Brexit Impasse Continues
It appears that the hope expressed by Theresa May that a deal can be struck with the Labour Party to pass the EU withdrawal bill before the 23rd of May and thereby avoid the UK needing ti participate in the elections for the European Parliament will come to nothing. Whilst both the government and the official opposition have described the discussions as serious and detailed, it is clear that neither side is willing to make the compromises needed to arrive at an agreement.
The Labour Party has been insisting that the UK should join “a” customs union with the EU and remain closely aligned with the requirements of the single market in a bid to mitigate the economic downside of Brexit. The government will not accept this position, fearing that to do so would prevent the UK from formulating its own trade policy and striking deals around the world. It claims that the agreement entered into with the EU in the withdrawal agreement provides a de facto customs union which (ought to) permits the free movement of goods between the UK and EU. Labour is not convinced.
The withdrawal agreement contains the Irish backstop guarantee which would (largely) obviate the need for customs inspections and a hard border on the island of Ireland, but it is vehemently opposed by the DUP (who provide the government with its working majority) and many in the so-called European Research Group (ERG) within the ruling Conservative Party. If the government moves on the customs union issue, it is likely to be heavily opposed by Brexit supporting Tory MPs, but without doing so, Labour will not support the withdrawal deal. With the backstop in place, there is no possibility of the government securing a majority to pass the bill in the Commons – rock, meet hard place.
Neither Labour nor the government want to be seen to pull the plug on their discussions, but it is plain they are going nowhere. The government is proposing that if no compromise emerges that both parties agree to be bound by the outcome of “indicative votes” in parliament, but for obvious reasons, Labour seems unwilling to do so.
There were rumours that the withdrawal agreement (shorn of the backstop) might be put to parliament next week, however it was not in the government’s business motion and such an arrangement would plainly be rejected by the EU.
One way to resolve the predicament would be to put May’s deal back to the electorate against the choice of remaining in the EU. Whilst this idea is gaining ground, it has yet to develop enough traction to be a viable solution to parliament – yet.