This week’s Brexit negotiations yet again prove the weakness of May’s premiership and the attitude to the DUP indicates that the Conservatives have still not learned their lessons from the General Election.
Regardless of your position on EU membership, there’s little denying that the UK has made an absolute hash of leaving. This week, the DUP blew apart May’s plans to further negotiations with Brussels. One thing about the DUP is that they’re notoriously intransigent negotiators – or to use an appropriately biblical reference, they’re never afraid of the Samson option. The DUP, we seem to forget, operate in a fraught political sphere where due to power sharing, they spend most of their time negotiating. As a result of this, they’re taking May to task over the border, in a move that seemed eminently predictable.
The DUP are Unionists who want to keep the Union together at all costs, and a hard border either economically isolates them from the rest of the UK or completely subsumes Northern Ireland into Ireland. Funnily enough, many Northern Irish people aren’t a fan of a United Ireland, least of all the DUP. The complete lack of consideration of this from the Brexiteers, to me, seems utterly bizarre, given that this was obviously going to come up.
For me, there’s two real take-aways from this week.
The first is the utterly risible idea sketched out that because no one wants a hard border, a hard border won’t happen. This is the line being pushed by much of the Brexit types on Twitter, with this from a Telegraph columnist, and Peter Bone spouting much of the same nonsense –
To apply the level of exasperated ire I usually reserve for the anti-fees stuff from Adonis or any positive sentence that contains ‘two-year degrees’, I am pleased to announce that both me and my seminar leaders have decided that it would be better if I could fly to seminars, and because all parties involved now want it, if it doesn’t happen it is the fault of remain voters.
Likewise, both my girlfriend and I have decided that I would likely look better if I were to have the body of Jason Momoa, the charm of Idris Elba, and the chiselled jawline of Zac Efron, so if that doesn’t happen it is the fault of those bloody Remoaners. The amount of magical thinking that people are willing to engage in on this issue is genuinely staggering – if we move out of the EU, and the Customs Union, then there has to be a hard border somewhere, either between the Republic and the North or in the Irish Sea. This is best explained by Stephen Bush here – basically, keeping the Republic of Ireland and the North in the same regulations will economically isolate Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, which they don’t want, and not keeping regulations in alignment will mean that there’s a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is completely unacceptable for both sides and the peace process. There might be a fix to this, somehow, seen in the debates about regulatory alignment across the UK, but the issue is the total unwillingness of Brexiteers to have a serious, grown-up debate about this. What makes this even more bizarre to me is the lack of engagement with this issue given the age of many Brexiteers. It’s sort of one thing for my generation, who have only really known relative peace in Ireland, to not understand the Ireland question. David Davis has been an MP for decades, and has served at a time when the Irish question was one of the UK’s thorniest and most pressing issues of foreign policy. He doesn’t really get to claim he didn’t think this particular module would be mentioned in the exam.
The second take is that May doesn’t really seem to have learned from the election. The Tory campaign was useless – pretty much everyone agrees with that – but one of the reasons it was so useless was the lack of a coherent vision. Cameron knew his electoral coalition (which I wrote about last week) and could play to them on demand. The May coalition wasn’t clear – nor was her vision for the nation. What May’s campaign basically amounted to was going from place to place with a big picture of Jeremy Corbyn and daring voters not to back her. It turns out that the political equivalent of the ‘Say what again, I dare you, I double dare you motherf**ker’ scene from Pulp Fiction was not actually the electoral dynamite the Conservatives were hoping for.
Despite this, the Conservatives and much of the right-leaning press appear to have assumed the Pulp Fiction approach would work on the DUP. The idea seemed to be that the DUP would find a Corbyn government completely unpalatable due to his economics and support for Sinn Fein, and as a result the Conservatives could do what they pleased and simply use the spectre of Corbyn to retain DUP support. This might have been true in terms of negotiating a coalition, where the DUP would have indeed likely backed the ABC party (Anyone But Corbyn), but Corbyn simply isn’t spooky enough to force the DUP to abandon their raison d’etre. That the Conservatives haven’t realised this says much about the ability of May to negotiate with anyone.