In remarkable news from Venezuela, a recent dispute has left the country with two presidents. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, President Nicolás Maduro heads up a state-socialist economy that has based everything on pumping oil. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, President Juan Guaidó fronts a dynamic, free-market economy that has based everything on pumping oil. On Sundays, the country is run by the Chinese creditors who are paying for the stupidity of trying to tie an entire economy to a single resource.
But here’s the thing. Is it possible for a country to have two separate legal systems on alternate days of the week? And if so, could this be the solution to getting Theresa May’s Northern Ireland backstop, or the province’s regulatory alignment with the European Union, through the UK’s parliament?
This sounds frivolous and whimsical – the sort of solution that would be only ever posed on a website such as this one – but I am not sure that there is any concrete technical reason why different legalities could not be configured to different passages in time. So I am being deadly serious. We could sincerely model our relationship with the EU on the children’s birthday-party dance, the Hokey Cokey.
Indeed, in Scotland we currently have laws from Brussels, Westminster and Holyrood jostling complicatedly together on the same days of the week. Throughout all of this obfuscation, the concept of democratically accountable government continues to shine dimly, like a star through fog. On paper, pinning different laws to designated days looks greatly less outlandish. It would be a foray into simplicity.
There can be days when everything freely crosses the Irish border from Europe with zero checks. Limiting European trade to alternate days would go some way to relieving the bottlenecks from a sudden cut off. And there can be other days when Northern Ireland is part of a union that trades with growing economies all around the world, rather than just the expiring corner that is the EU.
To safeguard the integrity of the UK, we could even extend this system throughout its entirety. There can be days when we enjoy unrestricted trade with our closest European partners who don’t have any money. So laggardly is the EU’s collection of basket-cases, with Italy now tipping into recession and the rest of them following, that trading with these nations would be in effect like having several bank holidays per week. Conversely, the days when we trade with India and Brazil and Malaysia would be terrifying. People in the UK might have to actually do some work.
The only problem I can foresee with this solution is that it was never divulged to the UK’s voters before the referendum in 2016. It was never suggested to them that, “some of you will vote this way, and others that, so we’ll fix up an option that satisfies each of you on different days of the week.” But then again the backstop is itself, on these selfsame grounds, just as illegitimate.