The latest solution to the Irish border issue is likely unworkable – but that’s irrelevant

No plan can overcome the fact that the Conservatives don’t have the numbers in parliament to pass any version of Brexit.


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Have the Brexiteers finally found a workable solution to the Irish border problem? According to the Sun's Steve Hawkes, they have drawn up a serious plan to get around the issue.

One of the Brexit ultras' problems is that they can't have the level of customs and regulatory divergence they crave while preserving the United Kingdom's objectives and imperatives as far as the Irish border goes. You can't have divergence without some form of border checks and you can't have checks without greater infrastructure. The Conservative Party has ruled out the only other solution – a customs border in the Irish Sea – and their reliance on the DUP to survive in office means it is not possible anyway.

The new plan – one of a series of proposals to be released by the European Research Group next week – is this: for EU officials to be empowered to make customs checks at all British ports. Would it resolve the issue? Well, from the Sun's write-up it's unclear if the ERG is proposing that EU officials be able to make checks only on NI-bound goods (which wouldn't tackle the problem of the Irish border becoming a backdoor into the single market) or on all goods going through British ports (which would).

Form suggests that it is more likely that the ERG are proposing the unworkable former rather than the achievable latter, but looming deadlines make everyone more serious.

But the trouble for both sides of the Conservative Party is no new plan resolves their biggest headache: that the numbers are not there in parliament to pass any version of Brexit as it stands.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.