The recent vote in Parliament attempting to prevent a no-deal outcome on Brexit was counter-productive and non-binding. Any attempt to hobble the Government’s negotiating hand would have been a self-inflicted wound. It was also irrelevant, since virtually no-one in the UK is advocating no deal.

The preference of the European Research Group (ERG) of Conservative eurosceptic MPs has always been for what is usually called a ‘Canada-plus’ free trade agreement. Everyone also supports sensible side deals on such issues as aircraft landing rights, air and vehicle safety certification, and truckers’ licences. It may not be the Withdrawal Agreement signed off by Theresa May, but it is a perfectly coherent UK offer, especially if accompanied by undertakings on the Irish border.

It is entirely logical for Brussels to play hardball at this stage of the talks. The EU still see some prospect of Parliament reversing its rejection of the Withdrawal Agreement and are, of course, fully aware of the non-binding vote on no deal. However, the EU’s current refusal to re-open the Withdrawal Agreement is unlikely to be a guide to the endgame in March.

It would nevertheless be logical for the EU to offer Parliament a sweetener in the form of a codicil attached to the Withdrawal Agreement. This codicil could suggest that the EU will try hard to ensure that the backstop is either never used or will be used for only a short period.

However, this is unlikely to work since prominent ERG MPs have said that they will reject any formulation that does not replace the current wording of the Withdrawal Agreement with a clear get-out clause from the backstop. The likelihood is, thus, that the deal will once again be rejected if it returns to Parliament.

The Prime Minister’s first preference is clearly still to get an amended Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament. Her strategy all along has been to give Leave supporters a formal exit from the EU and control over EU migration, but to give companies an outcome very close to the customs union and single market. The recent Nissan decision not to build the new X-Trail model in the UK will have strengthened this resolve.

The voting strength of the ERG, however, means that a fall-back position is now under consideration – the ‘Malthouse Compromise’. This is close to the ERG’s long-standing preferred option, with the involvement of prominent Remainers giving the plan a far higher profile than we might otherwise have expected. These MPs find the Withdrawal Agreement unacceptable. They also share a survival instinct and wish to prevent their party from fracturing and losing the next election.

If and when the Withdrawal Agreement fails again to pass in Parliament, the plan is to have a compromise which the Malthouse group hope will command sufficient Tory and DUP support (together with up to forty Labour MPs from Leave-voting constituencies) to provide majority backing in Parliament. This can then be presented to the EU who will need to choose between this and no deal.

The Malthouse Compromise is based on a free-trade agreement with no tariffs or quotas. A commitment to avoid new infrastructure on the Irish border is supported by proposals for advanced customs and trade facilitation measures of the sort already in use on, for instance, the Swiss border. Regulatory equivalence of the type that currently exists for meat imports from New Zealand are proposed to remove the need for sanitary and phytosanitary checks for food and animal imports. Non-regression clauses of the sort common in modern free trade agreements are proposed to address EU concerns over unfair competition. Provisions on citizens’ rights and payments to the EU would be carried forward from the Withdrawal Agreement.

The Malthouse plan could involve an extended transition period agreed under Article 50 to allow time to negotiate a free trade agreement (which should not be difficult between two entities which already have free trade). Additional payments would accompany an extended period.

Alternatively, the free trade negotiation could be conducted without a formal transition period through making use of the provisions of GATT Article 24 as long as the EU agreed that formal FTA talks could begin soon after 29th March. Article 24 allows countries engaged in formal free trade negotiations to suspend the most favoured nation rule of the WTO and to continue with the existing tariff-free trade arrangements. In either case, the period would finish by December 2021 at the latest.

The EU is likely to resist consideration of this alternative for several weeks, but once the Withdrawal Agreement has sunk without trace, and both sides face no deal, there are three strong reasons why it might accept the Malthouse Compromise.

First, an agreement secures the £39 billion (or more) promised in the Withdrawal Agreement. Secondly, an agreement avoids potentially high tariffs for EU exporters into the EU. The EU currently sells £55 billion of products in high-tariff food and vehicle sectors into the UK. Exports from the UK into the EU in these sectors are lower at £21 billion.

But the most pressing reason is to secure a frictionless border in Ireland. The UK has guaranteed no new border infrastructure, deal or no deal, but without a deal there will be a problem on the Irish side to maintain the integrity of the EU Single Market.

It is obviously better for Ireland and the EU to accept some deal on the Irish border rather than no deal at all, even if that deal were inferior to the backstop in their eyes. The UK will also prefer to avoid no deal but can live with tariffs and side deals.

This is an extract from Brexit and Backstop: everything you need to know, published today by The UK in a Changing Europe.

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Let’s make no mistake – with the clock ticking down to 29th March, we have finally arrived at an existential turning point for both the United Kingdom and the European Union. Talk of compromises and cross-party consensus and some kind of semantic fudge that will make the Brexit-negating Withdrawal Agreement pass the Commons at the third attempt is a painful distraction from harsh political and historic realities.

