ANALYSIS: After all the fuss the backstop is still regarded as a trap or a safety net

Theresa May during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons. Picture by Mark Duffy/UK Parliament/PA Wire
Theresa May during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons. Picture by Mark Duffy/UK Parliament/PA Wire

COMMENTATORS have been reaching for the Thesarus in recent days in a bid to find new words to describe the Brexit process – chaos, disarray, mess, shambles, turmoil... each is applicable to the situation in which the British government and Westminster finds itself.

As next Tuesday's decisive vote gets closer, the depth of the calamity grows and the coming days are expected to deliver more high drama and farce.

Yesterday's publication of the full legal advice on the backstop, the British government's hand forced after it was found on Tuesday to be in contempt of parliament, proved to be something of anti-climax, though it was greeted with characteristic hyperbole by the DUP and its fellow Brexiteers.

It made clear that it is indeed a backstop, a guarantee to protect the open border in the event of nothing else being agreed between the UK and the EU.

Nothing new there you might say but DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds couldn't help reacting as if the six pages of legal advice included a secret plot to annexe the north from Britain completely – again, nothing new there.

Ultimately, what we heard yesterday did nothing to alter anybody's view on whether they regard the backstop as a trap or a much-needed safety net.

Accordingly, the veiled and not so veiled threats to rip up the confidence and supply agreement continued, though the DUP is unlikely to press the nuclear button on the deal until after next week's vote when it becomes more apparent who will be in charge of the Tory party.

Like everybody else watching this process, the DUP MPs have no idea where it will lead us next but with every twist the party appears to become more isolated from the consensus back home, where stability and the potential prosperity trumps concerns about scanning barcodes on goods moving across the Irish Sea.

The host of Northern Ireland business groups who travelled to Westminster yesterday remain firmly behind Mrs May's deal, seeing it as the delivering the best possible outcome for north-south and east-west trade should other solutions not materialise.

They fail to be convinced by the notion that technology can keep the border open, regarding it as the Brexiteers' ideologically-driven science fiction rather than a genuine proposal.

We continue to drift in uncharted waters and if, as widely predicted, Mrs May's loses the December 11 vote, things will become more uncertain still. It's possible to plot some potential scenarios – a Labour no confidence vote in the government and/or a Tory backbenchers' vote in Theresa May; there was even speculation last night that the Tory leader may go back to Brussels in an effort to get the backstop reviewed.

However, the fact that no single block in Westminster has enough support to carry their plan means the coming months, if not years, can only bring more bickering and recrimination, all of it feeding into the growing disillusionment with politics and democratic institutions.