Deadlock. Posturing. Rumours of Cabinet resignations. Late night negotiations. A fudge that kicks the can down the road. Both sides claim victory. This is becoming an all too familiar cycle in the Brexit drama and the Government put on another performance this week. The theme? The Government’s backstop proposals for customs arrangements with the EU. Except last night the show had an extra scene that even regulars were gasping at. Boris Johnson delivered probably his most blistering attack on the Prime Minister’s handling of Brexit yet.
In order to prevent a hard Irish border, the Government want to remain in the customs union for a transition period after Brexit. But, Brexiteers wanted assurances that this backstop could not continue indefinitely, so Davis demanded this arrangement should end by 2021, or else he’d resign. Poignantly, this would have been almost ten years to do the day since the then Shadow Home Secretary resigned over what he saw as the Government’s erosion of liberty – civil then, national now.
Davis got what he wanted. Kind of. Whilst a backstop was added, the concession is vague and not legally binding, so both sides were able to claim victory.
Importantly though, this hasn’t actually solved the issue. It’s hard to see how the 2021 backstop will be signed off by the EU as it isn’t what they agreed to last year. Nor does it resolve the Cabinet’s deeper divisions on what the UK’s future trade relationship with the EU should look like.
Enter Boris Johnson. To him, this latest saga was symptomatic of the “very difficult” struggle at the centre of Government. At a private dinner he was recorded referring to the Treasury as the “heart of Remain”, suggesting Theresa May didn’t have the “guts” to deliver Brexit, and – the pièce de résistance – implying Trump could do a better job at the negotiating table.
When you’re quoted as saying your boss lacks guts and Trump could do a better a job, surely either your boss should sack you or you should realise that you shouldn’t really be working for them anyway, and walk.
But this is Brexit. Can kicking and fudging has staved off the inevitable showdown to date. But surely this latest saga, and next week’s crunch vote in the Commons, will bring things to a head. The next show might have a different ending…
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