Brexit transition: The can is kicked further down the road

Ian Dunt on

So now we will have another few months of Brexiters pretending the problem can be solved. They will talk about technological solutions, about the US-Canada border and the Norway-Sweden border. But the truth is that even the most high-tech, untested, super-futuristic border will only minimise infrastructure, it will not eradicate it. And even that will take longer to install than December 2020, which is when transition supposedly ends. What they have promised cannot be delivered. And the backstop solution which activates if they fail to deliver is considered politically unacceptable. This is a riddle with no answer. It is a dog trying to catch its own tail.

Plenty of people on both sides of the debate will speak very confidently about what will happen now. They should be more modest. It is very hard to see how this will go. Despite the smiles on display today, Michel Barnier and David Davis are now engaged in a game of chicken. Either the UK will buckle. This means agreeing to stay in the single market and custom union or that Northern Ireland should do so. Or the EU will buckle and allow a deal to pass that creates a hard border in Ireland.

Overall, it is more likely that Davis buckles. As Barnier said today, “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”. That means that in autumn this year the UK would face the whole deal collapsing if it doesn’t sign up to the backstop: no transition, no customs infrastructure, no regulatory infrastructure, no trade deal with the EU or roll-over of third party deals. Disaster. This dynamic suggests Davis will panic first.

But that isn’t necessarily the case. The Brexiters are quite delusional enough to demand political and economic suicide. The political temperature is sufficiently high that anything is possible. And the EU, faced with the horrific reality of no-deal and a UK which has seemingly lost its mind, might still authorise some fudged nonsense into transition.

Today bought some more time, but the pressure continues to ratchet up. Ireland still sits there, like a black hole, in the centre of the talks. It is a spasm of chaos waiting to happen.