Theresa May is constrained by her own Party, and her working agreement with the DUP. Only a Labour government with a clear vision for Brexit can achieve progress in negotiations.
The EU wants Northern Ireland to remain within the customs union. This is a pragmatic solution, but it would effectively separate Northern Ireland economically from the Union. However, this is an option that simply may not be necessary.
On Tuesday Arlene Foster, Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, suggested that she would not compromise on a ‘blood red line’ which would involve Northern Ireland remaining within the EU Customs Union whilst the rest of the UK separated.
Ever since the Good Friday Agreement, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has remained devoid of checkpoints and patrols. The Government’s stance towards Brexit negotiations threatens this peace.
A key red-line for Theresa May is the separation of the UK from the Customs Union. In her Chequers Plan, she outlined a common rulebook for goods which would facilitate the exchange of goods and services between the EU and the UK without issue.
However, in a post-Chequer’s negotiation phase, with time running out to agree upon a deal, Theresa May must consider whether to compromise one of her key red-lines on the Customs Union.
However, the Hard Brexiteers within her party would surely be unhappy should this come to fruition. An ideologically embattled Conservative Party therefore hampers potential negotiations and avenues for progress in negotiations which are critical to the maintenance of peace in Ireland.
One such Hard Brexiteer, Boris Johnson, has criticised Theresa May’s plan on the grounds that the plan is ‘not what we voted for’ and that Mrs May has lost sight of the goals to leave the Customs Union, Single Market, and ECJ. Instead Boris has undermined Theresa by trumping a ‘super-Canada’ option which would involve:
‘Zero tariffs and zero quotas’ on all imports and exports
Mutual recognition agreements covering UK and EU regulations to ensure ‘conformity of goods with each other's standards’
Technological solutions to keep supply chains operating smoothly
A deal covering goods as well as services
However, Boris’ plan has been critiqued in that this would this lead to a hard border in Northern Ireland.
Furthermore, Theresa May is constrained by her government's relationship with the DUP. In the 2016 General Election, the Conservative Party were unable to gain a majority despite campaigning on the basis of strength and stability.
As a result, to pass legislation through Parliament the Conservatives rely upon a working pact with the DUP. This has allowed the DUP to threaten to cut their support to achieve their specific policy objectives. Quite concerningly, this has allowed one half of the executive in Northern Ireland to dictate Brexit terms.
This is of concern because Northern Ireland has a power sharing agreement with Sinn Fein as set by the Good Friday Agreement. Also, since the 2017 Northern Ireland Assembly election, Northern Ireland has been without an executive. With a fragile peace and lack of devolved government, the border in Northern Ireland must be prioritised over an ideological Hard Brexit. Peace and stability must be red line for any Brexit negotiation.
With an embattled Conservative Party, a leader lacking a clear and pragmatic vision for Brexit, and a fragile government propped up by a Unionist party dictating the terms of Brexit without the consent of the Republicans.
There is, however, a solution.
A Labour government. Labour under Jeremy Corbyn would deliver a Brexit which would keep the UK in the Customs Unions. This would mitigate the concerns of those calling for a second referendum on both the left and the right.
A Labour government would deliver for both those who voted for remain and leave by maintaining some of the benefits of EU membership whilst maintaining political independence from Brussels. Furthermore, a Labour government would not face opposition from a loony cadre of nationalists, eccentrics, and populists bent on an ideological split from the EU which would irreversibly damage relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Importantly for the issue of the Irish Border, a Labour government would keep the border between the North and the South open and break the current impasse in negotiations.
This is not a solution which can solve the on-going lack of devolved government. However it may bring stability to negotiations, with a clear vision for Britain, and without prioritising the concerns of Unionists over the Republicans.
The Labour Party must continue to call for a General Election in the interest of the country.