Monday 17 September 2018 - People's Vote

Monday 17 September 2018

Morning Briefing: Irish backstop battle lines drawn - the Gove plan - transition too short

Battle lines over the Irish “backstop” have been well and truly drawn between Theresa May and Boris Johnson today, with the EU getting stuck in for good measure. The problem is everyone’s “solutions” have flaws and none look likely to be accepted by all sides.

Frustrated by Theresa May’s failure to come up with a better idea than her unworkable Chequers proposal, the EU has devised its own compromise aimed at “de-dramatising” customs checks between the EU and Northern Ireland, outlined in this FT report. This would trust UK officials - rather than the EU’s - to carry out checks on goods moving from British ports to Northern Ireland, deploying technology such as tracking with barcodes and signing companies up to “trusted trader” schemes.

But this is still in effect a customs border being erected in the Irish Sea, with a different customs regime between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK - albeit with checks happening in firms’ warehouses, at ports or on ferries. That’s exactly what the DUP, who prop up May’s government, say they cannot abide. It’ll take quite the feat of de-dramatisation to convince them.


Boris Johnson’s latest Telegraph column again attacks Chequers, and the Irish “backstop” in particular. Reading past the car-crash metaphors and pseudo-historical bombast about 1066, he makes the totally correct point that under Chequers the UK will become a “rules-taker”, because May wants a UK-wide approach for EU rules crucial to upholding the Good Friday peace settlement. The EU’s alternative, Johnson points out, amounts to “keeping Northern Ireland effectively in the EU” - something supporters of the union won’t like.

These realities won’t just bother the former foreign secretary. They will stick in the craw of patriotic pro-Europeans too. However, Johnson’s assertion that naive Brexiters such as himself were “taken in” by the December deal on Ireland, which he agreed to as a cabinet minister, is a bit rich. It looks more like he wasn’t on top of the detail and didn’t understand what he was signing up to at the time.

The other problem Johnson has is that his own solution - which involves checking goods away from the border - will not work. May was right when she told the BBC: “You don't solve the issue of no hard border by having a hard border 20km inside Ireland.” That’s still a hard border, with physical customs infrastructure - exactly what everyone has been trying to avoid to maintain Irish peace.

So, with no practical challengers, May feels understandably confident to say it’s either her deal or no deal. But of course there is a third way. Give the decision back to the UK public. Now they’ve seen the whole unworkable Brexit mess, and if they don’t want to choose between either being rule-taker or jeopardising peace in Ireland, they should be given the chance to say so with a People’s Vote.


Tweet of the day


Graphic of the day


Gove admits it will be “blindfold” Brexit

There is actually a fourth Brexit option: the “Gove plan”. This is to reach a Chequers-style deal with the EU, kick out the prime minister, rip up her deal and go for an even harder Brexit. Michael Gove didn’t put it quite that bluntly. But the environment secretary did tell the BBC’s Andrew Marr yesterday that a future prime minister could choose to alter the relationship between the UK and the EU. He also damned Chequers with faint praise saying it was the right plan “for now”.

Gove’s comments underline the huge risk of a blindfold Brexit, where we quit the EU next year without any clarity over where we are going to end up and with the Conservative party still in civil war over our future. Keeping the population in the dark would be a democratic outrage. The alarm bells should ring particularly loudly in Northern Ireland. After all, if Theresa May agrees an Irish backstop and Gove then manages to rip up Chequers, the backstop will become the “frontstop” and all the flowery language about it never being used will be shown to be hot air.

Tweet of the day 2

NHS staff turned out in London at the weekend to demand a People's Vote - because they know the damage Brexit can do to our health service. And if you've been fired up by our summer rallies, make sure you're in London on October 20 for the big one.


And it wasn't just NHS workers calling for a People's Vote at Saturday's rally...


Transition not long enough

Today saw the Brexit spotlight swing back onto the transition period, remember that? In March the UK and EU agreed 21-months after Brexit to thrash out and sign off their future relationship. That’s just too short, argues the Institute for Government think tank. Compare it to other big projects: the automatic pension enrolment programme, preparations for the London Olympics (both over a decade); digitising tax (five years).

Theresa May is being dishonest on her transition timing, presumably in an effort to put her Brextremist backbenchers at ease that we won’t stay in transition forever. But if she refuses to get some flexibility from the EU now while we still have a bit of leverage, by December 2020 we’ll either be desperately pleading for a transition extension (likely with much money and rule-taking involved) or preparing to crash out with no deal at all. Avoiding such a short-sighted shambles is exactly why the people need a vote on her Brexit deal.

Video of the day

WATCH: This week's FFS Awards from For our Future's Sake - a fun look back at all the Brexit buffoonery of the last seven days.


Please share on Facebook and Twitter.

Quote of the day

“The UK economy as a whole is set to grow at a snail's pace. Brexit uncertainty continues to weigh heavily on many firms, as most of the practical questions facing trading businesses remain unanswered.

"The drag effect on investment and trade would intensify in the event of a 'messy' and disorderly Brexit.”

Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce

More Brexit news…

UK growth forecast trimmed by British Chambers of Commerce (BBC)

Four in 10 think British culture is undermined by multiculturalism (Guardian)

Health board says Brexit poses 'very high' risk of disruption (BBC)

Deutsche to shift more assets and ringfence UK unit after Brexit (FT £)

Celia Imrie says Brexit is a 'disaster' and that she would 'love' to reverse it (Independent)

Top Brexit comment

Sadiq Khan: The people must have another vote – to take back control of Brexit (Observer)

Imogen Ellis: Constructive ambiguity on Brexit must end. Labour should back a people’s vote now (LabourList)

Nick Robinson: My backseat Brexit interview with Theresa May (Sunday Times £)

Nick Clegg: With a Brexit deal in sight, Britain is entering a no man’s land (FT £)

Looking forward...

Today, Monday 17th September

- Parliament in recess for conference season
- Liberal Democrat autumn conference
10:00 Christine Lagarde presents IMF's annual evaluation of UK economy

Tomorrow, Tuesday 18th September

- Parliament in recess for conference season
- Liberal Democrat autumn conference
- Brexiters begin cross-country "chuck Chequers" campaign
10:00 Migration Advisory Committee report on EU migration post-Brexit published