New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. Politics
2 May 2018updated 09 Jun 2021 10:07am

On an EU customs deal, the cabinet’s Brexiteers can’t have their cake and eat it

Even if the Leavers had the Commons majority to back their preferred arrangement, the EU27 wouldn’t accept it.

By Stephen Bush

Wednesday afternoon’s alright for fighting: the inner-cabinet will meet to hammer out what its preferred customs relationship with the European Union is today, and the Brexiteers are once again making menacing noises about what will happen to Theresa May if she doesn’t back down and accept their preferred scenario.

Cabinet Leavers want a streamlined arrangement in which trusted trader schemes allow minimal goods checks on the Irish border: ie, they have made explicit what has always been implicit in their plans: they want a hard border between Northern Ireland. Cabinet Remainers want a customs partnership, which Brexiteers fear is an unworkable plan that will ultimately become remaining in a customs union with the European Union by another name. The European Research Group have commissioned a researcher saying exactly that and it has duly been leaked to the Mail, the Telegraph, and the BBC. Nick Timothy also makes their case in his column for the Sun.

I don’t want to do any major damage to my brand as an irreconcilable Remoaner – but the Brexiteers are right. The PM’s plan is not reality-based and, ultimately, the only way you can keep the United Kingdom’s political objectives and international obligations as far as the Irish border go is to have something very like the customs union and a high level of regulatory alignment with the rules of the EU27.

But the Brexiteers have reality problems of their own, too. Timothy writes that “even” Switzerland and Norway don’t have customs unions with the European Union. I don’t know much about the alternate universe that Nick Timothy files his copy from, other than the Theresa May in that other world was against the Go Home vans. But here in the regular universe, there is no recent history of political violence on the Norwegian and Swiss borders. Here in the regular universe, there are sensitivities around the Irish border that simply do not apply to any other of the EU’s customs frontiers.

And that speaks to the biggest reality problem of them all: that thanks to the loss of the Conservative parliamentary majority there is no way for the government to sign off the deal that would allow it to have its cake and eat it – a customs frontier in the Irish sea – there is no majority in the Commons for the preferred customs arrangement of the Conservative party, and even if there were, there is no way the EU27 would accept it. And the trouble for the Brexiteers is that both they and Theresa May know it.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Content from our partners
An innovative approach to regional equity
ADHD in the criminal justice system: a case for change – with Takeda
The power of place in tackling climate change