As we reach the concluding stage of the Conservative leadership election, with Tory members up and down the country starting to fill in their ballot papers, it is only appropriate that we at BrexitCentral should now formally take a view as to who should be the next Prime Minister – the Prime Minister to deliver on the historic referendum result of more than three years ago and get the UK out of the European Union.
First of all, we’d like to thank all the candidates who have engaged with BrexitCentral during the campaign. From the ranks of those eliminated earlier in the process, we were pleased to publish pieces from Matt Hancock, Mark Harper, Sajid Javid, Andrea Leadsom and Dominic Raab setting out their respective visions for delivering Brexit.
As far as Brexit is concerned, we feel the centre of gravity on the Tory benches has shifted during the course of this leadership election, with those actively opposed to No Deal under any circumstances now evidently reduced to a rump. Indeed, it is significant that both finalists – Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson – are committed to leaving without a deal if the EU refuses to come to a reasonable arrangement with the British Government.
Jeremy Hunt set out his big picture vision for Brexit for us here, and elaborated on this with a ten-point delivery plan last week. There is much to recommend in many of his proposals and, since there is no monopoly on good ideas, if he is unsuccessful, we trust that the victor will take the best aspects of his plan on board.
Hunt also deserves praise for being one of the first senior Remainers in the Government to declare that he had changed his mind on Brexit, as he did in an interview with Iain Dale on LBC in October 2017. He explained how the arrogant behaviour of the European Commission since the referendum had made him rethink his position, while also admitting that he was wrong to have believed the Project Fear predictions of short-term economic pain that we were told would result from a Leave vote.
It is both notable and regrettable that when asked whether she had changed her mind since the referendum, Theresa May repeatedly refused to answer the question, such as when she was probed by Jeremy Paxman on the matter during the 2017 general election campaign.
Boris Johnson, however, has been an unstinting and passionate advocate for leaving the European Union since a time when it was still an unfashionable, anti-Establishment view. As Mayor of London, he defied the call from Prime Minister David Cameron to row in behind the Remain campaign and became an energetic advocate for Vote Leave. (Indeed, it’s a pity that he did not take the helm of the ship of state when Cameron left office after the referendum, but let’s not rake over old coals).
And then, exactly one year ago today, Johnson again put his career on the line for the Brexit cause when he, along with David Davis and Steve Baker, resigned from the Government in protest at Theresa May’s unacceptable Chequers proposal.
In his pitch to BrexitCentral readers yesterday, Johnson explained that he feels “a deep sense of personal responsibility for Brexit” and that this is why he is best placed to see it through – an assessment with which we agree.
More than three years on from the referendum, Brexit must happen, and soon, or else there is a risk that what little remains of public confidence in the democratic process will evaporate entirely, with the traditional party system also obliterated as a by-product. Boris Johnson understands the urgency of the situation and his specific commitment to deliver Brexit by the hard deadline of 31st October makes it clear to us that he is the right candidate to replace Theresa May.
Moreover, we believe he would inject a much-needed dose of optimism and positivity into the Brexit narrative emanating from both Downing Street and Whitehall. Under Theresa May, far too many ministers and civil servants have not only been reluctant to embrace the opportunities presented by our departure from the EU but, in some cases, they have actively tried to scupper the delivery of Brexit and been allowed to undermine the UK’s negotiating position without any repercussions from Number Ten.
We anticipate that Boris Johnson would oversee a very different operation. It will be important for him to ensure that those around him in Downing Street, as well those appointed as ministers, are signed up to his vision and timetable for delivering on Brexit. Wider than that, he will need to be diligent in his choices for other impending appointments such as the next Ambassador to the United States and Mark Carney’s replacement as Governor of the Bank of England if the government is to present a cohesive vision for Brexit Britain.
There are of course many issues aside from Brexit that require urgent attention from whoever becomes Prime Minister, such as housing, adult social care and funding for those with special educational needs, to name but three. Many of the public are getting understandably and increasingly agitated that big issues like these are not getting the attention they deserve owing to the amount of bandwidth taken up in Whitehall by Brexit. This is why we judge the delivery of our departure from the EU by that forthcoming deadline of 31st October as promised by Boris Johnson to be all the more important.
