Jeremy Corbyn rides to the rescue
Met Eireann has a severe weather warning out for Wednesday 28th February. It may in any event be a day we will remember for a long time, perhaps even the day the light was turned on at the end of the Brexit tunnel.
On Wednesday the European Commission’s Brexit Task Force will publish its legally binding wording of the agreement reached with the British government on 8th December on the future of the Irish border. The key phrases promised that in the absence of a broader agreement, Northern Ireland would remain in ‘regulatory alignment’ with the EU to avoid a hard border. When the DUP hit the roof over the obvious implication that there might be no such alignment between the north and Great Britain, Theresa May said the whole UK would remain in regulatory alignment. When she later said the UK would nevertheless leave the customs union, we and everyone else sort of lost tract, which is why we look forward to seeing the text set in stone by M. Barnier.
RTE said this morning that the pledge by Ms May to the DUP that there would be no hard border in the Irish Sea will not figure in the text – that is an internal British political promise on which the EU has no opinion.
To cut to the chase, there is no way that the British pledges of 8th December can be reconciled with subsequent statements that the UK would leave ‘the’ customs union and would not be in ‘a’ customs union or indeed ‘any’ customs union. So at the moment we cannot rule out the possibility that the UK will simply renounce Barnier’s wording. If they do so, the Task Force has made clear there will be no Phase II talks next month; they are unlikely to move from that position if only from fear of an Irish veto. So this could be the moment when the British crash-out really starts.
Except for Jeremy Corbyn. This most reluctant European is expected to formally announce today that he is prepared to keep Britain in ‘a’ customs union, a kind of parallel trading universe, and to explicitly say he is doing so in part to protect the Good Friday Agreement and avoid a hard border in Ireland. This will explode a small thermonuclear device in Tory HQ because they are pretty clear that Jeremy has not changed his mind about the EU being a capitalist club. He has rather got his eye on a good route to Number 10, but we on the border will take salvation wherever we can get it. Things should be clearer but much colder by the end of the week.