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Thursday 17 May 2018

For a government anxious to not rock the global elite by unilaterally breaking off talks with Brussels and demanding a sovereign withdrawal, it was only a matter of time before Theresa May opted for the only fudge in the binary customs dilemma, namely a commitment to remain in the EU’s Customs Union until the technology exists for an imperceptible border on the island of Ireland.

According to the Telegraph, Britain will remain in the Customs Union even after transition ends at the end of 2020. The new position was agreed at a meeting of the Brexit War Cabinet on Tuesday, which saw Brexiteers, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove “outgunned” by their Remainer rivals.

The fudge is being labelled the new Irish “backstop” (as opposed to the other backstop, which would see Britain remain in Customs Union if the British government cannot come up with an alternative…oh wait, that’s exactly the same thing). Sources claim it will be strictly “time-limited”, which does nothing to assure us the cutoff point will be in the short term as opposed to forever.

The constellation of self-defeating amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill means this weak prime minister would never feel in a position to take Britain out of the Customs Union, in spite of a recommitment to do just that as recently as this weekend. A different leader would have led the agenda from the front, not sought consensus at every turn and tabled her Brexit legislation in the latter stages of the negotiation, by which point, Remainer hopes of disruption through multiple amendments would have been headed off. Instead, Theresa May has done the exact opposite.

And the CU is no picnic. To all intents and purposes, it is the single market. Turkey, the archetypal non-EU member of the Customs Union, must incorporate EU legislation for industrial goods into its legislation. And because the Irish border deals mainly in agricultural produce, Britain’s customs union with the EU will be more expansive, covering all goods. Don’t be surprised if the EU insists Britain continue to align itself with “horizontal” regulations, such working hours and the environment. This is a mess of epic proportions.

Post-2020, Remainers will bleat constantly that Britain is outside of the EU. Soft Brexiteers are likely to settle into a comfortable feeling of fake independence, on paper, but not in reality. Unless someone of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s ilk bursts forth at some point early in the next decade, the political momentum to finish the job started by the 17.4m in 2016 will be lacking.

Speaking of Rees-Mogg, as usual, he perfectly summarised the idiocy of May’s latest gift to the EU: “We have gone from a clear endpoint, to an extension, to a proposed further extension with no end point.”

“People voted Leave, they did not vote for a perpetual purgatory.”

But there are no assurances the EU will accept May’s demands for the arrangement over customs to include a sunset clause. It will eventually of course, but expect more concessions from May for the privilege of us staying in the Customs Union. According to Politico, the Irish government is sceptical that by the time the arrangement of customs elapses, Britain will be no closer to a technologically driven border solution.

“It would have to include a sunset clause. Both sides would need this. The question is how you find the language to persuade the Irish,” said one UK official.

We should not be surprised if, instead of a specific cut-off date, the final agreement consists of waffly language about a review process once the technology becomes available. A troubling day for the Brexit faithful.