1. This is a very big deal - Theresa May is reportedly going to denounce the Irish border 'backstop' at a speech in Belfast tomorrow. twitter.com/JolyonMaugham/…
2. The backstop was the key commitment that the UK made in order to move from Brexit pre-negotiations into actual talks. Brexit has destabilizing implications for the Irish peace process, because it threatens to recreate a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
3. That's why under the backstop, the UK agreed that Northern Ireland would remain in "full alignment" with the European Union's customs and market arrangements, even if no other solution could be reached. That seemed to allow the EU and UK to bracket the Northern Ireland problem
4. However, even from the beginning it was clear that the UK and EU interpreted the backstop in quite different ways. The EU saw it as a commitment that Northern Ireland would remain in the Single Market and Customs Union.
5. The UK suggested an alternative interpretation under which Britain and Northern Ireland would both stay in the customs union etc as long as it suited them, but without the other obligations of EU membership. EU negotiators made it clear that this was completely unacceptable.
6. Now things are coming unravelled. May has effectively folded on Brexit in the face of opposition from pro-Brexiters in her party - the bill passed earlier this week made it illegal for Northern Ireland to be "part of a separate customs territory to Great Britain."
7. This reflects May's inability to get a deal through the House of Commons that would be acceptable to EU negotiators. Brexiters like Boris Johnson have seen the Irish border issue as a Trojan horse that the EU is using to shape the deal in its favor.
8. Now, they are trying to take it off the table, by effectively declaring a fait-accompli which would require the EU either to undermine its own market and customs rules or accept customs posts and controls along the Irish border.
9. Or, alternatively, to embrace the "technological solution" that the UK has been talking up, which would be fueled by a patented mix of unobtanium, pixie dust and politicians' promises.
10. The more plausible assumption is that none of these proposals will prove acceptable to the EU, leading to a Brexit-plus-no-agreement outcome in which the UK shafts itself, but also shafts the Republic of Ireland, and very possibly the peace process as a by-product.
11. May will reportedly claim that she is doing this because otherwise the Belfast Agreement would be breached, and the people of Northern Ireland would not have their own voice in trade negotiations.
12. Both of these claims are obvious horseshit. The people of Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU. The Belfast Agreement rests on a complex political bargain that was already in danger, and is likely to be greatly destabilized by May's new position
13. Which will be seen as a direct exercise of Unionist power to remake the constitutional position of Northern Ireland in ways that disadvantage Northern nationalists, in a situation where the DUP has control because it supports May's minority government.
14. May isn't doing this because of constitutional concerns or any concern for Northern Ireland. She is stepping into the abyss because she is a weak leader, incapable of controlling her own party, or of restraining or influencing her party's allies.
16. This is a disaster in the making, a further demonstration of how the internal political struggles and factionalism of British and Northern Irish politics are leaving everyone in a position where they are going to be much, much worse off than before. Finis.