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29 January 2019

The Malthouse Compromise may unite the Conservatives on Brexit, but it won’t solve the Irish border problem

 The proposal has already been examined by every independent expert around and found wanting.

By Stephen Bush

The wolf and the lamb might not be living together but they are looking at properties and phoning round estate agents: at least, that’s if you believe the hype around a new proposal negotiated by Conservative Leavers including Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker and Conservative Remainers including Nicky Morgan and Damian Green.

The details of the proposal are as follows: a revised version of the backstop based around using technological solutions to avoid border checks or, failing that, to agree a standstill transition to give both sides time to plan for a no-deal Brexit.

Adding to the sense in Tory party that this might be an accord it can unify around is the involvement of several ministers, with Kit Malthouse, the housing minister, attracting the plaudits for brokering the agreement. Baker has dubbed the agreement the Malthouse Compromise, because if there’s one thing that the Brexit process needs more of, it’s jargon!

Even if the Malthouse Compromise can unite the Conservative Party (though this remains a big if), it has a number of problems. The first is that the proposal has already been examined by every independent expert around and found wanting. It doesn’t solve the central problem of the Irish border: the question of how to maintain a open border based on a customs and regulatory alignment on both sides when the United Kingdom is leaving that customs and regulatory umbrella.

As such, that the EU has already rejected these proposals is almost beside the point. The EU might well reject my plan to solve the backstop issue by buying and rubbing every antique lamp in the hope a genie comes out of one – but frankly that is the least of its problems.

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As for a managed no deal – that would mean the EU agreeing to an outcome that its member states don’t want in any way, which would reduce its immediate leverage and extend the amount of time that it has to spend on Brexit. It’s nothing doing.

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The central task for anyone who wants to avoid a no-deal exit is to find a parliamentary majority for any of the real-world solutions to the Irish border issue: either a customs and regulatory border in the Irish Sea, or the whole of the UK staying within customs and regulatory orbit of the EU, whether via the customs union and single market or simply by staying in the EU.

Anything else, no matter how many different factions of the Conservative Party like it, is displacement activity around the central question of what happens to the UK on 29 March 2019.