The brexiter’s have been ratcheting up the rhetoric recently, portraying anyone asking for an extension as “surrender“. And a 2nd referendum they say would be “a betrayal”. Such language is extremely dangerous. Its put MP’s and even their kids at risk. Boris is only a few steps away from becoming a dictator. He suspended parliament and is now trying to find a way to suspend laws he doesn’t like, which would set a dreadful precedence. Woe to the Tories should a hard brexit go through, as they are simply inviting any future hard left government to do the same (or worse!).
But is it really a “betrayal” to want to stay in the EU? There seems to be an automatic assumption that the EU wants the UK to stay. I’d argue that if anything the opposite is true. While yes many europeans would want to avoid seeing the UK leave and we’ve had the odd brain fart from European leaders along the lines of maybe the UK should just stay. But these comments are more exasperation at how messy this process has become.
In truth the EU has long resigned itself to the fact the UK is leaving. After all, its not like the UK was ever the most committed member of the block. And with the UK out of the block, yet probably tied to the EU in some way or form (just unable to veto anything Brussels does), is likely seen as the best of both world’s as far as the Brussels eurocrats are concerned. So the EU wants the UK to leave, but leave with a deal of some sorts. Specifically a deal that doesn’t spark a civil war in NI, or potentially one in Scotland either (given the chances of them leaving after brexit).
But, the brexiters say we don’t want a custom’s union, we want a free trade deal. Well a free trade deal was the EU’s opening bid to Theresa May, but the hard brexiters said no to that. Not because of the backstop, this initial offer contained no such thing. But because it meant NI staying in the single market, with the customs border essentially being at the Irish sea. To the Brussel’s eurocrats this seemed the most pragmatic solution to the problem, given the noises coming out of London. After all, NI’s economy is heavily integrated with Ireland’s and any kind of customs checks would cripple its economy overnight….which would probably lead to NI having a referendum and joining the south.
Of course just because Brussels offers you an FTA, doesn’t mean you should take it. Its a good solution…for the EU! It would mean that they’d open up trade with the UK just as much as they need too, but restrict trade in other areas. So they’d allow trade in agricultural products and some manufactured goods, allowing EU states to continue to export to the UK tariff free (but with some customs checks), but then restrict access in other areas (such as finance, seems unlikely they’d concede on this after the cum-ex scandal).
Of course if the UK were to sign similar FTA’s with the US and China, then UK companies would be in the worst of both worlds. Required to meet strict EU standards if they want to export into the block, yet still facing custom’s checks and delays at the border. While also facing competition from cheap low quality products flooding the country tariff free from beyond the EU. Inevitably many UK farmers and manufacturers would go to the wall. After that happens the EU, US and China would carve up what’s left of the UK market between them. I mean why do you think Dyson moved to Singapore and Rees Mogg has relocated his hedge fund to Dublin. They know how its going to go down.
This is not too say Brussels is opposed to a custom’s union. Far from it! Their concern is, given how the brexiters claim that the EU is undemocratic (this from a party who has suspended democracy and now wants to suspend the rule of law), you can imagine the fuss the UK will make about being in the situation where they are a rule taker, not a rule maker, yet still paying 90% of what it costs to be a fully signed up EU member.
But yes, if a custom’s union can get voted through parliament then the EU would allow it. In fact I get the impression (from the language in the withdrawal deal) the plan was for May to wait until she was in a position to throw either the hard brexiters or the DUP under the bus (perhaps by doing a deal with Corbyn or winning another post-brexit election), then do a custom’s union and thus negate the need for a backstop.
The reality is that there is only one reason why the UK hasn’t left yet, and its because of the Tory party. If anyone has “betrayed brexit” or “surrendered” (to Putin and Trump) its the Tory party. Had they rallied around some soft brexit option (e.g. the Norway or Swiss model) early on in the process, that would have likely been acceptable to the remainer’s within parliament. And recall, May had a majority at the start of this process. She only pissed away that majority in an effort to win a bigger majority as she couldn’t get the hard brexiters to commit to any softer options. And ironically, the Tories current no deal plans effectively imposes the same status on the NI border as the EU originally proposed.
And those hard brexiters are now taking the hard line position they have now adopted because they are trapped. If they don’t leave the EU by Halloween, they’ll lose support to the brexit party. On the other hand they know they can’t possibly meet all the promises they made in the referendum. Any kind of deal will screw over the UK in some way. So better to go for a no deal then, which would please certain wealthy tax dodgers whom they are in the pocket of (the EU’s tax laws change in January, making it harder to dodge taxes and keep accounts secret, any sort of withdrawal agreement would see the UK still subject to EU laws during this period) and blame the negative consequences of a no deal on the EU, remainers and poor people.