sleep deprivation in order to get what it wants.

It is being suggested that the PM might be prepared to accept a “soft” Brexit for Northern Ireland in exchange for a “hard Brexit” for the rest of us. This would be secured by a labyrinthine set of practical arrangements, designed to offer tariff mitigations. Heath Robinson looks on approvingly.

This, apparently, is what people voted for. Except it isn’t of course. It is a straightforward adulteration of the moral idea of sovereignty which actually is what we voted for. And the admixture is a grubby, and contentious, refocusing on the shoddy contingencies of economics.

Compromise, we are told, will be necessary. The fact is, of course, that the call to compromise is actually a call to build on earlier and unreciprocated “compromises”.

But compromise leads to disaster when predicated on a  conceptual error. The distinction between “hard” and “soft” Brexit is a confected one, born of the Remain strategy that was put in place on 24th June 2016: keep the debate going at all costs. And, according to that elite,  if this requires a certain amount of linguistic prestidigitation then so be it.

If Mr Johnson is intending to leave one part of the UK in the customs and regulatory orbit of the EU then that part of the UK at least will be left with an irresistible momentum in the direction of readmission. 

Mrs May’s “Withdrawal Agreement” embeds this conceptual mistake. She looked at the 2016 result as an opportunity for accommodation, rather than reconciliation. No “accommodation” was available. If the vote had been about the death penalty it would have been impossible to hang someone 52%. Similarly with Brexit: we are either in or out; and the subsequent attempts at reinterpretation of that vote have generated a deep fissure in the lining of the body politic.

I asked what Mr Johnson is up to. Here’s my concern. I worry that he doesn’t get the Lutheran, fanatical,  mindset that drives the people he is up against. The “backstop” was always the Ollie Robbins distraction. I believe it was included in the egregious May Treaty as a cloak behind which the genuine mechanisms of Remain advance by stealth. Mr Johnson is giving the impression that if he picks up the pen and strikes a line through the backstop protocols then – providing the ink doesn’t fall on the main body of the remaining text- we are home and dry.

This is nonsense.

The non-backstop clauses of May’s deal are what we should be looking at. On defence, customs arrangements, future financial obligations, the role of the ECJ: these are the sleeper areas from which the EU active service units will emerge at a time that suits them.

Our Prime Minister, having at one point enjoyed what Bobby Fischer would have described as a “you know, I was killing him at this point…” sort of chess situation now seems to find himself in zugzwang. He seems to have no decent move left. How did this happen?

Because he moved his Queen in line with a Bishop. He conceded the Benn (Surrender) Bill when he really didn’t have to. It was available to him to squash this constitutional monstrosity on the purple benches of the House of Lords. He chose not to.

What really concerns me is this: why didn’t he?

The Benn Act is a sort of  version of constitutional vandalism. It’s like the Establishment has allowed a sub-Banksy to invade the House of Commons and spray-paint it with pro-Remain graffiti. An Act like that, which contains quite specific derogations from the historical precedents, needs to be tested at all levels in order to substantiate its legal and moral “robustness”. This should have been tested in the Lords. And needs to be tested now. There is a legal fragility about the Benn Act. We need to know if the crack in the vase is terminal or not.

There’s a part of me, the cynical bit, that is starting to think that our PM has acquiesced in the zugzwang.

I worry that we are about to end up not with Brexit in name only, but with “Brexit in name only” in name only.






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