Just for once, I agree with Theresa May about something. Talking about a potential delay to Brexit over the weekend, she said that delaying the UK’s departure by a couple of months would do nothing to resolve the current impasse over the backstop arrangements. She’s absolutely right on that; the problem with the backstop isn’t a lack of time, it’s a combination of her own red lines, the agreement to keep an open border across Ireland, and the inability of the Prime Minister or anyone else to come up with alternative arrangements which can make two incompatible aims compatible.
In that context, the suggestion apparently doing the rounds in the EU – of a two-year extension to the Brexit end date – is an entirely logical and rational proposal (which is probably part of what makes it so unpalatable to the Brexiteers). It has been clear from the outset that the only way to avoid using the backstop is to negotiate a future relationship which doesn’t require it, and a two-month extension is wholly inadequate to negotiate that. Even two years looks tight to me, but if there were to be a different Prime Minister, a rubbing out of a few red lines, and general good will all round, then it might well be possible to negotiate a deal on the future relationship which does not require the use of the backstop.
So why are the Brexiteers not at all enthusiastic? The stated excuse is a fear that the situation drags on even longer than that, or becomes permanent, in effect cancelling Brexit. I suspect that the real reason, though, is that they will never accept any deal which enables the backstop to be circumvented. They know full well that their objectives for Brexit are completely incompatible with keeping the Irish border as open as it is today; they could have a hundred years to negotiate and they still wouldn’t be able to come up with a solution. In truth, they don’t want to; the aim of the Brexiteers is – and has been from the outset – to destroy the EU as a project. It’s the only context in which Brexit ever made sense. A delay of sufficient length to negotiate proper thought-through arrangements would expose, even more than is already the case, the essential vacuity of their rhetoric.