BORIS Johnson’s Brexit deal may go down as one of the most bizarre triumphs of the English right. It’s a deal that is damaging to the UK’s economy, damaging to its union, and indeed to its European neighbours, and one that, if it goes through, will tie the UK in economic and political knots for years to come.

The best way out of the UK’s continuing and acute political crisis lies surely either in an election or another EU referendum or both – after all there’s been a majority across the UK, even in England, since early 2018 in favour of remain. Nigel Farage may foam at the mouth at any outcome other than a No Deal Brexit. But Johnson’s deal is almost as bad as No Deal economically; and if the Commons voted for another referendum he could not avoid having to campaign for his deal (while many Brexiters would have refused to do the same for May’s deal).

How Did We Get Here?

Brexit took sway in the Tory party and across swathes of England and Wales as a result of a combination of forces.

There’s been the backward-looking, illusionary vision of empire with a dominant Britain striding the globe beloved of many Tories and Brexiters – once relatively on the margins now at the forefront of the party. There’s the right and far right interest in a deregulated, deeply unequal form of capitalism.

And there’s the combined effects of decades of a weakening welfare state and sustained inequality in the UK together with the major impact of austerity and the global financial crisis.

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It was a heady mix brought together by England’s version of right-wing, dishonest populism – with Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, along with Nigel Farage, its figureheads.

The UK is now governed (using the term loosely) by a Tory party that ignores the interests of the economy and business, and that would rather hold fast to its damaging English Brexit and put a customs and regulatory border in the Irish Sea than face up to the deep self-harm folly of any form of Brexit. So much for the party of business and the union.

Combining this reckless dishonest Tory populism with the long-standing eurosceptic wing of the UK media has proved a remarkably potent force. But whether the Tory party or the union can survive these populist and Brexit forces is surely in doubt.

That the Tory party hasn’t collapsed already is due to the perfect storm that combined this out of control government with Corbyn’s split and weak Labour opposition.

Corbyn is not only a eurosceptic. He’s also an opposition leader who has been much happier to debate domestic issues and ignore Brexit than sort out a coherent and hard-hitting Labour Brexit/remain/people’s vote position. The Tories have been lucky indeed – and the UK deeply unlucky.

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Johnson’s Brexit deal, of course, built strongly on Theresa May’s deal – on the divorce bill, rights for EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU, and governance of the deal. But where May’s deal couldn’t get past the right-wing Brexiters’ imperial fantasy of global trade deals and their neuralgic rejection of a customs union, Johnson simply cut Northern Ireland loose into a half-way house that may yet cause more problems in the future.

The View from the EU27

The European Union’s leaders have looked on with varying degrees of appalled amazement, frustration, annoyance and more over the last three years.

And, too, as the adults in the room, they have kept to their own guidelines and strategy in ways that the Tory eurosceptics could never comprehend.

Defending European unity, defending peace in Ireland, defending the EU’s single market – at a time of growing populism inside and outside the EU – have remained the EU27’s key goals.

Johnson’s deal would put a much harder border between Britain (not Northern Ireland) and the EU27 than staying in the customs union (though even then a regulatory border would loom).

And any customs or regulatory border has damaging political and economic costs – much more so for the UK but some too for the EU, not least near neighbours including Ireland, the Netherlands and France.

All this is why, despite EU leaders’ deep wish to be able to get on with their other pressing, real world priorities – and get the UK out with a deal – most of them would go along with the UK remaining in the EU after all, should there be a people’s vote for remain.

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Some, inevitably, are more sceptical than others about a prodigal UK. While German Chancellor Angela Merkel would always prefer the UK stayed (and prefer a deal to No Deal), France’s president Macron sees more risks of a deeply divided, unstable UK remaining inside the EU. Others, like the Dutch and the Irish, would welcome a UK change of heart.

Scotland and a Tory Brexit

Since the Wightman case established last year that the UK could unilaterally revoke Article 50, such a move will remain possible until the date the UK leaves.

It is one of the many ironies of the Brexit saga that some of the most important legal interventions have come through the Scottish courts – both the Wightman case, and the Cherry case which (combined with Miller2) led to the Supreme Court declaring Johnson’s prorogation of parliament unlawful.

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But despite this opposition, Johnson seems to have played a very simple strategy in the last couple of months: create maximum chaos, uncertainty, fear and havoc, and hope that will bring the votes in when his hard Brexit deal arrives.

Johnson understood the extreme Brexiter wing of the party only too well – and was elected leader because of that.

Where does that leave Scotland? A hard Brexit along the lines of Johnson’s deal would surely give a boost to the independence cause. And an independent Scotland would face a fairly straightforward accession path back into the EU. But independence in the EU would certainly be smoother if the rest of the UK were still in the EU too.

There will be arguments aplenty about the costs and benefits of independence in the EU in the face of a hard Brexit and a hard border to England and Wales.

But Johnson’s willingness to erect a hard border between Dover and Calais and in the Irish Sea will surely undermine much of the rhetoric of Tory unionists over the impact of a Scotland-England border.

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Nicola Sturgeon and Ian Blackford have also been emphasising in recent days the unique unfairness to Scotland of Johnson’s deal – "the only part of the UK being taken out of the EU ... without consent".

But this is surely wrong. Northern Ireland voted remain – and while it will stay in the single market for goods but not services, with a clumsy, costly border in the Irish Sea, a majority as in Scotland (and indeed in England the polls tell us) would prefer to say in the EU too.

There is a strong case for another independence vote in the face of England’s Brexit meltdown.

But harnessing the pan-UK opposition to Brexit will serve Scotland – and its neighbours not least Ireland – well indeed. The two can and should go together.

Kirsty Hughes, Director, Scottish Centre on European Relations