Peter Foster @pmdfoster Europe Editor of the Daily Telegraph. Formerly based in Washington DC, Beijing and New Delhi. Opinions my own. Dec. 12, 2018 4 min read

Ahem. Sorry to intrude on today's Westminster drama but....

A faction of the Tory Party is trying to unseat @theresa_may over the the Irish backstop #Brexit

But here is why it isn't going away. Whatever happens. Deal or no deal. 1/Thread

First, the simple politics.

The ERG hates the backstop. They want a unilateral exit clause - but the more they talk about that, the more the EU and Irish are going to cling to the need for a backstop that guarantees no return to a hard border. /2

But let us say, for sake of argument, that the ERG gets its way.

The brave new PM (Raab, Boris, DD or whoever) rides into Brussels with an ultimatum: it's the deal-minus-backstop, or No deal.

And against all the odds and predictions of smart alecs like me, the EU caves... /3

Then what? Well, that annoying Leo Varadkar @campaignforleo is thrown under the bus.

His big diplomatic gambit has failed. Huzzah cries the ERG types. The Irish are "back in their place" and Britannia is free to do it's SuperCanada deal with the E. /4

...the EU. Brilliant...

Until Leo Varadkar's rickety government fall, and Ireland has a General Election in which all parties manifestos say they will NEVER consent to a EU-UK trade deal without an Irish backstop/guarantees of no hard border. /5

Did the Tory sovereigntists forget that point?

All EU trade deals require approval by all EU states and their 26 parliaments. Everyone has a veto, and Ireland will use theirs to make sure that border is not put back up /6

What about another scenario?

Even if the above was not true, what chances that our brave new PM would get a backstop-free Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament?

No backstop, means huge cliff-edge in the event of no deal at the end of transition. We chash onto WTO terms /7

That is not a deal/risk that moderate Tories or the Labour Party are prepared to take.

Because even if @OwenPaterson and friends are convinced WTO (the 'fourth division' of trade terms as @PascalLamyEU called it) is the new sunny uplands, no-one else is. /8

Or a third scenario, where ERG prime minister runs down the clock and we exit via a "managed" no deal.

But be under no illusion, this world is not sustainable. The planes might keep flying, but it will not take long for everyone to realise it's not a life plan. /9

So after a few months of madness, we are back to the same questions:

Do you want a trade deal? y/n
Do you want border in Irish Sea y/m
Do you want a customs union y/n

Other fantasy options not on the menu (see above) /10

Mr Paterson is adamant that technology can fix the border, but given the politics noted above, even if that was true theoretically, its irrelevant back on planet earth.

There is NO appetite for any border in Dublin, or in those Sinn-Fein majority border constituencies /11

Recall that even proponents of the deal seem to accept there will be violence - which to be clear is as return to Troubles.

Recall this from @Policy_Exchange report advocating use of tech. /12 

Some violence is "almost inevitable" but is "likely" to subside. So is that the plan?

Drive into Newry. You see a huge sign saying "We salute the men of violence of 1916" and "smash Stormont".

Good luck with your tech solutions.. /13

Why by the way, even the ERG's favourite customs guy Lars Karlsson admits requires mobile inspection units, tracking devices ets. Good luck with that. (Take a look at what his 'smart' border entails') /14 

The truth is there ARE ways out of the backstop, but they involve making choices that, frankly, the ERG (and for too long @theresa_may herself) simply don't want to confront. /15

You can have border in the Irish Sea and tariff autonomy for GB.

Or a Customs Unions.

Mrs May plumps for a customs union, though even now she dare not say so. /16

And she does so, to deliver on Free Movement controls while protecting UK industry and exports.

Because let's face it, beyond vague images of galleons and Union Flags, there is precious little coherent economic argument for putting in frictions with your biggest trade partner/17

I say that not as a political statement, but simply having done a bit of reading, made a few phone calls and applied a bit of commonsense.

I can give you the numbers, but really you don't need to be a trade modeller to work it out. /18

Double the distance, half the trade. And we already do more trade with Ireland than China!

As someone who spent a decade working in India and China, I can promise you it's a pipe dream.

And the 'backstop' row is really just a distraction from this.../19

Ultimately the backstop crystallizes those choices the UK does not want to make.

It is the prism where ideology collides unhappily with reality.

MPs are still - STILL - in the distraction business.


You can follow @pmdfoster.


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