People following these things closely will note that there is increasing tension within Parliament over the progress of Brexit. At the time of writing, the government has been defeated 14 times in the House of Lords over the EU Withdrawal Bill. It will get worse.
People write to me asking why we haven’t already left the EU and why there is so much confusion over this. They ask what’s the difference between EEA, EFTA, customs union, the single market, the customs partnership, Max Fac? They ask, quite rightly, why we can’t just get on with this.
I’ve written, on more occasions that I can remember, that whilst I was a Remainer, and if there were another referendum (there won’t be) I would campaign again for Remain, I maintain that having lost the vote we must allow there to be a proper Brexit. In arguing that, I maintain that we must secure a Brexit that opens the opportunities that it presents: trade deals that are better for Britain than the ones we enjoy through the EU currently – and more numerous. Without that, the whole exercise would, in my mind, have been pointless.
So, where is the problem? Northern Ireland.
Whatever we do with the EU, we must secure a new relationship that honours the Good Friday Agreement. After all, this is a hard fought ending of violence in the province and we must never allow ourselves to go backwards. But to do that, we either need the EU to accept a breach in its customs border at the Irish Republic; or we must find a solution that protects the EU’s customs border, but allows an invisible boundary between north and southern Ireland. Happily, the solution may end up helping our customs borders between, for example, England and France
This is a stunningly tricky problem and any solution is, frankly, a fudge. The demands of both sides of the argument are mutually exclusive in any conventional sense and time is running out.
It took us 7 years to organise a two-week sporting event in London in 2012. We have until October to come up with an agreed proposal for this. In 11 months, we will be outside the EU. In 31 months, we will have completed the transition period for the single biggest economic and logistical change this country has ever seen. We’d better get cracking.