Politics 16 October 2018 | 11:45

Brexit Crunch Week: Day Two Update

16 October 2018 11:45

Don’t let your eyes glaze over. I know, I know: the ‘backstop’, the ‘backstop to the backstop’….who can take this seriously? Who, for that matter, can stay awake? If ever there was a week in which plain speaking was required, it’s this one. So here’s a few tips to get you through Day Two of Brexit Crunch Week.

  • The Irish Border Stuff: this matters because Northern Ireland has a unique status in the U.K. It is part of the Union with mainland Great Britain but also closely entangled – commercially, socially, culturally – with the Republic of Ireland. Membership of the EU has helped stabilise this dual identity because the border between North and South has been pretty porous under European rules. But now, with Brexit approaching, there is the prospect of a hard border between North and South (bad for the stability of the island) or a West-East customs border in the Irish Sea (bad for the majority in the North that wants to remain unambiguously part of the UK).
  • The EU’s tactics: at the weekend, it looked as though Brussels was trying to cut Theresa May some slack on this knotty problem. Now, however, she has been told that there isn’t enough time to negotiate a fresh compromise and that, for a Brexit departure deal to be struck, she will have to accept a special status for Northern Ireland.
  • The Democratic Unionist Party: ten MPs are keeping May’s Government alive. But for how much longer? They absolutely will not stand for anything that weakens Northern Ireland’s connection to the rest of the UK. And they are willing to vote against the Budget that Chancellor Philip Hammond is due to give on October 29 – a blow that would almost certainly bring the Government down.
  • The British Government: barely worthy of the name. A sub-section of the Cabinet met for an informal supper last night to discuss next moves. Such gatherings are invariably bad news – plotting in plain sight. What none of May’s ministerial colleagues have yet done is come up with a better plan that will command support in the Commons and with our EU partners (whom May will address in Brussels tomorrow).
  • Labour: no better. Jeremy Corbyn is an instinctive Brexiteer surrounded by MPs who are mostly pro-Remain. Should the Opposition leader play the statesman and help May negotiate a dignified deal? Or press for narrow party advantage by pushing the government towards destruction? Answers on a postcard, please.
  • The People’s Vote: as a deal looks more and more unlikely, a fresh referendum becomes more and more logical. Join the march in London on Saturday from Park Lane to Parliament Square.

Amid all the fog of detail, rhetoric and obscurity, keep your eyes on the prize. This may seem preposterously remote from normal life – but the opposite is true. Whatever emerges from this shambolic process will determine what kind of country we live in, its prosperity, its quality of life and its place in the world. Standards in the NHS, how well our schools are funded, travel within and outside the UK, green policy, immigration rules: all these are up for grabs, though you wouldn’t know it.

It only looks irrelevant: I promise you, it affects everything. More as we have it.