Since the outset, it has been clear that there is only one way of avoiding border controls on the island of Ireland, and that is a common regulatory framework governing all goods and services traded across that border. And there are only two ways of maintaining a common regulatory framework – either the UK follows the same EU rules as the Republic, or else the Republic opts out of the EU and follows the same rules as the UK. The latter is, of course, the preferred option of Brexiteers; not for nothing has Farage been attempting to stir up support for ‘Irexit’. And a few extremists on the Tory side have also made it clear that they think that the Republic should follow its former masters as the next step in the dismantling of the whole structure of the EU, and a return to the good old days of wave-ruling.
It’s all part of their fantasy world, a world in which a vote in the UK means that everybody else must change so that the UK can continue as though nothing has happened; a world in which everyone else pays the cost of decisions that we make. To date, they’ve found ways of kicking all the cans down the road, in some cases by making promises that it later became clear that they never had any intention of honouring. But sooner or later, reality will catch up.
One of the biggest obstacles to that dawning of reality is a Labour opposition which indulges in the same fantasy thinking, pretending that using different words to describe the same thing somehow turns the unachievable into a practical and realistic prospect. Last week, Corbyn reiterated that “Labour will not support any Brexit deal that includes the return of a hard border to this island” in a speech in Belfast, but he continues to reject any and every solution which would actually ensure that that could be the case. In substance, albeit not in rhetoric, his position is indistinguishable from that of the Tories. May and Corbyn are both demanding that there should be no border across Ireland whilst rejecting the common regulatory regime required to ensure that. They’re as bad as each other.