- The UK parliament passed an amendment to the EU withdrawal Bill which commits Theresa May to avoid a hard border or any new “checks and controls” between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
- Some MPs believe this will force May to effectively stay within the single market and customs union after Brexit.
- The government last night gave into rebel demands to hand MPs an effective veto on May’s Brexit deal.
- Conservative Brexiteers fear Britain is heading for “BINO” (Brexit in Name Only.)
LONDON – On Tuesday night MPs passed a little-noticed amendment to the EU Withdrawal bill, which many MPs now believe could effectively force Britain to stay in the single market after Brexit.
The Lords amendment number 25, which was voted through by MPs last night, states that the UK government must not do anything which is incompatible with the Northern Ireland Act 1998.
Specifically, government ministers must not act in any way which would cause “physical infrastructure” or any kind of “checks and controls” on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Commons accepts Lords amendment 25 to the #EUWithdrawalBill as amended.
This amendment prevents new border arrangements in Northern Ireland and require that ministers must, when exercising powers under the Bill, act in a way that is compatible with the Northern Ireland Act 1998. pic.twitter.com/OuEGGUDhUg
— UK House of Commons (@HouseofCommons) June 12, 2018
According to the act, as now amended:
“Nothing in [sections of] this Act authorises regulations which … create or facilitate border arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after exit day which feature physical infrastructure, including border posts, or checks and controls, that did not exist before exit day and are not in accordance with an agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU.”
It is hard to see how the government can adhere to the principle of this amendment without either:
a) Retaining current EU customs arrangements and trade regulations across the UK, or:
b) Installing a hard border in the Irish sea.
At the very least, the amendment places a requirement on the UK government to negotiate a deal with the EU which closely mirrors current arrangements, if not replicating them in their entirety.
And as May and her government have repeatedly ruled out doing anything which would threaten the integrity of the UK, then it is hard to see how this won’t point towards Britain accepting anything but the softest of soft Brexits.
As Ken Clarke told MPs during today’s debate on the bill in the Commons:
“Effectively we are going to reproduce the customs union and the single market and the government will not be able to comply with yesterday’s legal obligation unless it does so.”
This interpretation was also endorsed by Labour’s Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer.
Coming as it does alongside the government’s surrender to rebel demands for a Brexit deal veto, all the stars now seem to be rapidly aligning towards Britain seeking a very soft Brexit.
Or as some nervous Conservative Brexiteers are now calling it – “a Brexit in name only.”