Both the UK and the EU still face a stark binary choice, whether all parties acknowledge it or not. Leave or Remain. Double or quits. In or out. Sitting on the Brexit fence while making the right noises to the right people, in the hope that this decision can be delayed or permanently taken off the political agenda, is an abdication of responsibility that will soon no longer be an option.

For the UK, the choice can be summarised as one between democracy and permanent second-class statehood; freedom to hire and fire the people who make the laws we have to obey and pay for, or the triumph of pessimism due to the mistaken and craven belief that we aren’t mature and sensible enough to run our own affairs, and must cleave to a supranational body with minimal democratic legitimacy because we are too insignificant to defend our right to democratic self-government.

Remainers trying to subvert the referendum result by locking the UK into the EU, even as we are supposedly leaving it, have completely missed the point of the Leave vote. It was a vote of confidence in Great Britain and its institutions, flawed or otherwise. It was a vote by optimists, by people who believe in the regenerative, sometimes messy but always liberating, principle of democracy – which is that you make your own mistakes, and if you don’t like the way the ship of state is run, you chuck out the government and give someone else a turn at the wheel. There are ups and downs, but you always have a choice. And that choice is precious.

People across the world have died in countless wars to be able to have such a choice. It is sad indeed that many of the guardians of this ancient, disruptive, rambunctious democracy of ours are so afraid of it that they dare not stand up for it. Indeed, they would rather abolish it and have us ruled by an unelected European Commission, which continues to assume with Ancien Régime arrogance that the British people can be made to vote as many times as necessary until they sign up to the European Project. One might say when hell freezes over, but one hates to employ such clichés. Except when they are true.

Staying in a customs union with the EU, accepting close regulatory alignment with the EU, joining an EU army with imperial ambitions (as outlined recently by the French), allowing the EU to decide on vast areas of policy-making – as the Withdrawal Agreement does – is not only not Brexit and a failure to deliver on the referendum result. It is to collude in the death of functioning, open, plural democracy, which is the only safeguard against dictatorship.

So the choice is clear: a Brexit that restores supreme law-making powers to the UK, or the triumph of technocracy and the enforcement by a foreign court of perpetual protectionist mediocrity, to ensure that no member state of the EU is ever independent enough to question the power exercised by an unelected Politburo in Brussels, whose mission is to create the United States of Europe, by fair means or foul.

One country’s upsurge of democracy, of course, can be another’s constitutional catastrophe. For the EU, Brexit is no less of an existential issue. That the second largest financial contributor and the oldest democracy in the EU voted to leave is a damning indictment of the political failure that has marked the European Project in the last twenty years. The fury and insults heaped upon Britain after the referendum testify to the total incomprehension of the EU’s political class when confronted with legitimate dissent.

And that nothing has changed since 23rd June 2016 is evidenced by the ludicrous stories peddled by Project Fear in recent days… Apparently the Queen is to be evacuated if we leave the EU on WTO terms. Given that Her Majesty produces much of her own food on her own land, one wonders where she might go to avoid “the cliff-edge” if the Roquefort doesn’t show up in time for the cheese course.

We hear that a third of UK businesses are thinking of relocating to the EU, only to see that the poll conducted by the IoD was of a tiny percentage of its members. Another headline claims that a majority of Chief Finance Officers believe that the UK will be worse off after Brexit – a majority of just one hundred CFOs surveyed by Deloitte. None of these surveys takes into account that a sovereign Britain can take whatever legislative and fiscal measures it deems fit to ensure that goods flow into this country unfettered and that our economy continues not only to function normally, but to thrive.

This acceleration of Project Fear in the media strengthens the belief that there will be no meaningful concessions on the Withdrawal Agreement before the next debate in the Commons. Indeed, EU leaders have repeatedly said that they will not reopen the legal text. Michel Barnier therefore has no mandate other than to listen politely to the Prime Minister and say no.

The EU will try until the bitter end to ram its appalling deal down our throats, because the slightest sign that it is willing to agree a pragmatic, mutually beneficial trade relationship with a former member state will be seen as a green light for other eurosceptic members to flex their muscles and stand up to the Franco-German juggernaut that intends to sweep them up in its imperial embrace.

The ‘Malthouse Compromise’ recently floated by a group of Tory MPs is likely to be shot down in flames – if indeed it is even tabled for discussion by Theresa May. Whatever she may propose to break the impasse, negotiators in Brussels must cling to their position – that a centralised technocratic EU superstate is the ineluctable future.

It is, of course, the past: an attempt to create by red tape and judicial takeover what has not been possible to achieve through centuries of warfare. But it is hard-wired into the EU’s DNA, and it is a question of survival. For them a no-deal Brexit will be preferable to any ‘deal’ that fails to put Britain on the naughty step and keep it there until it begs to be let back into the nursery.