Through twice winning the mayoralty of a Labour-inclined city as a Conservative and attracting support for Vote Leave from those of all creeds and classes across the nation during the referendum campaign, Boris Johnson has a proven record of getting the public behind him against the pundits’ predictions.
If ever modern Britain needed a Prime Minister who could bring people together for a cause, it is surely now and for the delivery of Brexit. Right now Brexit is unfinished business – and we believe Boris Johnson is the right man to finish the job.
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The Prime Minister’s plan to drive her EU withdrawal deal through the Commons after Easter by bribing Jeremy Corbyn with an EU customs union will probably go down with voters like a lead balloon. It will also hasten her own exit. Even before Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary, warned MPs that a customs union would give the EU power over the UK to clobber our economy, the scheme was unlikely to win over voters.
In fact, on each attempt to keep the country under the EU by the back door of the economy, voters were already ahead of the curve. They declared against Chequers by two to one, and followed that with a thumbs down to the Withdrawal Agreement and its backstop customs union for the whole UK. These compromises, seen by the Government as the only way forward, have no appeal to the voters, whether they are Remainers or Leavers. Amongst Leavers, on both the left and the right, the antipathy to them goes far, far further back. It is a battle, not as the media claims in a ‘Tory’ war over Europe, but a chapter in an older struggle about the authority on which this country is ruled: that of the governing faction and its interest groups, or the people?
The customs union is the latest episode in the story of the people’s determination to have a say in the laws under which they are governed, and thereby protect themselves and their country from arbitrary or bad rule. They showed this determination at the hustings, and at popular meetings, or through marches, movements, flysheets and ballads, even before many of them had the right to vote. Whatever the subject of the hour, great battles to enforce that principle – over tax, or for radical change to end the Corn Laws, to extend the franchise, home rule for Ireland, the 1910 budget, the House of Lords veto – and the accommodation of the popular will have brought long-term stability and security to the country. This has allowed orderly – often dramatic – change to happen, economic growth, prosperity and for people to have a real stake in how they are governed. In fact, in this country’s political system the struggles over how it is governed are in reality about who governs and about where sovereignty lies.
The battle over leaving the EU has been another such battle. Having waited the best part of three years and seen the date for Brexit come and go, Leave voters trust neither the Prime Minister to Leave, nor the Labour Opposition to force her hand. Indeed as Mrs May and Mr Corbyn schemed to stay in an EU customs union, Labour’s vote in the recent Newport West by-election dropped by almost 13 per cent, the Tories’ by 6 per cent and turnout halved, while UKIP, despite internal collapse, was up by 6 per cent.
In another Newport by-election, almost a century earlier, voters rebelled more dramatically against the stitch-up between the two main parties, Liberal and Conservative, in a coalition government under Lloyd George. Rejecting the government candidate, they elected an independent Conservative. The next day Conservative MPs withdrew their support from the Government, which duly collapsed. It fell to a different Conservative leadership to restore and reshape political life, to respect the reality of the popular will and to accommodate Labour, in place of the Liberals, as as a principal political force.
These changes restored the freedom and stability to inter-war Britain, brought peaceful, stable and free government here by contrast with the often violent, unstable or authoritarian regimes of left and right on a troubled inter-war continent. Baldwin trained two decades of new MPs to the humility that should guide their parliamentary life to remember ‘the people who put you here’ for it was they ‘who will remove you’. Baldwin also reflected the tradition of the founder of the modern Tory party, Sir Robert Peel, who had accepted the will of people flocking to the meeting halls and rooms, across Victorian England to demand the repeal of the protectionist Corn Laws. And he anticipated Churchill who, leading the war to resist German aggression and restore the freedom of conquered nations, described himself as the mouthpiece of the people, ‘the lion’s roar’.
