Friday, 8 December 2017

Bordering on the sane

I woke up very depressed this morning, to a dreary chorus of crowing from the UK press about "progress" towards delivering the suicide pact between the lunatic fringe of the Conservative Party and the DUP.

But, in a world where creative ambiguity means that things like detailed planning and comprehensive risk assessments can simultaneously exist in excruciating detail and not exist at all, language doesn't always mean what you think it means. So it was with some relief that I turned to the Irish press, where Fintan O'Toole has been thinking about what the Irish border deal actually means. If he's right, the latest agreement may be good news for traitors, saboteurs and enemies of the people everywhere:
"This saga has taken many strange turns, but this is the strangest of all: after one of the most fraught fortnights in the recent history of Anglo-Irish relations, Ireland has just done Britain a favour of historic dimensions. It has saved it from the madness of a hard Brexit. There is a great irony here: the problem that the Brexiteers most relentlessly ignored has come to determine the entire shape of their project. By standing firm against their attempts to bully, cajole and blame it, Ireland has shifted Brexit towards a soft outcome. It is now far more likely that Britain will stay in the customs union and the single market. It is also more likely that Brexit will not in fact happen.

Essentially what this extraordinary deal does is to reverse engineer Brexit as a whole from one single component - the need to avoid a hard Irish border. It follows the Sherlock Holmes principle: eliminate the impossible and whatever remains, however improbable, must be the solution. The Irish Government, by taking a firm stance and retaining the rock solid support of the rest of the EU, made the hard border the defining impossibility. Working back from that, the Brexit project now has to embrace what seemed, even last Monday, highly improbable: the necessity, at a minimum, for the entire UK to mirror the rules of the customs union and the single market after it leaves the EU. And this in turn raises the biggest question of all: if the UK is going to mirror the customs union and the single market, why go to the considerable bother of leaving the EU in the first place?"
It is indeed hard to see how the UK can be outside the customs union and the single market (in any more than name) and enjoy a "free flowing" border with an EU member state, so I'm rather cheered up by Fintan's analysis. A second look at the UK press makes me feel even more optimistic. Apparently Nigel Farage* really hates this deal, which is also a pretty good indication that events are moving in a slightly less insane direction.

I'm not one of those people who use the faintest smidge of Irish ancestry to go big on the whole St Patrick's Day thing. But, going back a century and a half or so, a sizable chunk of my DNA can be traced back to County Mayo, so I hereby pledge that, if Ireland proves to be the final straw that breaks the Brexit camel's back, you can count on me never to ignore another St Paddy's Day.


*Seriously, why is anybody still listening to the ex-leader of a fringe single-issue party which once reached the dizzy political heights of having one, solitary, MP (who they had to poach from another party and who subsequently deserted them)? Is it because the empty suit who's currently supposed to be leading Ukip has risen without trace?
What does Henry think about this deal? Nobody cares. Poor Henry.