To EU or not to EU, that remains the question.

The post We have a precious choice between democracy or permanent second-class statehood appeared first on BrexitCentral.

The most remarkable thing about the votes in the House of Commons on the amendments that sought to frustrate the Brexit process last month was not how close they were but how close the results were to those of the referendum in 2016.

On the two most significant wrecking amendments – that in the name of Dominic Grieve seeking to ensure six and half hours of debate on Brexit in the Commons on six successive Tuesdays on amendable motions and the other in the name of Yvette Cooper seeking to override long-standing Commons Standing Orders and bring a bill which would direct the Prime Minister to seek an extension of the Article 50 period until 31st December 2019 – the percentage votes were exactly the same as those cast in the 2016 referendum: 48% for and 52% against.

Such voting figures in a Parliament that’s predominantly Remain is a testament to the underlying strength of British democracy and the societal robustness of the UK.

Parliamentarians may strut the national stage with the self-importance of those who have the power to legislate, making interminable speeches and debating the finer points of Brexit, but in this drama, it’s the working people who are in the driving seat and they have already written the script.

The EU – who are not used to any form democratic control – find this hugely frustrating. Their frustrations is beginning to boil over as we approach our departure date. With no sign of the British people wavering on Brexit and the prospect of a second referendum all but dead, they resort to abuse and insult talking about a “place in hell” for those who voted Leave, a sure sign of desperation. We are winning, we are leaving the EU, and though tempting, we need not respond in kind.

Jeremy Corbyn’s recent ground-breaking letter to the Prime Minister is the strongest indication that Labour will keep its promise to respect the referendum result to Leave the EU and of Labour’s intention to ensure an orderly departure in March. The letter rightly dismisses Keir Starmer’s farcical six tests and presents no principled opposition to the Withdrawal Agreement, including the backstop. All of Labour’s stated demands can be implemented within the current provisions of Withdrawal Agreement.

Some of Corbyn’s demands on workers’ rights and standards, for instance, have already been conceded, and participation in EU agencies and future security are uncontentious. However, having a customs union and close ties to the single market would be difficult for Theresa May to accept and once the caveats that Labour will undoubtedly place on these proposals as far as state aid, VAT and independent trade policy are concerned, it wouldn’t be acceptable to the EU either.

The EU’s initial response welcoming Corbyn’s letter is tactical and has no substance: they would rather deal with May any day of the week than Corbyn, who is fundamentally opposed to everything the EU stands for.

But that doesn’t diminish the letter’s importance. If the Prime Minister goes some way towards Corbyn’s position, such as providing guarantees on workers’ rights, participation in EU agencies and security, while indicating her willingness to consider the other issues in the course of the forthcoming negotiations on our relations with the EU, it would make it all but impossible for Labour to oppose an agreement to which it has no principle objection.

Labour may not be able to support it, but it dare not oppose it for fear of postponing Brexit or reversing it; it may have to go for abstention, either formally or implicitly by making it clear that Labour MPs may absent themselves from the vote. There are enough Labour MPs to ensure a deal is passed by a decent majority.

The threat to Theresa May in such a scenario where she depends on Labour to get the Withdrawal Agreement through is highly exaggerated. Far from weakening her, she would be strengthened by the mere fact that she delivered Brexit as she promised and restored the sovereignty of the British people as demanded by the EU referendum.

And the importance of sovereignty could not be overemphasised or exaggerated. The day after we leave, treaties that we may have signed with the EU becomes treaties between equals – which is not the case while we are still a member of the EU – and as a sovereign state we have the right to re-negotiate or unilaterally withdraw from these treaties, regardless of whether such treaties have escape clauses or not.

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Liberal Brexiteers? Yes, we do exist!

While the Lib Dem leadership may be fanatical supporters of the EU, they do not speak for all Liberals. According to YouGov, 32% of Lib Dem supporters voted for Brexit; then there was the “Liberal Leave” campaign run by Lib Dems, and the pro-Brexit Liberal Party; finally there are individual liberal Brexiteer campaigns of which is one.

Any Liberal should be concerned by the European Union as currently constituted; the customs union that is Fortress Europe frustrates free trade, the EU is a politicians’ rather than a people’s project, its political structures are not human in scale and it doesn’t make sense to wire all the key functions of the government of every member state into one massive European fusebox. Above all, the EU fails to make the crucial distinction between unity and uniformity, hence the Brussels obsession with “one size fits all”.

Finally, the EU may have a parliament but it is not a democracy; while it is possible in a British election to vote out a government and replace it with an alternative, the hybrid governance of the European Parliament, Commission and Council does not allow for this. It’s all labyrinthine, unresponsive and remote. Democracy loses traction under such circumstances, as few can name their MEPs and declining turnouts (43% in 2014) evidence increasing voter disenchantment with the European project.

