Charles Moore

The UK must avoid the backstop trap

The UK must avoid the backstop trap
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Theresa May, William Hague and others say that the EU will not want to trap Britain in the backstop because it is not in its interest. It will want to move to a free-trade agreement for its own benefit. If that is so, why is the backstop the thing above all others upon which the EU insists?

One reason why Brexiteers have to oppose the backstop absolutely is that it is yet another manifestation of Britain’s delusion in every European negotiation over nearly 50 years, which is that we should grab ‘practical’ advantages and concede ‘windy’ principles. This sounds good, but it invariably means that we are trapped later. The principles acquire legal force. Thus the ERM in the late 1980s sounded to many (though not to me) as if it would help stabilise the pound and hold down inflation, so we ignored the fact that it was Stage 1 of the Delors plan for Economic and Monetary Union. This was a disastrous destination not only for us, but for the entire continent. The EU has never recovered from it, and we flourished only because we — to use a currently popular phrase — ‘crashed out’.

The backstop is being sold by our government as a mere insurance policy against a hard border between Northern Ireland, a sensible way of avoiding a flare-up. In fact, it is a constitutionally outrageous claim against part of our country, and therefore a threat to all of it, particularly to the union with Scotland. It also takes Britain hostage over any EU trade deal we try to make. The ransom demand will follow.

This article is an extract from Charles Moore's Spectator notes, which appears in this week's magazine, out tomorrow.