Today represents another hurdle in May’s battle for/against/whatever she’s now doing with Brexit, involving a meeting of the Brexit subcommittee. What makes it all the more daunting is that the prime minister has lost an ally in Amber Rudd on the subcommittee. She is also near the point where continuing to fudge everything is becoming impossible. Having said that though, May has seemed at a point where fudging would have to end before, and she always finds a way to do it some more, so perhaps this will be more of the same.
If I were Theresa May, and I appreciate that I am not in more ways than one, I would call a halt to the fudging today. I would say to the Brexit subcommittee something along these lines:
“I realise that around this table there are many differences of opinion on how the final settlement with the European Union should look once we leave the EU. Some of you appear to be dead set against any sort of customs arrangement with the EU whatsoever. I have heard your point of view and considered it carefully. However, as the person who has had to be front and centre during these negotiations with the EU, I can say for certain that, in my view, a customs arrangement – and being honest here, a customs union – will be absolutely required by the European Commission if we wish to keep the border with Northern Ireland open.”
“Some of you favour a technological solution. Besides the fact that this is practically impossible at present, the European Commission have rejected this proposal outright. It has come to this: either we accept a hard border in Ireland or we do not. I, having promised that there would be no hard border in Ireland of any kind, am not willing to roll back on this pledge. This means if I remain prime minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, I will be coming to an agreement with the EU that involves the UK remaining in a customs union.”
“Having heard what I intend to do, I leave it up to you to decide if you wish to depose me as leader of the Conservative Party. I would warn you against doing so, as I feel certain it will place the Brexit negotiations into a perilous position. I would go as far as to say that asking me to step down at this time may even imperil Brexit taking place at all, given the thin nature of our majority. I would even add that you are very much risking Jeremy Corbyn becoming prime minister with such a manoeuvre – but I leave that to you to ponder. All I can say is that I have now made up my mind about what I think is the only reasonable step that can be made regarding EU-UK customs arrangements post-Brexit and so long as I remain prime minister, I will act in accordance with this.”