Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. The Staggers
14 December 2018

Why May winning a confidence vote doesn’t mean the UK has avoided a no-deal exit

It’s that age-old problem again: the backstop.

By Stephen Bush

Theresa May’s attempts to renegotiate the backstop have been met with a sharp rejection from European member states and the European Commission. (In other news, you won’t believe what bears get up to in the woods!)

The PM is seeking a logical impossibility: the point of the backstop is to provide a guarantee that, regardless of what happens in the talks, there will not be a hard border on the island of Ireland. That means that it cannot, by definition, be time-limited or have a unilateral right of exit for the United Kingdom.

The Irish government has a veto on the terms of the final trade agreement, and no Irish Taoiseach could sign a trade deal that puts a hard border on the island of Ireland – the economic damage of no deal will always be a better proposition than the political damage of that deal whichever party is in office in Ireland.

But Conservative opponents of the backstop will never accept a deal that keeps the United Kingdom within the regulatory orbit of the European Union indefinitely. That means that the only way to pass the withdrawal agreement is to soften Brexit to get support from other parties, something May has no inclination to do, or to offer a second referendum. But no one should rule out the possibility that the United Kingdom ends up with a no-deal exit instead.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy