We have reached the business end of the Brexit-saga. By October we need the final deal in place so that our Parliament and the EU Parliament has time to vote on it before the two year notice period triggered by article 50 expires. All things being equal, we will leave the EU on 29th March 2019.
There are major obstacles yet to be determined. The government has determined that it will leave the single market, because not to do so would not take back control, which is what most voted for in June 2016.
It has also decided to leave the EU customs union so that the UK can make our own trade deals. A customs union is where the parties to it to all charge the same import duties, usually to facilitate free trade within the group.
At the same time as leaving these arrangements, we are aiming to retain frictionless trade with the EU and a soft border between Northern and Southern Ireland. The penny is beginning to drop that it might not be possible to deliver on every front, and time is running out.
In addition, the government might not have the numbers to reverse all of the recent amendments to the Brexit bill made by the Lords, or to resist a substantial amendment to the Trade bill that would keep us in the customs union. If nothing else, staying in the customs union would enable us to solve the Irish problem.
I have largely kept my powder dry on this matter since 2016, because there is too much unhelpful chatter, especially on social media, and the PM is doing her best to deliver a sensible Brexit and deserves our support.
Here is my take on it all to date:
1. I accept that we must leave the EU – the people have so voted.
2. I accept that we must leave the single market, or we will not be able to take back control of our borders, which was essential to the referendum vote.
3. I do not accept that we have to leave the customs union. In the six debates I spoke at during the dreadful referendum debate I do not recall it ever being mentioned from the platform or the floor. It was clearly not instrumental to the way people voted.
Accordingly, Parliament is free to resolve whether we stay in or leave the customs union. Turbulence and crucial votes lay ahead.