In short, the EU fails to measure up to any liberal yardstick. If, God forbid, we are saddled with another neverendum, the liberal credo of individualism, localism and community should easily outgun the distant corporate globalism of the EU, provided other Brexiteers give it campaign space.

Meanwhile, the ultimate EU objective remains the creation of a federated Union of European states, with one economy, one currency, one army, one law and one president. But is a United States of Europe still relevant or desirable? Thanks to the internet and the Jumbo Jet, the world is a much smaller place than it was in 1950. A union of countries having nothing much in common apart from their borders might have had something going for it in the 19th Century but does European exclusivity and identity still make sense? Why a union with Germany but not Japan, with Austria but not Australia?

My website attempts to address these issues and tries forecasting what the global situation will be in 2050. Our world is changing at bewildering speed, as millions of people in a host of developing nations demand a standard of living that we have taken for granted for decades. If we are to survive, let alone prosper, in this challenging environment of shrinking resources, burgeoning populations and highly competitive markets, we need to reach out and make common cause with those nations – European or not – who think as we do. In this context, the EU will be an international irrelevance, thanks to a declining GDP, shrinking market share and a reducing EU population which currently represents only 7% of the world total and will be a mere 5% by 2050.

Certainly, Brexit has stress tested the main parties to their limits and all will emerge damaged by this process. British Liberalism has not escaped, thanks to those who describe themselves as Liberals and Democrats, but nevertheless resolved to “resist” the result of a public ballot and to denigrate those who voted Leave as uneducated oiks who didn’t understand the issues. In particular, the 65+ age group has been singled out by Lib Dems because they voted by nearly 2 to 1 to Leave the EU and stand accused of “shafting the young” who voted by over 2 to 1 to Remain. Leaving aside that these oldies were the very same voters who as youngsters had voted by nearly 2 to 1 to remain part of the European project in 1975 and that maybe the political class should ask why they changed their minds, the intolerant stance of the Lib Dem leadership post-2016 has been a disgrace to the British liberal tradition.

Moreover, their demands for another neverendum are wrong-headed. The last referendum cost £137 million, lasted four months and was highly divisive. A second referendum and/or a third general election in the space of four years would achieve nothing other than accentuate these divisions.

The will of the people may seem dubious at times (indeed, we Liberals reckon the electorate has been making ghastly mistakes since 1906!) but the democratic process is logical. Another referendum would subvert the democratic rule that we vote in the light of our experience, on the understanding that we may vote differently in a following ballot if things do not work out. We have to experience Brexit first before we can make a judgement. We can always decide to renew our membership of the EU in the future if our experience of Brexit indicates that our leaving was a mistake, but the proof of the Brexit pudding is in the eating, not in endless speculation about how palatable it will be.

So we don’t need another ballot; we just need Parliament to do what we told them to do after they decided to ask us what we wanted. Lib Dem, Labour, Conservative and other MPs – including Tim Farron, David Lammy, Dominic Grieve and Caroline Lucas – started this hare running in 2015 when they united to vote for a referendum. They must now unite to deliver the clean-break Brexit that we voted for, as described in the Government’s referendum pamphlet as the undesirable alternative to remaining in the EU.

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From various quarters, whispers or even open calls are growing for an extension to the UK’s Article 50 period which finishes, unless extended, on 29th March 2019. Most of those talking about an Article 50 extension seem to assume that the UK only has to ask for such an extension, and it will be granted unto us.

However, the European Union is not the beneficent Lord mentioned in the gospel according to St Matthew Chapter 7, Verse 7 (the Sermon on the Mount), and confidence that the EU will just grant any extension that the UK asks of them is likely to prove very misplaced.

The so-called “Cooper-Boles amendment”, which was defeated in the House of Commons on 29th January by 321 to 298 votes, seems to be based on such an assumption. This sought to pave the way for a Bill which would impose a legal duty on the Prime Minister to “seek an extension of the period of two years specified in Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union to a period ending on 31 December 2019”, or to such other date as the House of Commons might decide on a future motion.

The legalities of an Article 50 extension

But let us look at the legalities both of how an Article 50 extension can be granted, and the legal effects of such an extension. It is important to understand both in order to assess the likely reaction of the European Union and its Member States to an Article 50 extension request from the UK.

The governing provision is the closing words of Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union:

“3. The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2 [i.e. 29 March 2019], unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.”

The effect of an extension, if granted, is to postpone the UK’s date of exit from the European Union, so that the whole panoply of rights and obligations of EU membership would continue to apply to the UK as a Member State during the extended period. So the UK’s obligation to pay into the EU budget would automatically be extended. But most importantly in view of its political repercussions, both the right of the UK to be represented by MEPs in the European Parliament and its obligation to choose them by direct elections would continue to apply to the UK.

