The EU strategy for dealing with the decision of the people of the UK to break free from the damaging embrace of Brussels rule, was clear from last December they made their demands about special arrangements for Northern Ireland.
They have concocted an outrageous confidence trick on the UK government claiming that the Irish border presents an insurmountable problem to any trade between the UK and the EU after Britain leaves the EU.
They argue that this can only be overcome by the UK staying in the European customs union and single market ie not leaving the EU at all, or Northern Ireland staying in the EU while the rest of the UK leaves.
To everyone’s amazement the government bought this con even though the current trading arrangements across the Irish border showed that it was nonsense and it took decisive action by Arlene Foster last December to get the agreement amended to put in safeguards to protect NI’s position within the UK.
Undeterred the EU has over the past year sought to force the UK government to accept its demands for NI to be treated as separate from the UK with special “backstop” arrangements which would mean that trade through NI would be treated differently from trade between GB and the EU. It is becoming clearer what this would mean:
• agriculture, manufacturing and service industries would be subject to all the EU regulations present and future and this would be legally binding in a treaty
• Northern Ireland would not be able to be part of any trade deals which the UK struck with other countries in the future
• NI would be tied to EU VAT rules so losing the flexibility to adjust VAT in order to help specific industries
• Goods coming into NI from GB would have to be checked to ensure that they conformed to EU standards and did not exceed EU quotas
• Where there was a dispute about whether these requirements were being met the ultimate judgement would be made by the European Court of Justice
• While these requirements could be time limited they could only be dropped with the agreement of the EU
These go totally against all the assurances given by the prime minister that she would not allow NI to be treated different from the rest of the UK. In effect they would make NI an outpost of the EU rather than an integral part of the UK.
We are alarmed that the government is even prepared to discuss these demands with the EU and don’t believe that there are any amendments which could make them more palatable.
Nor do we believe they are even necessary because the means for dealing with trade across borders where taxes have to be collected, different regulations have to monitored and trade measured are already in place between NI and the Irish Republic.
Along with all the other concessions which the government has made in the face of EU bully boy tactics, the Irish border issue has ensured that any deal based on what we know at present will not receive DUP support, the support of those labour members who have bolstered the government in tight votes on Brexit legislation or up to 80 of its own backbenchers.
The prime minister and the remain wing of the Conservative Party know they are in trouble. That is why the pro remain Europhile Kenneth Clarke made an appeal yesterday during PM Questions for pro EU labour Party members to help win the vote on any sellout deal.
The prime minister has a choice.
Keep on caving in to the EU demands and finish up losing the vote on the deal when it comes to the House of Commons. She should remember that she also needs DUP votes for a whole raft of other domestic legislation including the budget coming up at the end of the month.
Alternatively even at this late stage she can dig in her heels and fight for a deal which honours the referendum result and sees the whole of the UK free to makes its own laws, spend its own money, control its own borders and make its own trade deals.
• Sammy Wilson is DUP MP for East Antrim