I’m finishing this piece on the 11thNovember having watched the wreath laying on our Cenotaph at 11.0am. How ahistorical are our politics. Remember, remember I’d say.
Anyway, backstop? Everyone these days seems to be using that word – backstop. But what does it mean? This is about Brexit, and it is of course, shorthand for something which I vaguely comprehend but don’t totally understand. I am therefore going to delve into what’s been happening and why that word is being used over and over again.
Btw, I haven’t written on this blog for several weeks. I’ve been waiting for something to happen and the problem is things are happening right now and then again, they’re not happening.
But let’s start with this. I think for a large number of people who voted to Leave, the Referendum was a single act. Rather like St. George slaying the dragon those who were left behind after globalisation closed their factories, who saw the EU as a deeply flawed institution, who wanted the money sent to the EU to be spent here in the UK, who wanted the sovereignty of their country to be retained rather than be drawn deeper into alliances with countries they knew little about, their vote was cathartic and quick. We voted. We won. We’re out. But did anyone think we have to extricate ourselves from 40 years of regulations and agreements? That we have to negotiate? We have to forge new ways of being outside the EU? I don’t think so. We all, both Leavers and Remainers, we voted with emotion rather than any facts, or any sense of reality of what leaving the EU might mean.
Can I remind you what has to be agreed? As I said in my last blog post there is no possibility of any talks about trade with any country until we have left the EU – which as you might have noted hasn’t happened. With regard to trade with the EU while everyone talks about and wants frictionless tariff-free movement of goods it is an impossibility as the red line for the EU is that the single market must mean freedom of movement, while Theresa May’s red line is that the UK will not have freedom of movement under any circs.
So, what was to be agreed by October (dearie me) is/was the following: i) The financial settlement. The figure of £40 billion has been bandied about and there are other commitments to the EU budget that we must keep. This is kind of agreed, but not quite. Then ii) Citizen’s rights. The EU wants all EU citizens living in the UK to have the same rights as they do now. But as that includes the protection of the European Court of Justice, which is another red line for the UK, that is not agreed. And then iii) the very big question and stumbling block of Northern Ireland where nothing is agreed.
The whole thing of the border between Northern Ireland and the arguments around it is an absolute disgrace and a stain on our ability as a nation to think through consequences. Furthermore, I cannot do justice to the history and blood that has been spent in that area in one paragraph. Look, I include myself in this condemnation because although I voted to Remain and if Remain had won we wouldn’t be in this quandary, nevertheless, taking all that into consideration, I didn’t think once about that border. Did you?
So, what’s the stumbling block? If we leave the EU and there are no deals or agreements there will be a hard border, with all the infrastructure that goes with that, between Northern Ireland and Ireland. At the moment, there are no checks, and seriously, you cannot put up border security there, in that place – you just can’t. A bloody, bitter civil war was fought in and around and beyond that border. And the settlement itself is fragile. So, this is where we get to the ‘backstop’.
The backstop, apparently, is an agreement that Northern Ireland will remain within the European Union’s custom arrangement indefinitely to prevent this hard border. Two things: i) the Tory party is a minority government propped up by the ghastly Democratic Unionist Party. The Tories needs those 10 DUP MPs to vote with them all the way. And they will as long as Northern Ireland never ever gets separate treatment to the rest of the UK. In other words, the DUP see Northern Ireland being in the customs union alongside Ireland as the beginning of something they really, really don’t want – you get my drift? And ii) that word ‘indefinitely’. If Northern Ireland were to remain in the customs union the government wants to end that arrangement when they consider it right and proper. Their view is, this is not to be an indefinite arrangement, and ends not when the EU says so, but when they say so.
Another backstop solution, the one proposed by Theresa May, is that the whole of the UK would stay in the customs union, with the UK leaving the EU in March 2019, the single market in December 2020 but staying in the customs union for much longer. But the EU doesn’t like that idea, as it means the UK is staying on in the customs union without any obligations to the EU. And nor do the hard-line Brexiters like it much, as it still ties them to the EU and prevents any trade negotiations elsewhere. Again, the length of time of the arrangement and who can end it is key to any agreement.
But tbh, it’s a mess. Now the media is saying that 95% is agreed – really? If that’s so, then the 5% is something that is going to wreck our leaving. Did you know (I write for those of you living outside the UK) that another Johnson has resigned? This one is Jo Johnson, brother of Boris, who resigned from being Transport Minister on Friday saying that the choices are we either leave tied to the EU for ever (leading to vassalage) or we will crash out with a no-deal (leading to chaos). And amazingly argues for a 2ndReferendum. I think he must have done some work on what might happen if we don’t make a deal – queues on the motorway in and out of Dover and all that.
That’s more homework than Dominic Raab, our Brexit Secretary, has done, as he surpassed himself last week at an event where he said, and I quote: “I hadn’t quite understood the full extent of this, but if you look at how we trade goods and services, we are particularly reliant on the Dover-Calais crossing.”
Look, the EU is a deeply flawed institution – I get it. I’m currently reading a book on the Left’s argument against the EU. I’m not sticking my head in the sand about the EU’s faults and I would go with the so-called majority, I would, but who’s in charge of our leaving?
It is easy to say – absolute idiots – you want another quote? Here’s our Northern Ireland Secretary saying: “I freely admit that when I started this job, I didn’t understand some of the deep-seated and deep-rooted issues that there are in Northern Ireland. I didn’t understand things like when elections are fought, for example, in Northern Ireland, people who are nationalists don’t vote for unionist parties and vice versa.” I mean, what? It’s so, so basic.
But what you do have are a number of MPs in Mrs May’s Cabinet who do want a hard crash-out. And actually the idea of remaining in the customs union for ever and a day, or whenever, is daft. If we’re leaving – let’s leave and negotiate for these amazing trade deals, which will take years, of course, but never mind that.
There’s a key Cabinet meeting next week and I’m not sure whether May’s proposal is going to last much longer. Or, she might well hang on in there. But will this ‘final’ agreement be accepted by i) the EU and ii) Parliament?? Jo Johnson thinks it’s better to not leave, well, well, well.
I’ll finish this piece with the thought that there are some quite dangerous people in charge of our future. Because I give you another quote from our Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, who at the Tory Conference was the warm-up act before Theresa May’s speech saying that Britain would come to life after Brexit and, quoting Milton, he said:
“Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant Nation rousing herself like a strong man after sleep, and shaking her invincible locks: Methinks I see her as an Eagle muing her mighty youth, and kindling her undazzl’d eyes at the full midday sun.”
Seriously? I despair – we are in the charge of English Exceptionalists who have an exaggerated sense of the worth of this country and don’t care for anything other than this going it alone as a Sovereign nation.
Well, we might manage a last-minute deal but consider Northern Ireland – that is the sticking point.
Will keep you up-to-date as things are beginning to unravel. There must be a lot going on behind the scenes.
Penny Kocher 11thNovember 2018
P.S. I welcome comments but please be respectful of views that are different to yours – thanks
For further reading:
Costas Lapavitsas: The Left Case Against the EU. Polity Press 2019
James Meek: Brexit and Myths of EnglishnessLondon Review of Books Volume 40 Number 19 11 October 2018
And numerous articles in The Guardian (which shows my bias) including