On the face of it, this means that if an extension takes us past May, the UK must then hold a fresh round of European Parliament elections. There is a little bit of wriggle room, in that if the extension period terminates before the new European Parliament assembles on 2nd July 2019, such elections could be avoided as pointless. But if the extension is beyond that date, it is very difficult so see how the elections could be avoided.

That would mean that Nigel Farage would be re-elected to the European Parliament, probably in present circumstances as part of an increased phalanx of members of his new Brexit Party. And the EU’s internal legal advice is apparently that once elected, the UK MEPs would be entitled to remain members of the European Parliament for the rest of their five-year terms, regardless of when the UK leaves the EU. This would completely up-end the political agreements which have been reached for the sharing out of the seats which (it had been assumed) would be vacated by the UK in the European Parliament.

This is a huge spanner in the works for any Article 50 extension longer than three months. No doubt the ‘creative law-bending’ departments of the EU would be hard at work to think of ways round this problem, but at the moment it looks like a formidable difficulty.

But another problem arises if an extension is for three months or less – say to 29th June. It is not possible to treat such an extension as a “more of the same” extended negotiating period. This is because the current European Parliament term will end on 18th April 2019 prior to the European Parliament elections. Article 50(2) requires that the European Parliament must consent to any Withdrawal Agreement before the EU can conclude it.

So, at most, an extension to the Article 50 period which stops short of 2nd July would allow merely an extra three weeks for an agreement to be finalised and concluded.

As to how an Article 50 extension is granted, it should be noted that this requires the unanimous consent of each EU27 Member State within the European Council. This is actually a more stringent rule than for an Article 50 agreement to be concluded, which can be done by Qualified Majority Vote (QMV).

The effect of this requirement is to place enormous power in the hands of each individual Member State which may have demands it wants to make. If the UK comes crawling along, begging for an Article 50 extension, what better time to dig in and extract some useful concessions?

What terms will be imposed on an Article 50 extension?

Let us then turn to the question of whether, and on what terms, an Article 50 extension might be agreed if the UK asks for it. As is evident from Article 50(3) quoted above, such an extension is not simply a matter of choice for the UK, but requires the unanimous consent of all EU27 Member States.

First, the EU collectively is unlikely to agree to any Article 50 extension unless there is a clear purpose to it, other than just buying time for yet more turmoil and negotiation. Secondly, as mentioned already, the EU will be very reluctant indeed to agree any extension beyond 2nd July 2019 because of the consequences for the European Parliament elections.

But, thirdly, quite apart from what the EU as a whole may have concerns about, each individual Member State may have demands of its own.

As reported in the Financial Times on 1st February: “The Spanish are gearing up for a Gibraltar fight when there is an extension request,” said one senior EU diplomat. “It could be dangerous.”

And Germany also could have its demands. When my colleague Dr Gunnar Beck and I gave evidence in Berlin to the European Union Committee of the Bundestag, the subject of a possible Article 50 extension was raised by a number of the German legal experts giving evidence to the Committee. First, it was the general view that there would be great difficulties in extending it by more than a couple of months, because that would mean that the May 2019 European Parliament elections would need to be held in the UK. None of the German legal experts could think of a convincing way round this problem, since the election of MEPs in each Member State is mandated by the European treaties.

However, one of the German experts made an important point. He pointed out that the UK Government is using the fact that there is no mechanism to make the UK pay the ‘divorce bill’ unless a Withdrawal Agreement is ratified as a negotiating lever. He advised the Committee that Germany should require, as a precondition of agreeing to any Article 50 extension, that the UK should agree unconditionally to abide by the obligations to pay money into the EU budget which are set out in Part Five of the Withdrawal Agreement, and to submitting to the jurisdiction of the ECJ to set the amount of these payments, regardless of whether or not a Withdrawal Agreement was subsequently ratified.

One does not know whether the German Government will take up this suggestion, but it would be quite logical for it to do so. Germany will end up paying the lion’s share of the shortfall in the EU budget caused by the UK’s departure. Under the draft Withdrawal Agreement, the UK would have to pay a sum which has been widely estimated at £39 billion, but in fact is likely to end up considerably higher, particularly since Theresa May caved in to the EU’s demand that the ECJ should be given jurisdiction to decide the amount instead of a neutral international tribunal.

Under international law, the UK would have some legal obligations, but they would be very much lower (for background on this, see what I and Charlie Elphicke MP wrote here on the EU’s financial claims).

So taking advantage of the UK’s moment of weakness when it supplicates for an Article 50 extension, and taking the chance to lock in the EU’s legal entitlement to this enhanced sum come what may, would be quite the logical thing for Germany to insist on.

This illustrates a wider point about any application to extend Article 50.

By asking for a favour when up against the clock, the UK would once again put itself in a very weak negotiating position, where it would be subject to being blackmailed for further concessions.

