With the tedious inevitability of an unloved season, Boris Johnson has made a major intervention on the shape of Brexit in the pages of the Telegraph.
His plan – a loose Canada-style arrangement with an ongoing security partnership with the European Union and no Irish backstop or further regulatory barriers between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom, or as the Brexiteers are calling it “Super Canada” – has the same problem as Theresa May’s: an at best cursory relationship with the requirements of the negotiation.
In addition to May’s other problems, her Brexit proposals have no real hope of passing through parliament. On paper, Johnson’s proposals are in the same boat, but I’m not so sure: when push comes to shove, a Canada-type deal is guaranteed to win over at least some of the seven Labour Leavers, and no one ever went broke betting against pro-European Conservatives folding under pressure, particularly when the possible downside – leaving without a deal, followed by a Labour government – is so large.
Johnson’s real problem is that his plans are even more unacceptable to the European Union than May’s. Although this reality is rarely allowed to intrude at Westminster, the constitutional reality of EU treaty-making is that Ireland holds a veto over the end state. Now, yes, “no deal” is bad for Ireland too, but there is no situation where an Irish governing party with ambitions of remaining that way will have a political interest in signing an accord that changes the nature of the Irish land border.
Any Brexit plan which doesn’t engage with that – that is, any Brexit plan other than a Canada-style arrangement with further regulatory borders in the Irish Sea, or a Norway-style arrangement for the whole of the United Kingdom – isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.