Paralysis among MPs could yet mean a swing behind Brexit deal

The astonishing developments last night at Westminster, where paralysis was confirmed, disguised the other big political trend.

Thursday, 28th March 2019, 11:50 am
Updated Thursday, 28th March 2019, 11:51 am
News Letter editorial

When Theresa May said she will stand down if her Withdrawal Agreement is passed, Boris Johnson, who once said that the deal wrapped a “suicide vest” around the British constitution, was last night appearing to be moving towards backing the deal.

Jacob Rees-Mogg has been moving that way too.

All of these developments make it somewhat more likely that the prime minister will get her deal through the House of Commons, if MPs think the alternative is chaos. A raft of Labour Party MPs could break in favour of the agreement if it seems it is going to pass.

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The DUP has in recent days seemed increasingly emphatic in its opposition to the deal. The EU has been clear since January that the agreement is not being reopened.

All of these Brexiteers, such as Mr Johnson and Mr Rees-Mogg, who have hitherto been so against the deal, do owe voters a proper explanation as to why they now back it, if indeed they do. Mr Rees-Mogg has partially, but not fully, done that by saying it is a bad deal but that it is better than no Brexit.

The problem for unionists in Northern Ireland is that critics of the agreement almost all agree that it is worst of all in both its partial separate treatment of the Province, and its constraining of the whole UK in a customs arrangement to prevent a complete NI-GB split.

There will be an automatic border in the Irish Sea that was never there before, and will never go away. The only possibility is that it will one day become an even more pronounced internal UK border involving customs too.

It is wrong to say that the backstop is ‘only’ an insurance policy, because once the Withdrawal Agreement becomes law Ireland will never accept any relationship other than one of regulatory and customs alignment between NI-Republic.

The Union remains at grave risk of sudden, major damage.