PM gives reassurance to unionists, but still no clarity on Brexit
The DUP's meeting with the prime minister yesterday was in one sense reassuring to unionists.
Theresa May told Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds that there would be no breaking up of the United Kingdom “economically, politically or constitutionally”.
But beyond that we know almost nothing about how Brexit is going to be achieved while this happens.
It does indeed seem that the mood against a border in the Irish Sea has been hardening in London. Dominic Grieve MP told this newspaper when he was in Belfast recently that protecting the Union was more important to most of his Tory colleagues than securing what is known as hard Brexit — full departure from the EU and all its constraints and structures.
However, even if that is so it is by no means clear how a number of different factors can be reconciled. For example, Mrs May reiterated to the DUP that Britain will leave both the customs union and single market but in a sense that is misleading — like the past insistence that Northern Ireland will not have a standalone Irish language act. Such a pledge did not, however, rule out an Irish language act in all but name, perhaps as a standalone part of a multi-part bill.
Similarly, most commentators who are following events in London closely think that the prime minister is going to agree to an arrangement that leaves the UK in the customs union and single market in all but name. She cannot get anything else through parliament.
If so, two things could happen. Pro Brexit ministers resign, triggering a political crisis and possibly even a general election. Or there is a public backlash, led by Brexiteers such as Nigel Farage. That then raises the possibility that many Leave factions will come to think that a border in the Irish Sea is better than an ineffective Brexit.
There is, in this rolling crisis, much that remains unclear, and is likely to do so until Friday’s ministerial summit at Chequers.