In the wake of the whole Nissan thing, we’ve had Labour asking for transparency on “the deal” and Nigel Farage, predictably, crowing about how the dreaded “political elites” are going to “betray Brexit” by keeping the UK in the European customs union.
While I applaud Labour asking about the Nissan deal in the abstract, it probably won’t do them a lot of electoral favours in the north east. Farage’s rant is of a whole different order – he seems to confuse the customs union and the single market a lot these days. I assume he actually knows the difference and is playing to the gallery, but who knows. Yet if Britain does remain inside the customs union – or even the single market – it won’t be because the people in power prefer it that way.
I have no doubt Theresa May is sincere in her desire to have the most Brexity Brexit possible – it would make the most political sense. However, the people who will make that tricky are the relevant business interests. Take Nissan as a great example: they, like all car manufacturers, really need Britain to be in the customs union to make their business model at all functional. They move parts around a great deal within the relevant countries and to be subject to red tape regarding this movement would make it unfeasible. They clearly pressured the government on the subject and have either got a deal that mitigates the downsides of the UK being outside the customs union (it would have to be one hell of a deal though) or more likely, they’ve been given assurances that Britain will remain inside the customs union no matter what.
If the Brexit bunch were thinking clearly, they would be able to see that the government absolutely had to appease Nissan. Had Nissan announced closures, with the resulting thousands of jobs lost as a result, it would have made one of the principle post-Brexit predictions of “Project Fear” come true. I wonder if, in private, Farage has some appreciation of this.
They should get used to it as well. While May gave business the cold shoulder at this year’s Tory conference, that won’t last. The Conservative Party simply cannot afford to be too anti-business; they cannot afford to really stiff certain sectors in the Article 50 negotiations. People will need to be appeased. How that plays out will be interesting to watch. No doubt that Nigel Farage won’t be happy regardless.
In the news today from the Guardian, following Mays’s meeting with Enda Kenny:
‘Speaking at an all-island conference on Brexit’s impact on Ireland, north and south, Kenny said he had an assurance from the British prime minister that there would be “no hard border” between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, and that the retention of an open border was a critical element of negotiations.
“Neither I nor the prime minister desire to limit the freedom of people on both sides of the Irish sea to trade, live, work and travel freely across these islands,” he said. “Therefore we have agreed that the benefits of the common travel area be preserved.”’
This together with the Nissan assurances would imply (unless NI is to have a new independent status) that the bottom line is to remain in the Single Market. Naturally this means following Single Market rules …