One of the reasons that the Brexit debate has been so fraught (or so it appears to us Yanks) is that the Tories are currently supported in Parliament by the Democratic Unionist Party. This party draws all of its support from Northern Ireland, and is firmly committed to having no distinction between Northern Ireland and the remainder of the UK. The Tories do have the word "Unionist" in their name as well, but as far as I can tell, maintaining the Union as it stands is not their raison d'être in the same way that it is for the DUP.

With that in mind: could there be a scenario under which some fraction of the Tories and other parties (Labour, the SNP, etc.) get together and vote through a motion that establishes customs borders in the Irish Sea? Is there sufficient support for this idea among the opposition parties? Or are all parties in Parliament pretty much united in drawing a hard line against such a separation?


2 Answers 2


If the opposition parties got to decide where a Customs border ran, it might also include Scotland, London and Brighton within the customs union.

More seriously, the Scottish National Party, while definitely not unwilling to split up the UK are also heavily pro-EU membership for Scotland and would be very unlikely to support a deal which left it outside the single market and customs union.

Labour is more difficult to decide on. While most of its members are heavily pro Remain, many Labour lead constituencies, especially in the North of England are more Eurosceptic, as is much of the leadership. While its stated goal is to leave the UK outside the single market but inside the customs union, there at first glance appears less distance to travel to get such a deal done. However the principal stumbling block is that this would have to be a cross-party deal with the Conservatives, and there are many (in both parties) who would oppose giving the other side what they wanted, just because it was them wanting it.

The other parties with representatives (and independents) in Parliament don't really help, since most of them are essentially anti-Brexit or anti-hard Brexit, and they don't command enough MPs to outweigh the Conservative MPs in any decision they come to.


Non-Brit speaking: A hard border in the Irish Sea is very unlikely.

Most British would consider this option as effectively breaking-up the United Kingdom. As a Yank, think of Alaska entering a customs union with Canada. This would create a hard border between the state of Alaska and the rest of the US.

  • 1
    A better North American analogy is probably Quebec, because there are already significant cultural and legal differences between GB and NI.
    – Jontia
    Mar 21, 2019 at 19:19
  • Maybe Puerto Rico? Using Alaska it's more like the US wants a hard border with Canada along Canada's southern border but a completely open border between Alaska and Canada. People are (rightfully) pointing out that if you want an open border between Alaska and Canada then you need to check goods coming from Canada in to the rest of the US to see if they are actually Canadian. To be honest I don't think this analogy works very well. Also I think the majority of British people don't particularly give a damn what happens to Northern Ireland.
    – Eric Nolan
    Mar 22, 2019 at 11:01

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