Belfast Telegraph

Alban Maginness: Theresa May must agree a border solution or we are facing into a 'no deal' Brexit disaster

The Chequers strategy, which has been rejected by the EU, must be ditched at once, says Alban Maginness

Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz talks to Theresa May at the Salzburg summit
Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz talks to Theresa May at the Salzburg summit

After enduring Storm Ali and with all its disruption, destruction and death, we should now be preparing for Storm Brexit. While this will be an entirely man-made political storm, it has the potential to be massively destructive and rage for a very long time.

Despite Theresa May's unrealistic but earnest hopes, Salzburg, the city of Mozart, produced no magic formula for resolving the Brexit conundrum for the Prime Minister when she met with the 27 leaders of the European Union last week.

In an obviously disgruntled mood after the summit, the angry and disappointed British Prime Minister feigned surprise at the dismissive attitude of the 27 to her Chequers strategy.

She reiterated her futile opinion, that the so-called Chequers approach was the basis for bringing about an agreed Brexit.

In no uncertain terms Barnier and Tusk responded and forensically repudiated the Prime Minister's assertions and declared that there would be no deal with the UK without a legally binding backstop for dealing with the border in Ireland. Remember the UK guaranteed last year that there would be no hard border in Ireland, come what may.

Labour's Brexit spokesperson Sir Keir Starmer MP, has rightly said that May's strategy was collapsing all round her. May's strategy is now clearly a shambles without support in Europe and is even opposed by a sizeable chunk of her own Conservative Party.

Without serious movement by Theresa May away from her Chequers strategy, the probability of a car crash over Brexit is extremely likely.

Sign In

After her Salzburg humiliation, Theresa May stage-managed a faux Thatcherite speech in Downing Street, in which she dishonestly and defiantly accused the EU of failing to treat the UK with respect.

It was all sound and fury and none too subtle jingoism.

It may have been good political theatre, capturing generally positive newspaper headlines the next day, but it was patently designed to get May over her next difficult summit, the Tory Party conference on September 30.

Within her party, there continues to be a nasty and destructive civil war over the issue of Europe membership. Whatever way she goes, she cannot satisfy both sides and the internal political differences become deeper and sharper.

All she can hope for at her conference is that she is able to mollify the centre ground of her party and neutralise the Eurosceptics.

But given her weakened position within and without Parliament, May will be lucky to cling on to her leadership of the Conservative Party for the rest of the year.

She may, of course, opt for a general election in an act of desperation to save her premiership.

The clock is ticking impatiently and insistently, as we approach the Brexit deadline of March 2019. In order to meet that deadline, it is important that agreement between the UK and Europe is achieved within the next two crucial months. Thereafter it would be touch and go, as to whether a comprehensive agreement could be achieved.

Therefore, time is of the essence to avoid a no deal.

While Britain may be able to withstand the catastrophe of a no deal, Ireland, north and south, will be severely damaged and economically weakened in its wake.

A no deal is the worst possible outcome for us here in Northern Ireland.

The next major milestone is on October 18, which according to Donald Tusk, European Council president, will be "a moment of truth" and where he expects the British government to provide a solution that will avoid a hard border in Ireland. No final treaty with the UK on trade and other matters will be agreed in the absence of a solution to this issue.

An agreed solution to this issue will inevitably mean some form of regulatory differentiation between Northern Ireland and Britain, as in fact there now is in relation to inspections in the area of animal health and food safety.

Extending this differentiation does not have to be made into a huge constitutional issue and provocatively characterised, as a border down the Irish Sea between Britain and Northern Ireland.

All of these regulatory requirements could be performed online and therefore no physical customs border would be created between Northern Ireland and Britain in the Irish Sea.

It is interesting to note in this regard, that May herself has not ruled out regulatory divergence between Northern Ireland and the rest of UK, as long as the NI Assembly and Executive agree to that divergence.

The Brexit negotiations have long been likened to complicated divorce proceedings, including provision for the children, in this instance the children are Northern Ireland.

Usually in divorce proceedings the issue of who keeps the children is of huge concern and much bitter dispute between the conflicted parents.

However in this Brexit debate, neither parent really wants to keep the children.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph