Another week, another row between the UK government and the European Union about the details of December’s rush-job of a co-operation agreement between the two. This one was ostensibly about sausages. Really, however, it is a reminder that the ‘Irish question’ won’t go away. That much should be self-evident. Post Brexit, Ulster cannot simultaneously be part of the EU’s customs union and be outside it. Somewhere there needs to be a border, with all that entails for barriers to trade.
No matter, the sniff of a trade deal elsewhere can soon deflect attention from boring technicalities in the small print of the Irish protocol. Which is why the UK government is so keen to talk up the opportunities in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an 11-state trade deal of mostly Pacific-rim countries for membership of which the UK has just been invited to apply.
Back in January, when the UK government said it wanted to apply, the international trade secretary, Liz Truss, hyper-ventilated in characteristic fashion that membership of the TTP would “create enormous opportunities for UK businesses that simply weren’t there as part of the EU and deepen our ties with some of the fastest-growing markets in the world”. Obviously, that comment adhered to rule one of the UK trade ministers’ handbook – rubbish the EU at every opportunity. For the most part, though, Truss was talking borderline drivel, as we’ll see.