How About Three Borders?

Note: This follows last night’s (Sept. 30) post about the current state of Brexit, which wholly failed to anticipate this degree of breathless incompetence.

Okay, so Johnson’s big plan is (or may be—as soon as it was revealed, Johnson denied it) (UPDATE: it is, Johnson lied) basically maxfac again: a customs border (sorry, a “chain of customs centres”) five miles north of the border, and another customs border five miles south of the border, and vehicles passing the customs borders will have to have a phone app or special transponders installed so the government can detect when you cross the actual geopolitical border.

BUT—and here’s the “clever” bit—he’s going to make the offer contingent on a promise by the EU to turn down any request for an extension. Having complained that the Benn Act gives the EU control of when the UK leaves (it doesn’t), he’s going to try and counter it by… giving the EU control of when the UK leaves.

I’m not sure I have to explain the ways this is not going to work.

  • First, no-one on either side of the border is going to be happy with these “customs centres,” no-one on either side of the border is going to be happy volunteering to have their vehicles tracked by the UK government, most small and medium businesses are not going to be able to afford the systems required to support the whole thing, it will be a glaring hole for smugglers and bad actors. It’s a bad idea that the EU won’t like.
  • Second, the EU’s certainly not going to be interested in having their hands tied, especially given that a) they (rightly) don’t believe Johnson will get anything passed by Parliament, b) they (again, rightly) don’t expect him to stay in the role long, c) they still want an orderly withdrawal that protects both parties’ best interests and d) they don’t really like him.
  • Third, he’s arguably dodged the “misconduct in public office” bullet, given that he’s not just sneaking around and asking a leader of another country to vote against us. By making it part of the negotiations, he’s made it explicitly a matter of “high policy” and beyond the scope of the courts. But it’s certainly not beyond the scope of Parliament, who can (and probably will, if he goes ahead with this) hold him in contempt of Parliament—one possible outcome of which is barring him from the House to the end of the session. And remove him as Prime Minister for good measure.
  • Fourth, assuming the EU agrees to this genuinely stupid idea—they won’t—and somehow removing Johnson and installing a new Prime Minister who does want an extension doesn’t overrule the agreement—it would—we can still just plum revoke notification. So far, the idea of a Parliamentary backstop (requiring the Prime Minister to revoke once it’s clear no-deal is the only alternative) has been a step too far for this Parliament, but with an absolute hard deadline coming, and nothing in place? Revocation would definitely be on the table, and can be done in a few minutes. There’s no deadline precipitous enough to forestall it.

They’re playing silly games, and they’re going to be treated with the contempt they deserve.

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