It is an almost complete climbdown from Theresa May, who has been saying like a mantra since June 2016 that the United Kingdom would leave the customs union and single market.
Now the whole UK will, in effect, stay in the customs union, and Northern Ireland will, in effect, stay in the single market. It means that the scenario this paper has been warning about for weeks will happen: that there will be a regulatory border (which relates to standards of goods) in the Irish Sea, but not one with regards to customs (which relates to tariffs). In other words, our observation that, latterly, the UK was referring to “no customs border” within the UK, was appropriate because they are ruling that out but that alone.
But only for now, because something even worse is on the cards than the internal regulatory border: that the UK will be able to get out of this customs union, which is likely if Brexit proves to be a success, but Northern Ireland will forever be trapped in it — because it is easier for Great Britain to get out.
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The DUP cannot possibly support this capitulation — the effective impossibility of NI leaving the EU trade zone — but we have known for a while they would not back anything like this. It is now unclear that it will get through Westminster, but even that prospect, of the government losing, is alarming. It could end up in any number of outcomes, including an even worse capitulation to the EU, over the Province, to avoid no deal, or a general election that puts Jeremy Corbyn in power.
Even putting aside such prospects, the UK has shown its hand: it will never fully stand up to Dublin over Northern Ireland. The nationalist complaint about this Tory government being pro unionist was nonsense even before yesterday. Not once has London challenged the various grievances.
Grim though the prospect of a Brexit no deal is, it is better than this agreement. But the deal will get through if enough Labour MPs back it, which will be a black day for the UK.