It’s impossible to know for certain what deal the Prime Minister and her advisers are planning to spring on the Cabinet, Parliament and the country over the coming days; all that’s for sure is that they are, we are told, about to come up with something. The signals have, however, been clear enough, so that a pretty good guess can be made: their plan is to come up with a last-minute triumphant announcement that the ‘backstop’ problem on the Northern Ireland border issue has been resolved, and in the UK’s favour. Whether they will be correct or not in announcing that is irrelevant; that’s what they’ll announce – and indeed, it is perfectly possible that some major concession will be offered up by the European Union on this point, since the border ‘problem’ was always a ruse, designed to focus attention on a non-problem while funnelling the negotiations into an agreement that would include membership of the Customs Union (and, to all intents and purposes, the Single Market). If the Northern Ireland border was a problem, they assert, then it could be resolved by us staying in the Customs Union; ergo, we should agree to stay in the Customs Union thus ensuring that the Northern Ireland border is not a problem. Whatever the reason for the backstop imbroglio, it is in any event a chimera – something that has become, in the most ludicrous way, the tiny tail that wags the enormous dog of Brexit. The border in Ireland already divides two jurisdictions with different tax regimes, products and the like. It should never have become an issue; the authorities on both sides already monitor it, to prevent smuggling, but through intelligence-led policing, not physical border structures. It is a border that the UK, the Irish and the EU have all confirmed will never be hard. Now it has become a pretence for bouncing a post-Brexit UK into the Customs Union, complete with further surrenders on fishing and financial services. That reputable people apparently take the backstop issue seriously is a puzzle. The backstop is nonsense; both sides have repeatedly confirmed that they will not impose a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The issues of wandering cows and travelling milk can be resolved through agreements on sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards, not through physical border impedimenta. The amount of trade involved is negligible. The issue is a fraud and should be treated as such. Some assert that the Prime Minister is desperate to keep us in the Customs Union because of promises, never published, that Greg Clark made to the auto industry two years ago. Others point to paragraph 49 of the December agreement with the EU (where the backstop is promised). This ignores the next paragraph, paragraph 50, inserted at the insistence of the DUP, which basically negates any claim that paragraph 49 is binding. Regardless: the Prime Minister and her advisers’ major mistake seems to be that they believe that if victory can be declared regarding the backstop, they can then come back from Brussels, waving a piece of paper and asserting a good deal has been agreed, because the backstop has been resolved. It won’t work. Way before the backstop became the cause du jour of the negotiations, Chequers had already reared its ugly head, and Chequers is what this whole false angst about the Northern Ireland border has been about; to provide a reason for the UK to stay in the Customs Union after Brexit. Chequers is no good; enough people know it is no good; it won’t be possible. There are many reasons why the UK must avoid at all costs being in the – or a – Customs Union. This article by Graham Gudgin published on BrexitCentral yesterday is a comprehensive tour d’horizon of these reasons. MPs – both Remainers and Brexiteers – understand all that, enough of them to preclude its being accepted by Parliament. And yet, when the Irish border “issue” has allegedly been put to bed, with some sort of faux “backstop” agreement, Chequers will, apparently, remain as the Government’s negotiating stand for Brexit: a proposal that we remain tightly bound into the Customs Union (and for all intents and purposes, the Single Market) – goods, fisheries, banking and all. There have been some eyebrow-raising odd leaks from “EU officials” in recent weeks, claiming that the EU’s arm was being twisted to force them to graciously allow the UK to stay within the Customs Union. Some may find that a joke – since the UK in the Customs Union is, in theory, precisely that vassal status that the EU should want the UK to be in (i.e. having German goods and French produce stuffed down our throat, with no say in the rules that govern competition in such goods and produce). Nonetheless, I’m told that M. Barnier has assured delegations from the UK, with the utmost sincerity, that he does not wish the UK to be in the Customs Union. That is, however, what looks like is being offered by the UK in return for a “solution” to the Irish border. It is, also, precisely where the Government’s fatal error lies: enough Members of Parliament have made it very clear that they are not going to vote for such a deal, so any deal built around a Chequers view of the world will fail in the so-called ‘Meaningful Vote’ that we expect to take place in the House of Commons in the coming weeks. The Chequers construct involves keeping the UK within a Customs Union and (as the news from the City of London illustrates) also the Single Market – for an extended, possibly indefinite, quite possibly permanent, length of time. It has been identified over and over as something that a large group of MPs will not accept. How many such MPs? Well, there are so far 51 who have signed up to the “Stand Up for Brexit” pledge; there is a handful of Labour Leaver MPs; there are 10 DUP MPs; there are the ten or so further Scottish Tory MPs from fishing communities who know it would be electoral suicide to vote with the Government on this; there are the Remain-backing Conservative MPs, such as Jo Johnson, who now recognise that Chequers means vassalage; and there are most likely several Cabinet Ministers who will finally vote with their conscience by resigning their post and then voting against the Government in the Meaningful Vote. The Labour Party says it will not support the Government in the Meaningful Vote, and it cannot be imagined that there will be enough renegade Labour Remainer MPs prepared to support the Conservative Government to overcome this group of anti-Chequers MPs so the Government, with its thin majority, faces an anti-Chequers vote that in total adds up to 60; 90; maybe many more. What will the Prime Minister do when the reality of this becomes clear? What will happen if and when a Meaningful Vote on a Chequers-based deal is lost? The most likely outcome of such an event has to be that we would shortly thereafter have a new Prime Minister. If not, and somehow – however unlikely that may be – she survived the defeat of her policy (perhaps by ditching her clique of hardcore Remainer advisers, just as she ditched Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill after the 2017 election fiasco), then she would have the same choice as a new Prime Minister would: either to hunker down and start properly preparing to leave the European Union on WTO terms on 29th March next year; or to seek some kind of unholy alliance in Parliament with the Labour Party that allowed her to sue for peace with the EU by asking for an extension (temporary or ongoing) of Article 50 – with all that implies for a never-ending failure of the UK to exit the EU The former choice carries the possibility of some – but if truth be told, not a lot – short-term pain, with a saving of £39 billion (enough to fund roughly 20,000 policemen and 20,000 teachers and 20,000 nurses for the next 20 years); the latter would rent the Conservative Party (the vast majority of whose voters side with the “Stand Up for Brexit” MPs) in two, with disastrous likely consequences in 2022. The Conservative Party might not recover for a generation or more. It is late – very late – but the Government must urgently reconsider its position, and move to, first, making clear that a WTO terms exit is very much in contemplation, and second, offering as an alternative to that a Canada-style deal with the EU, as described in Plan A+ – a clearly laid out and workable plan for a Free Trade Agreement that builds on the already solid work that David Davis and Steve Baker did while still in Government. The EU has indicated it is prepared to accept such a deal; it is the only deal that can pass a Meaningful Vote in the Commons; it is extraordinary that the Government has not already pivoted to such a deal. Anything else, and the current shambles will just get even worse: if and when Chequers comes to the Commons, it will be defeated and the Government, as currently led, will fall.