Thursday 19 July 2018

Ireland should be UK's friend, not foe

We will know more detail when the British government finally publishes its White Paper on Brexit later this week, but what has emerged from last Friday's meeting of Theresa May's cabinet is encouraging.

Not least is the fact that she appears to have at last faced down the several members of her government who have long been in open defiance on the issue, criticising every attempt to work out a deal with Brussels but offering no solutions themselves. Now it appears they have agreed to back a soft Brexit that would include a free trade area with a common set of rules in which the UK would remain aligned to existing EU regulations on industrial goods and agriculture. (Acceptance of any new EU rules would be a decision for the UK parliament).

Of course, the British prime minister still has to sell this to the rest of her parliamentary party and the DUP. Some provisions to restrict migrants ("ending free movement") will help persuade the hard Brexiteers but allowances for labour movement will not. And though services - the most important part of the British economy - are excluded, her opponents will fear restrictions on new trade deals with other countries, specifically the US. A suggestion not included in the published 12-point summary, but widely speculated on, that the UK would collect tariffs on behalf of the EU under a new "facilitated custom arrangement", will not find favour either, especially as hardliners suspect monitoring such activity may provide a continuing role in the UK for the European Court.

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