To misquote Alice in Wonderland, the United Kingdom of Great Britain, Northern Ireland, and the Crown’s too-many-to-mention other dependencies must achieve three impossible things before Brexit next Spring. The three are resolving the economic, the political, and the logical contradictions inherent in the process.
The economic irresolvables are most important, in my opinion, but they’re also the simplest to explain: a “hard” Brexit will result in an economic collapse the like of which Britain hasn’t seen in living memory, or perhaps ever. A “soft” Brexit won’t be so bad: we’ll probably have the resources to be able to cook the rats before we have to eat them. I think all that’s widely accepted, I don’t think anyone credible on either side disagrees with that prognosis. It seems the Brexiteers’ response is rather: so be it, it’s a price worth paying for – well, whatever it is we’re leaving for.
The political arguments around democracy – well, there’s two opinions on that, and they divide almost entirely along leave/ remain lines. When something divides so neatly, it means both sides are being ideological. However, I’d add that the last time London had 1% of the whole country’s population on its streets pleading with a prime minister to reconsider was Tony Blair over Iraq – and we all know who turned out to be right then, don’t we?
The logical problem is least important, but gets the most press because there’s not really any wiggle-room with logic, you can’t really haggle with it. So the outcome is starkest – there really is no way of avoiding it. Here’s the argument:
- Any agreement must keep Northern Ireland in the Customs Union and the Single Market for goods. The Republic of Ireland insists on it – and they have a veto on the final agreement in the EU – and the Good Friday agreement depends on it.
- The DUP will not accept NI being in CU and SM for goods while Great Britain isn’t (and neither will the Tories, for it will lead to breakup of the UK).
- The EU will not accept Britain being in the SM for goods but not for services (which in any case, is the thing Britain should be in the SM for, since it’s our strength). This is because it breaks their four freedoms, which they were prepared to do for NI for the sake of Good Friday but won’t extend to Britain as a whole.
- Therefore any agreement must keep the whole of Britain in the CU and the SM for both goods and services – effectively what we already had in the EU.
- The Tory ultras will not accept Britain being in the SM and the CU, and because they can trigger a leadership challenge, neither can May.
Seems to me the only logical way out of this pentalemma is having no agreement, a hard border, pissing both Ireland and the EU off, abandoning the Good Friday agreement (which is probably the DUP’s plan anyway), and throwing ourselves on the mercy of other countries that have no reason to help us and maybe long memories of what we did to them when they were the ones asking for mercy – that seems the only logical solution. It means it’s back to eating uncooked rats, but apparently they taste like chicken so that’s all right.
Edited to add:
Here’s a couple of interesting links I’ve come across. The LRB give a comprehensive (but dry) list of the consequences of hard brexit at https://www.lrb.co.uk/v40/n21/swati-dhingra/what-would-it-be-like, while the always amicable Craig Murrey agrees that the DUP and the Ultras would regard the collapse of the Good Friday agreement as a good thing at https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2018/11/the-price-of-peace/