Last night it was reported that the DUP was in talks with the government to see if it was still possible at this late stage to get passage for the Brexit deal.
It is hard to see how this can happen after Geoffrey Cox’s legal advice made clear that the UK might not be able to exit the Irish border backstop, and the EU made clear it will be offering no more help.
It is astonishing that the British government ever got itself into this situation — that there was ever a possibility of an arrangement from which it is harder to exit than the EU itself.
In any event, as some shrewd unionist analysts have pointed out, there is a risk that a backstop coming in even temporarily will cause lasting constitutional damage to the Union, let alone a backstop that the UK cannot exit. But, as Michel Barnier’s late overture to Britain showed, the EU is open to a situation in which Great Britain can exit a customs union and Northern Ireland cannot.
This could lead to a full border in the Irish Sea, between NI and the rest of the UK.
It would for almost any unionist be a disastrous outcome and particularly so for a Brexiteer unionist, getting Brexit in name only, alongside a barrier between here and GB.
The government has almost lost control of events. A general election might lead to Jeremy Corbyn in power but if so he might inflict less constitutional damage on NI than a backstop that is hard to shake off. In any event, he is polling badly.
Staying the EU and no deal would both be deeply traumatic for the UK, but would they be worse than a bad Brexit deal?
Meanwhile, the government’s weakness has led to a pledge yesterday on tariffs that was aimed principally at calming Irish fears on a hard border. It is hard to believe that allowing tariff free movement from south to north would not then lead to greater checks at the Irish Sea.
There are huge risks in making major concessions out of panic. An EU extension by a few months until the MEP elections is now a minimum move, or perhaps even more than a year, which would be preferable to a bad, lasting deal.