By Dr Kirsty Hughes

THE Brexit ironies keep on piling up. As news leaked out of a possible deal that would keep Northern Ireland aligned with EU customs and single market regulations, politicians from Scotland, Wales and London – Nicola Sturgeon, Carwyn Jones and Sadiq Kahn – queued up to explain they want a part of any special deal too. But then the plug was pulled on the draft deal, for now, by the DUP who remain deeply opposed to any special Brexit treatment for Northern Ireland.

Brexit is creating a deeply dis-united kingdom. But a patchwork Brexit with a range of different “special status” set-ups across the UK is not going to be acceptable to the EU27, nor is Theresa May going to ask for it.

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The “me too” demands show, though, how easily the politics of Brexit lurches from the demands or red lines of one side (Ireland and the EU27) to another (Scotland, Wales, London) to another (the DUP). There is no simple route to Brexit at all, let alone a coherent political approach that could unite a UK that remains deeply divided over going ahead with Brexit at all.

There may yet be agreement on a form of words on Northern Ireland in the coming days that will unlock talks at next week’s EU summit on trade and transition. But the DUP, so easily disrupting Mrs May’s Brussels’ talks from afar, show just how difficult it will be to get to a deal by next autumn.

The disagreement over how to ensure there is no Ireland/Northern Ireland border will remain fundamental to any future trade deal. In her Florence speech, Mrs May made it clear she hoped for a “special” UK-EU27 deal whereby, in some sectors, there would remain identical regulations and in others a divergence within a common commitment to “high regulatory standards”.

The EU27 have repeatedly rejected such a “cherry-picking” sector-by-sector approach. Nor are they likely to offer some form of special deal to the UK to allow high but differing regulations and standards. If the UK doesn’t want a Norway-style single market deal, then the EU is offering a Canada-style trade deal. The problem with that, apart from the deep damage it will do to UK-EU trade, is it will create a hard border including between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

This underpins Ireland and the rest of the EU27’s tough stance: the only way for there not to be a new, hard border, is either for the UK or Northern Ireland to stay in the EU single market and customs union. The draft wording that was almost agreed between Mr Juncker and Mrs May attempted to finesse that clear cut challenge for now by talking about “regulatory alignment” (at least in the case of no deal) for Northern Ireland.

This looked like kicking the can down the road. It gave some reassurance to the Irish government, as talks moved on to trade, but it didn’t yet mean the UK Government had to fully face up to the border dilemma.

The politics of Brexit may lurch forward a step by next week’s EU summit but the levels of farce look like increasing daily too.

Dr Kirsty Hughes is a drector at the Scottish Centre for European Studies.