UK Prime Minister Theresa May is having a very bad day. Not only is there no sign of negotiating success in Brussels, her fragile agreement with the DUP is creaking, and anger is spreading through the backbenches like the plague.
On Monday morning, the scene was set for a deal; the big three issues – the Brexit bill, EU citizens’ rights, and the Irish border problem – were solved. That is, until the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) torpedoed it – because despite them propping up May’s fragile majority – they hadn’t actually agreed to it.
Dissent is spreading through parliament, with many convinced the prime minister will not be able to make a deal with Brussels before the European Commission meets on December 14. If the first stage of negotiations is not passed, there will be no more until March 2018. That is one year before the Brexit date.
Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer was furious in the House of Commons, claiming Britain will suffer if the Brexit date is not abolished.
“What an embarrassment. The last 24 hours have given a new meaning to the phrase coalition of chaos,” he said.
“Yesterday morning number 10 was briefing that a deal would be signed. There was high expectation that the Prime Minister would make a triumphant statement to the House, by tea time we had a 49 second press conference saying the deal was off.
“It’s one thing to go to Brussels and fall out with those on the other side of the negotiating table, it’s another to go to Brussels and fall out with those supposedly on your own side.”
Mr Starmer also called for the government to drop its plan to enshrine the 29 March 2019 Brexit date in UK law.
Starmer demanded the prime minister stand in front of the House “today” and “answer questions” over the disaster which has unfolded from Dublin.
The row has opened up the debate on remaining in the Customs Union, which the May regime ruled out.
If Britain exits the European Union, half of the island of Ireland will be in and half will be out. Any land border with the EU should theoretically be a hard border to tightly control goods in and out of the Customs Union.
But a hard border could stoke tensions and harm the peace agreement in the North between Republicans and Unionists. Neither the Republic of Ireland or Brussels wants a hard border, but the DUP will not accept Northern Ireland being in any way separate from the rest of the UK.
The Department for Exiting the European Union set out the UK’s plan to leave the European Customs Union early on, but the border issue, MPs argue, could be eradicated by staying in.
Chris Bryant MP said there is “no consensus” in the House of Commons, but there is a “vast majority” in the House and the country, and the Lords to remain in the CU.
“The Government is making a choice. It is choosing a majority which is based on the DUP and trying to keep the Conservative Party together, whereas in actual fact there is a vast majority in this House, and in the country and in the House of Lords in favour of us staying in the Customs Union so we keep the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland together and we don’t harm our trade. Why won’t he (Davis) just see that?” he said.
The European Union Customs Union (EUCU) allows member states, and a few other nations, to trade without additional customs duties on goods, while implementing a blanket external tariff on goods entering the Union.
However, to be a part of the EC, all partaking nations must accept that the European Commission negotiates for and on behalf of the Union as a whole.
However, Brexit Secretary David Davis spun the disaster, claiming “progress has been made.”
“I believe we are now close to concluding the first phase of negotiations and moving onto talk about our future trade relations. There is much common understanding and both sides agree we must move forward together,” he said in Parliament.
Speaking about the Irish border, Davis said he wants to “ensure there is no hard border” while respecting the integrity of the EU, the Customs Union, at the “integrity of the United Kingdom.”