It would also let the EU off the hook and remove the negotiation pressure on the EU to revise the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement.

Asking for an Article 50 extension would be a terrible, terrible idea.

The post Why seeking an extension to Article 50 would be a terrible idea appeared first on BrexitCentral.

The following is an open letter to Conservative Party Chairman Brandon Lewis from Cllr Bob Perry and a host of other Conservative Party activists (as listed at the bottom)   

Dear Mr Lewis,

We, the undersigned, write to you as long-standing, dedicated, voluntary members of the Conservative Party.

We have serious concerns over the direction of the Brexit negotiations and the impact this will have on our party. Specifically, we are deeply worried about the impact of extending Article 50 beyond 29th March 2019 and reports that the Government is seeking a ‘customs arrangement’ with the EU and may reach out to the Labour Party.

The British people spoke to us very clearly on 23rd June 2016 and gave us a mandate to leave the European Union: no customs arrangements, no deals. As has been said many times before, the British people did not vote for a deal, they voted to Leave.

This is extremely troubling as the Prime Minister has committed to leaving the Customs Union and to attempt to tie us to any form of ‘customs arrangement’ would be seen as a shameful sidestep through semantics.

People across Britain have been promised time after time that we will be leaving the EU on 29th March 2019 – almost three years after voting to Leave. Voters have waited long enough for this important day to come and any extension – no matter how short – will be seen as a duplicitous act of betrayal.

Trust in politicians is at an all-time low, and how politicians of all political parties have dealt with Brexit is a major reason for this. You must not underestimate the damage any extension will have on the Conservative Party in future elections. Make no mistake – it will be catastrophic.

This year’s local elections in May are the biggest cycle of local elections and involve seats won at a high-water mark in 2015. We fear that any perceived betrayal of manifesto commitments could well result in severe electoral defeats for Conservative candidates.

Remaining in a customs union or ‘customs arrangement’ with the EU will leave Britain unable to negotiate, sign and implement free trade deals with the rest of the world. This is one of the key economic benefits of Brexit and would lead to lower prices for consumers in the long term. This is a red line that must not be breached.

The British people have waited three years to enjoy the benefits of life outside of the EU and for a Conservative Government to prevent this would be an unforgivable betrayal. We urge the party to reverse this avoidable collision course with the British electorate, before it is too late. Ignore us at your peril.

Yours sincerely,

Cllr. Bob Perry (Chairman Hornchurch & Upminster Conservative Association)

Cllr Lord Ampthill (Rother District Council)
Della Jones MBE (former Conservative County Councillor)
Delyth Miles (District & Town Councillor for Walton)
Ron Barker (Party member and former Executive Officer)
Michael A. St. Clair-George
Ian Hunter (Colchester Conservatives)
Margaret Chatham and Peter Chatham (Nuneaton Conservative Association)
Stewart Drennan
Bexhill & Battle Conservative Association (Heathfield, Cross in Hand and Five Ashes Branch)
David J. Kelly (South Staffordshire Conservative Association)
Margaret (Trent Valley)
Mary S V Baxter (former Chairman Ledbury & Old Gore Branch, former Management Executive, North Herefordshire Association)
Angela C W Morris (Former constituency deputy chairman (political) and Branch Chairman)
John Wilkinson (Party member)
Guy Shimmin (Torquay Party member)
Giles Rowe (Party member)
David Rees (Party member)
HH The Lord Parmoor (President of Wycombe Conservative Association)
Ken Worthy (Chairman, Claygate and Hinchley Wood branch, Esher and Walton)
John Waine (Party member)
Fennie Strange (Party member)
Robert Flunder (Party member)
Peter Hole (Conservative activist and member)
Simon Hornshaw (Fylde Conservative Association)
Eric Lowe (Party member)
Annabelle Meek (Party member, former Deputy Chairman and Fundraiser)
Dr D Ratcliff (Party member)
S Ratliff (Party member)
Nigel Shaw (Party member)
Robert Johnson (Party Member)
Theresa Sargent (Party Member and volunteer)
Mrs. Anthea Kemp (Party member)
R A Baggott (Cotswold Association)
John Carpenter (Party member, Sleaford and North Hykeham)
Robert Sawle (Party member and former election agent)
Richard Mackenzie
Roger Duckworth
Richard Reeves (Party member, Bexhill and Battle)
Diane Reeves (Party member, Bexhill and Battle)
Jeremy Knapp (South Suffolk)
Cynthia Beesley and Derek Beesley (Llandudno)
Dr David Seawright

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Many suggest that, despite it being made very clear at the time of the referendum that a vote to Leave the EU meant leaving the Customs Union, we should Leave the EU but remain a member of the – or a – Customs Union.

This would very much mirror the situation in which Turkey finds itself – and that itself should be a lesson as to why this is a bad idea and why going WTO on 29th March would be infinitely preferable by comparison.

