North of Ireland: hard choices over a hard border

It has been nearly two years since the British public lobbed a grenade into the Tories’ lap by voting to leave the European Union. Since this particularly hot potato was chucked her way, May has made an art out of kicking the can down the road. But for how much longer? Recent events suggest her luck may just be running out.

The whole thing comes down to the kind of back-up that might be agreed to stop a hard border in Ireland. May is, of course, absolutely sure that nothing could go wrong: we are definitely leaving the customs union and we will have no trouble rustling up an all-singing, all-dancing “Canada+++” trade agreement – all in record negotiating time.

But what if this doesn’t happen? In the highly improbable event that this miracle agreement is not agreed in time, the EU are looking for some idea of how the Tories intend to avoid a hard border in Ireland.

So the thorny question of the Northern Ireland border is back on the table. Incredibly, May’s “constructive ambiguity” back in December didn’t permanently settle the question!

Splits at the top

The Brexit war cabinet met and they deliberated. There are three options.

ToryCivilWar Image Socialist Appeal

The first is known as “Maximum Facilitation” (a.k.a. “max fac”). It is basically a hard border, but with “technology”. This was the Brexiteers’ favourite. The only stumbling block is that the “technology” doesn’t exist.

The second option is a “customs partnership”. This was the favourite of the cabinet’s Remainers – until it was pointed out by a journalist that it wouldn’t prevent the need for an Irish border. And, furthermore, it would be so cumbersome as to make the sci-fi “technology” solution look reasonable.

The other option – not discussed by the cabinet but supported by sixty Tory MPs – is the “Jacob Rees-Mogg option”. This is decidedly simpler than the previous two. It involves thumbing our noses at the Germans and letting the border sort itself out.

The Brexit committee was split. Like naughty children, the two sides were sent into different rooms.

Cue the intervention of opportunist clown, Boris Johnson, who launched a tirade in the Daily Mail on May’s “crazy” customs partnership plan that would leave Britain “in the tractor beam of Brussels”. This was a chance to regain the limelight that was not to be missed – and a chance to earn some brownie points with the Tory rank-and-file to boot!

Losing control

The Right Honourable Member for the Eighteenth Century, Rees-Mogg, added his two penneth, decrying the “cretinous” plan of the Remoaners.

Jacob Rees Mogg debating at the Cambridge Union Society Image Cantab12

With everything spiralling out of control, May needed to stamp her authority on the situation. She called her MPs in for a little chat about the border options. Rees-Mogg was ready and challenged her: if May is really worried about the political status of the North of Ireland, why not call a border poll and show them who’s boss?

May wasn’t having it: we’ve had a few too many referenda recently, thank you very much. She wasn’t so sure of winning another one. Jacob Rees-Mogg was slapped down.

The problem is that this little spat has been conducted entirely in public, with 65 million people watching. If there’s a possible majority for Irish reunification, surely then May should let the people in Northern Ireland decide for themselves? Oops, that wasn’t what she meant. No, there’s definitely no chance of that happening!

The whole thing is unravelling quickly and backbench MPs are getting jittery. Are we seeing the last days of the May government? They certainly think so, and have been contacting their local Tory parties to nominate them for a new election, which they expect sooner rather than later.

Into the abyss

What to make of this storm in a teacup?

Here’s the rub: Michel Barnier has been very clear that both options – of max fac or a customs partnership – are pure fantasy; if the British negotiators turn up with either of them in June, they will be wasting everyone’s time.

Theresa May Image Flickr Annika Haas

One wit in the Guardian letters page likened it to a couple having an almighty row over whether to buy a Lamborghini or a Maserati when they have enough money for a clapped out Fiat Punto.

But if their spat seems unreasonable, it should be considered that a person on a cliff edge does not reason. British capitalism is staring into an abyss – whatever they do will bring catastrophe.

And this is no mere married couple’s spat about a car – this is a question of the British ruling class openly rowing about the future of British capitalism. It is now time for the working class to have its say on all this and kick out all wings of the Tories and their system!