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Today’s papers report that David Davis has come up with what amounts to a new solution (although it labour’s under the ‘maximum facilitation’ headline) to the Government’s self-inflicted bind on the Irish border.

Under the new proposals, Northern Ireland will operate simultaneously under both the EU and UK’s regulatory regimes. There will also be a ten-mile ‘buffer zone’ along the border to eliminate the need for checks. There would also be “island-wide standards on areas such as meat”, according to City AM.

Although this highly-modified (and largely tech-free) iteration of ‘max fac’ is apparently new enough that it can be dressed up as Theresa May’s ‘third way’ – a “face-saving exercise for everybody” – it does raise questions about one or two of the Prime Minister’s red lines.

First, both the Democratic Unionists and their sympathisers in the Conservative Party will need to be persuaded that this is not, in fact, ‘special status’ for Northern Ireland. The DUP have torpedoed the Government over that once before, and May has been quite insistent that we shall be leaving as ‘one United Kingdom’.

Second, if Northern Ireland is going to be subject to EU regulation on an ongoing basis it raises a couple of other questions. Such as: what will the role of the European Court of Justice be in policing said regulations, and how does that interact with the Government’s pledge to regain control of our laws? And given that Ulster will no longer have MEPs, will the province end up subject to a regulatory regime over which it has no input, and is this democratically acceptable?

On top of that, there are pressing practical considerations. The Government has taken so long to arrive at this decision – assuming, of course, that this does end up being the final decision – that it has left itself precious little time to prepare before our formal departure from the EU next year. There is no sign as yet that ‘max fac’ will even be ready by 2019, which means that Davis will need to spell out what the interim arrangements will be.

However, for all that, the Government has allowed itself to be so needlessly boxed in by Dublin and Brussels that this may still be the best option available to them within their self-imposed stricture about an ‘invisible’ border.

If it avoids an internal border and largely confines the ‘all-island’ dimension to agriculture then unionists may be able to wear it, and if it proves the most practicable way to avoid a physical border the Irish Government may swallow it too.

Update: Turns out Davis may not have squared the ‘special status’ question after all.

215 comments for: Has Davis found the least-bad way out of the Government’s self-imposed border bind?

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