A customs union with the EU means that the UK would not have its own trade policy. Therefore we would not be able to strike preferential agreements affecting trade in goods or services with other countries; we would not be able to set our own tariffs to suit the UK economy; and we would not be a full member of the World Trade Organisation. It seems extraordinary that any MPs and others can seriously believe that restricting the UK’s options in this way to be a good idea.

The second aspect of a customs union with the EU that I don’t think many MPs and others realise is that any goods exported to the EU or imported from there would still need to be covered by a movement certificate. This is detailed in the proposed Withdrawal Agreement on pages 342 to 353. The proposed A.UK document would appear to mirror the A.TR used for trade with Turkey. This document has to be completed by the exporter and then stamped by HMRC before being sent to the customer.

For businesses like mine which despatch large numbers of small consignments, we would need to employ an extra person just to complete these documents – which would be far more expensive than the cost of paying the applicable tariff. It could also potentially lead to delays in despatching urgent orders where – as is the case with Turkey – it is required that the stamped document accompanies the order.

Shipping under WTO rules, as we do to most of the more than 120 countries in which we have customers, requires no movement certificate, no pre-stamping, just invoices produced here. This means that orders are despatched on the day of receipt and in Europe and North America delivered next day customs cleared.

Ironically, this means that if the UK were in a customs union with the EU, our competitors in the United States would be able to supply our customers in the EU quicker than us. Their goods would have arrived with our customers whilst we would still be waiting for HMRC to stamp the A.UK movement certificate!

I think it is important to note that neither Norway nor Switzerland as members of the European Economic Area have shown any desire to be members of the EU customs union and have instead preferred to define their own trade policy, with great success. As one of the largest economies in the world, it seems extraordinary that we should even consider tying our hands in this way.

To me, as someone trading all over the globe, it would be madness being in any sort of customs union with the EU and we should maximise trade through simplicity and have no hesitation going WTO on 29th March.

The post Here’s why it would be madness to stay in a customs union with the EU appeared first on BrexitCentral.

This week I spoke to Oliver Lewis the former Research Director of Vote Leave. He explains how he helped set up Business for Britain, the forerunner of Vote Leave, which filled the gap in the Eurosceptic market, making the business case for leaving the UK. He also revealed how using a strategy used by the US military helped to defeat the Remain campaign when arguing in the media.

You can subscribe to our latest podcasts on iTunes and Soundcloud.

The post Podcast: What made Vote Leave so successful? – Part 2 appeared first on BrexitCentral.

What an extraordinary day it was in Brussels yesterday. Leading most of the papers today are the incendiary remarks made by European Council President Donald Tusk yesterday at a press conference alongside Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. At the end of a relatively short statement, Tusk opined:

“By the way, I’ve been wondering what that special place in hell looks like, for those who promoted Brexit, without even a sketch of a plan how to carry it out safely.”

Never mind the deeply undiplomatic nature of the comment which unsurprisingly drew much criticism, it was also totally untrue.

While David Cameron and George Osborne may have irresponsibly refused to allow the civil service to prepare for the eventuality of a Leave vote in advance of the referendum, plans were drawn up by others. As Dr Lee Rotherham reminded us here on BrexitCentral in 2016, there was Change, or go – the seminal publication from Business for Britain which ran to more than 1,000 pages. Its subtitle, “How Britain would gain influence and prosper outside an unreformed EU”, provides the clue to it being exactly what Tusk claims did not exist.

Or there was the 2014 publication, Cutting the Gordian knot: A road map for British exit from the European Union, written by Rory Broomfield and Iain Murray. There were many others too.

There’s no way that this was an off the cuff intervention from Tusk. It was clearly planned. If you watch him making the remarks on our video, you can see him referring to written notes while he said it. And he then happily tweeted the words out afterwards – prompting an equally inappropriate response from MEP Guy Verhofstadt.

And then to rub salt into the wound, at the end of the press conference, Varadkar is caught saying: “They’ll give you terrible trouble in the British press for that”, to which Tusk replies: “Yes, I know” and laughs.

What on earth was he thinking???

Moreover, many of us had already been offended by some of the earlier contents of Tusk’s short statement. Aside from the contradiction of declaring the Withdrawal Agreement “not open for re-negotiation” while demanding that Theresa May offer a “suggestion on how to end the impasse”, the former Polish Prime Minister also reminded us of the EU’s arrogant attitude to referendums which deliver the “wrong” answer.

Having claimed that “a very great number of people in the UK… wish for a reversal of this decision” to leave the EU, he lamented:

“The pro-Brexit stance of the UK Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition rules out this question… Today, there is no political force and no effective leadership for Remain”.

Some might say that the definitive result of the 2016 referendum rules out a reversal of the said decision. Call me old-fashioned, but when a parliament organises a referendum to ask the people a question, is it not duty bound to implement the answer it is given?

