For those dreaming of an ideologically pure Britain with no attachment to the hated institutions of the EU, aligned not to mainland Europe but across the North Atlantic to the United States, and able to scrap all those pesky regulations that prevent Government from trampling yet harder on those at the bottom of the pile, there was always going to be a moment of truth, as reality intruded on their delusional world.
That moment arrived today as it was revealed that not only have the Tories caved in on a Brexit transition period - there wasn’t going to be one, and now there will be one of up to two years, perhaps longer - as well as the amount of the “divorce settlement”, which was going to be €20 billion, but will now be not unadjacent to €60 billion, they have now capitulated on the issue of the Irish border, to the horror of their DUP allies.
First signs of abject surrender came not from the UK’s media, but from Tony Connelly of RTÉ, who told his followers “BREAKING: UK will concede that there will be no ‘regulatory divergence’ on the island of Ireland on the single market and customs union, acc to a draft text seen by @rtenews”. That meant Northern Ireland remaining in the Single Market.
Could this be true? Soon came confirmation of Connelly’s information from Faisal Islam at Sky News: “Phillipe Lamberts MEP tells me that the draft text on Ireland agrees ‘full alignment’ within N. Ireland on those parts of single market and customs union that might otherwise lead to hard border”. How would Theresa May sell that one?
Islam had a follow-up: “I said that sounds a lot like NI staying in the Customs Union and Single Market - Lamberts, who has seen the text, agreed but said it was up to UK government how this is described ... Over to the DUP”. Fire up the spin machine!
But part of the UK remaining in the Single Market and Customs Union could set a precedent, something Richard Murphy was on to like a shot: “If Northern Ireland is to stay in the customs union, and maybe Single Market, as must follow from this morning’s agreement, then Scotland is bound to argue for the same deal. And why not? Why should they get a worse deal?”. He then had another think, and it got more complicated.
“The City of London will now be looking at the Northern Ireland EU deal and be asking ‘Why can they have regulatory alignment but we have to leave the Single Market?’. Expect a massive kick back from EC1”. So who would like to comment on that?
Well, First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon would: “Right now, Ireland is powerfully demonstrating the importance of being independent when it comes to defending your vital national interests”. A hint so heavy it would break your foot if it fell on it.
And soon, London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan was joining in: “Huge ramifications for London if Theresa May has conceded that it's possible for part of the UK to remain within the single market & customs union after Brexit. Londoners overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU and a similar deal here could protect tens of thousands of jobs”.
Various different forms of the wording are circulating, but the fact remains that once again our Government has been forced to bow to reality, and in doing so has opened Pandora’s Box to reveal the sheer folly of Brexit. More of this and the UK will start to come apart.
The DUP will scream long and loud about this deal, and otherwise demonstrate that Theresa May wasted a lot of taxpayers’ money buying their votes after last June’s General Election. But their protests cannot mask one inconvenient fact: it is not the wacko Brexiteers, the right-wing Astroturf lobby groups like the TPA, IEA, CPS, ASI, Policy Exchange (or the Legatum Institute), the dark money emanating from goodness knows where, or the screaming denunciation of the press that is driving this process.
No, this move has come about because of reality - and businesses up and down the country who have made it clear to Theresa May that she has to quit messing around and secure a deal whereby they can carry on trading as they do now - otherwise rather a lot of them will up sticks and pile off to mainland Europe.
Whine, Sir? Don't let the door hit you on the way out
And once one part of the UK gets to stay in the Single Market and Customs Union, as can be seen with the responses from Scotland and London, others will demand the same. Either the Union fractures big time, or Brexit has to be watered down so far that it ceases to be Brexit at all. With a clear majority of the electorate now in favour of a referendum on the final deal, there can be only one conclusion after today’s events.
Today is the day that Brexit died. Just rejoice at that news.