A passionate argument between ministers about a time limit to the temporary customs arrangement is a microcosm of what has gone wrong in the Brexit negotiations
So you thought that the Brexit negotiations had become bogged down and intractable? Fear not. All is suddenly and brilliantly clear. Theresa May’s strategy isn’t to manoeuvre the European Union into a favourable Brexit deal by making threats or by clever argument. It’s to reduce Brussels into submission by making the EU negotiators collapse laughing. That is the only possible conclusion from the latest bout of internal Tory party nonsense over the terms of Britain’s EU exit.
Bear with us as we try to explain. The Brexit secretary David Davis came very close to resigning on Thursday over a date. The date in question was the one at which a backstop provision that has not been agreed, which is attached to a transitional customs deal that has not yet been negotiated, which is part of a post-Brexit economic relationship that has yet to be settled, may come to an end. Or, as it turned out on closer reading of the text, may not come to an end at all, since this depends not just on whether the UK’s “expectation” that all this would happen by December 2021 (the date in question) is the same thing as a commitment to the fact that it would do so, but also on the small matter of whether the EU will agree anyway. All clear? Good.