But of course, that’s not the EU’s way of doing things. When Denmark rejected the Maastricht Treaty in a 1992 referendum, they had to vote again in order to approve it. It was the same with Ireland and their Nice Treaty referendum in 2001. And when the French and Dutch electorates rejected the European Constitution in 2005, it was merely cosmetically repackaged as the Lisbon Treaty. And when the Irish rejected that in 2008, they had to vote again in order to give Brussels the answer it required.

All a salutary reminder that the EU is not so much undemocratic as anti-democratic.

The post Donald Tusk not only unfairly attacked Brexiteers yesterday, but reminded us the EU is anti-democratic appeared first on BrexitCentral.

Theresa May is going back to Brussels today following her visit to Northern Ireland, to meet Jean-Claude Juncker and seek changes to the Withdrawal Agreement.

But we already know that the EU has said many times that they will not re-open the Withdrawal Agreement, as doing so would mean completely re-writing it after two years’ work on the task.

On 14th December at a Leave Means Leave event, Jacob Rees-Mogg said that of the 585 pages that make up the Withdrawal Agreement, 68 pages concerned the backstop. However, he said that these 68 pages were not pure legal text, they were in fact a 68-page list of legal directives that apply to it!

How exactly can all of this be unpicked to create a new Withdrawal Agreement in time for 29th March, bearing in mind that the European Parliament’s five-year term ends on 18th April? There simply would not be time.

The Telegraph reported yesterday that Theresa May plans to put her revised Withdrawal Agreement to another vote before Parliament at the end of February but this may well end in another crushing defeat, especially if there are no concrete changes to the backstop.

David Davis is now saying he wants to present the Free Trade deal to the EU that he authored last summer, but was rejected in favour of the Chequers blueprint. Will they accept this at the eleventh hour, as he believes?

We also heard yesterday that some Cabinet ministers are suggesting they would need until 24th May in order to get through important Brexit legislation – but it is unclear yet whether the EU would accept this and whether it would mean a formal extension of Article 50.

There is also talk of an amendment being tabled at the end of February to block a no-deal Brexit after the Caroline Spelman amendment passed by eight votes on 29th January. Again, what would this mean?

It would certainly mean extending Article 50 to prolong talks with the EU to create a new Withdrawal Agreement, so that we do not leave without a deal in place. Extending Article 50 would also require the agreement of all 27 Member States – and if just one disagreed, it could not be extended.

However, as I mentioned above, the European Parliament ends its five-year session on 18th April and does not come back until July, in the wake of the European elections taking place between 23rd and 26th May.

If we were to extend Article 50, would it mean that we would have to fight those European elections in May, as we would still be a member of the EU?

This would surely not now be possible because the EU has already re-allocated 27 of the 73 British seats to other Member States, with 46 of them remaining empty to be used in future for any new Member States.

It seems unlikely that the EU would want its timetable disrupted by our Brexit indecision. We have already heard quite clearly from Michel Barnier that they do not want to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement to make any changes. They feel they have given enough time to it and need to move on to other things, since there are 27 other countries with their own issues to deal with.

Nevertheless, the Remainers in Parliament will be racking their brains right now as to how to stop Britain leaving the EU without a deal on 29th March.

A second referendum would most likely take at least a year to put together, which would mean an extension to Article 50 of a year or longer.

Would Remain MPs try to force the Government to revoke Article 50 altogether? This seems highly unlikely because of the huge backlash it would cause in Britain, not to mention the extreme embarrassment of our country spending nearly three years trying to get Britain out of the EU, with the whole world watching, only to drop the whole idea.

So the conclusion is that the only thing that Remainers could try to foist upon us is an extension of Article 50, in order to avert a No Deal. Yet, from the above it appears this would not be possible due to the EU’s timetable and the upcoming European elections.

So many Brexiteers are keeping their fingers crossed that the clock keeps ticking and that nothing can stop us leaving on Friday 29th March on WTO rules.

Unfortunately, the case for this has not been properly presented to the country, certainly not by what I would call our “Remainstream media”. The golden opportunities need to be clearly set out, especially if the EU will cave in and accept Article 24 of GATT, allowing us to trade with them without tariffs for at least two years or longer, until we do finally agree a trade deal.

90% of world trade is done on WTO terms and a considerable percentage of our trade is currently conducted on those terms – and of course the EU sell us £90 billion more than we sell to them.

Leaving on WTO terms gives us everything we wanted when we voted to Leave: taking back control of our country, our laws, our borders, our fishing rights and our money, as well as the ability to agree free trade deals with the rest of the world. The jobs that will be created will far outweigh any short term disruption.

Roll on 29th March!

The post With 50 days until 29th March, the clock is ticking and many of us are hoping for a WTO Brexit appeared first on BrexitCentral.

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