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The Walls Are Closing In

December 5th 2017

Theresa May is running out of choices. This is happening because of the choices that she once made.

The clock is ticking on our negotiations with the EU, because Theresa May triggered Article 50 sooner than was wise. We cannot make the compromises necessary to maintain the free flow of goods and people across the Irish border, because Theresa May’s election left her dependent on the DUP. She has shrinking wriggle room in her negotiations because she unilaterally ruled out almost all the alternative relationships with the EU that had been offered up as examples by the Leave campaign themselves.


Our Prime Minister has placed herself in a room, locked the door and now watches as the walls close in on her from all sides – she is so frozen with fear that she refuses simply to unlock the door and to step out of it.

That option – escape – is the only one that makes sense now. But it could end May’s premiership. It has been offered to her – in one way or another – by a truly strange coalition of the willing. The Irish Taoiseach, the Northern Irish First Minister, the Mayor of London, the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales, Keir Starmer and Ruth Davidson – each of them has offered her a way out of the shrinking room but still she grips the key and refuses to budge.

Here is the offer: The UK, as a whole, stays in the Customs Union. It is that simple. By accepting this compromise we would - at a stroke - eliminate most of the issues at the Irish border. We would keep the whole of the UK on a par, protecting the Union. We could reassure business and underline our intentions to build a ‘deep and special’ forward relationship. It isn’t perfect, but it is - broadly - the model that mainstream eurosceptics had argued for prior to June 23rd last year. And no-one actually voted to leave the Customs Union - so the shrieks of betrayal would come, but would they not be drowned out by a collective sigh of relief?

So why won’t she do this? Because in order for Theresa May to step out of her shrinking room she would have to concede that she put herself in there in the first place. That this was all voluntary. That she didn’t need to rule out - on a whim - every conceivable alternative to hard Brexit with ‘unique’ characteristics. That it was wrong to trigger Article 50 without doing any work on what should come next. And that’s an awful lot to own up to for a woman whose second favourite mantra is ‘nothing has changed’.

Nonetheless, perhaps the country (and the Tory Party) is beginning to realise that the PM is not locked in that shrinking room by herself. We’re all in there with her. And as the walls close in perhaps the pressure and the volume of the demands that she unlock the door will become too loud and too severe for her to resist. Perhaps.