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Malachi O'Doherty: Prime Minister stuck between rock and a hard place... this will not end well


Imagine if the Prime Minister made the following speech or something like it: "I am speaking to you tonight from the cabinet room in Downing Street on a matter of great importance to the nation.

"You will all be aware that on June 23, 2016, the people of this country voted by referendum to advise the Government of their desire to leave the European Union. Since then, my ministers and I have been working tirelessly to give effect to that wish.

"Tonight it is my duty to tell you that there is no course of action open to this government, or likely to any successor government, which can deliver to the people what they have asked for.

"Some say we should simply leave on our own terms, ending all agreements which we have made with our European neighbours. I have to tell you that, in those circumstances, Europe would trade with us as a third party imposing tariff barriers on our goods and services.

"We can leave the Customs Union and the Single Market and make our own trade deals, and desire to do so but Europe insists on a backstop, a fall back arrangement which would come into effect in the event of us failing to agree a trade deal.

"It wants an open border on the island of Ireland, preserving Northern Ireland within the Customs Union and Single Market effectively creating a border down the Irish Sea.

"I have rejected that idea as tantamount to a breakup of the United Kingdom. I therefore have to tell you that at 11 o'clock this morning, Britain has notified the European Commission of its intention to withdraw Article Fifty and to reverse its intention to leave the European Union.

"A state of peaceful co-operation now exists between us."

Of course there would be outrage if Theresa May simply aborted Brexit but she has no course open to her that doesn't also threaten instability and enormous political upheaval.

In the event of No Deal, Europe will have no choice but to impose a hard border in Ireland at enormous cost to both economies.

The DUP argues that this is all bluster, that there is a border there already and that checks can be made away from the border and without disruption. So maybe May can push on through, call the EU's bluff, if that is what it is, and demonstrate next March that the threat of a hard border was chimeric.

But no one but the DUP and a few ardent Brexiteers believes that. And the alternative is keeping the whole UK in the Customs Union just to keep Northern Ireland in the UK under the same trading and regulation terms (roughly) as Wales. This would amount to the stumpy little Irish tail wagging the British Bulldog. It would be Brexit in name only.

And sooner or later some Brexiteer would ask: "Do we really need bloody Northern Ireland anyway?"

That is the crisis which May has to avoid.

Belfast Telegraph