Risky business

In today’s main Brexit-related development, the Government reluctantly released the full text of the legal assessment of the proposed deal, which confirmed that the much-discussed Irish backstop could not be unilaterally terminated by the UK.

In itself, this is not really new information, since both Theresa May and attorney general Geoffrey Cox had previously admitted as much, though not in such stark language. In the debate yesterday Cox made the perfectly reasonable point that lawyers can only identify potential difficulties; the decision whether the risk is worth taking is a political one. May’s argument is that it is extremely unlikely that the backstop will become permanent, if indeed it is ever activated, since both the UK and the EU would be keen to end it, and thus the gamble is justified to win the prize of a deal.

May’s opinion may be accurate, but it doesn’t matter; the mere possibility, however remote, that the backstop will persist is enough to give cover to the faction within the Tory party who are determined to oppose any agreement that fails to correspond with their delusional ideals, allowing them to present themselves as patriotic defenders of national integrity, rather than fanatical wreckers.

Still the doomed process stumbles on; there are another six days of this to endure before the parliamentary vote puts the deal out of its misery, and the real politics can begin. Of course that is when things may start to get even more ugly, but hopefully whatever relatively sensible elements remain within the ruling class will have their minds concentrated enough to steer us away from disaster.

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