By Sam Tilley
The future of Brexit arguably hangs on a knife-edge this week as Theresa May is coming under renewed pressure to strike an agreement with the European Union. Talks are believed to have stalled over the status of Northern Ireland in the event of a delayed trade deal following the withdrawal of the UK and the subsequent transition period that is currently scheduled to run until the end of 2020.
During this transition period, the UK’s relationship with the EU will fundamentally remain unchanged but there are worries about customs checks and the prospect of a ‘hard border’ in case of the delayed implementation of any permanent deal between the UK and the EU after the end of the proposed transition period. Whilst the EU has proposed a solution that would keep Northern Ireland in the customs union, an option that has been described as “unacceptable” by senior Conservative Brexiteers and would lead to a ‘hard border’ across the Irish sea.
Also in opposition to this plan are the DUP, the Northern Irish party who currently back up the government by virtue of a ‘confidence and supply agreement’. According to Arlene Foster; the DUP’s leader, any attempts to cut Northern Ireland off from the rest of the UK would lead to this deal being put under severe threat and would effectively lead to a government shutdown where no government motions would pass through the House of Commons.
The Prime Minister is also coming under internal pressure to seal a deal that would placate both the Brexiteer faction and the group of Conservative Remainer rebels, led by Dominic Grieve MP. However, it’s becoming increasingly clear that whichever direction Theresa May decides to take, she will be faced with a sizeable rebellion from both ideological sides of her party. She will be able to take solace that, for now, she retains the loyalty of her cabinet despite eight members meeting for a discussion on the future of Brexit, a clear sign that her cabinet as not as united as she would like to believe.
Following a meeting with the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, and the other 27 European leaders on Wednesday, it was clear that Theresa May’s Brexit vision still has little-to-no traction on the continent and, despite Tusk’s plea that Britain bring new ideas to the summit, they were left disappointed with Tusk himself later stating that he “did not perceive anything substantially new in terms of content as [he] listened to Mrs May”.