These leaders understood the nature of a tradition, shared in common by people across the parties, about Britain’s constitution and its democracy. That tradition prompted voters across the political divide to decide in 2016 to restore to this country its own way of ordering life, by freeing itself from the EU. Across the country, north, middle and south, YouGov has discovered that 46 per cent of people want to leave the EU without a deal if none is agreed, compared to 44 per cent for Remain, the lead being up to ten per cent in some regions – with only Scotland and London having a Remain majority. A local poll for Nottinghamshire Live found 48 per cent wanted a no-deal Brexit and 28 per cent wanted to Remain – only 2 per cent were for a customs union, and 4 per cent for Mrs May’s deal. People do not want another layer of Europe, its tariffs or laws slapped on with a customs union via Mrs May’s backstop or through a Corbyn-inspired deal.
As both parties pay the price for flouting the democratic decision, a new Conservative leader must be installed now to change course so the UK genuinely leaves the EU on or before 31st October, with a revised deal from which the backstop is removed or ends by 31st December 2020, or on WTO terms. During the intervening six months the Government should work at full speed to make all ready so that a WTO exit at the end of October will be smooth and, in the current phrase, ‘orderly’ – while at the same the EU can practise its best endeavours to come up with the solution at which the German Chancellor-in-waiting has publicly hinted. For the UK exit should be treated as a matter of sovereignty under international law, not supplicancy to the EU. MPs, given the outrage amongst the majority of their voters, are unlikely to resist in sufficient numbers: the DUP will support and enough Labour MPs will recognise the game is up. But in the end it would be matter of political judgment whether to go to the country for a fresh mandate.
It would not most likely come to an election. For the EU, more brazenly than ever, has laid down the law about when, how and whether indeed the UK’s democratic decision can be executed. In throwing Britain’s democracy (and the world’s fifth largest economy) to the mercy of Messrs Macron, Juncker, Tusk and Mrs Merkel, the Prime Minister has reached the end of her rope. Such humiliating supplication bears testimony to the corrupting nature of the EU. It makes it all the more urgent that we leave and leave quickly.
The post Securing Brexit is the latest chapter in a centuries-old constitutional battle appeared first on BrexitCentral.
The Prime Minister has ignored the views of the majority of her Cabinet and ruled out No Deal. The reason, we are told, is that No Deal might lead to the re-imposition of direct rule over Northern Ireland, and might lead to a second Scottish independence referendum.
That either of these considerations should outweigh the independence of the United Kingdom from an increasingly decrepit but increasingly autocratic empire is bizarre. If No Deal causes a second referendum in Scotland – we were told that the vote itself would cause that too, remember, but it did not – then we will win that too.
But more bizarre is that these worries have existed all along. If the Prime Minister thinks the risk of direct rule in Northern Ireland (which is happening in practice anyway) trumps all other considerations, and rules out No Deal, then why did she not say so more than two years ago or at any time since? Instead, she said 108 times that we would leave the EU on 29th March, whatever happens; 50 times that she would not extend that date; and 32 times that No Deal is better than a bad deal. Not once did she say it was impossible.
The supposed reasons for rejecting No Deal have been constantly changing. It was going to lead to queues at Dover; or Calais; or a shortage of Mars Bars or cut flowers or insulin or water… In each and every case, the scare was shot down. The truth is that these latest scare stories were dreamt up by civil servants at the last moment and leaked to a newspaper this week to bounce the Cabinet – on the same day that a letter from Sir Mark Sedwill was leaked complaining about criticism of civil servants.
It appears that all along the Prime Minister never contemplated allowing us to leave without an exit permit from the European Union. Yet she allowed £4 billion of taxpayers’ money to be spent on preparations and she encouraged businesses all across the country to prepare at vast expense.
She also allowed the tariff schedule to be published for the eventuality of leaving with no Withdrawal Agreement, revealing that 90% of tariffs would be cut – to the great benefit of consumers. That might be part of the reason that YouGov found this week that by 44% to 42% people prefer a no-deal Brexit to no Brexit. The British people have been magnificently determined to keep plugging on despite the endless bias of the BBC.
Mrs May should have ruled out No Deal at the start of the negotiations, if that is what she thought, or she should have meant “No Deal is better than a bad deal” when she said it. As it is, the combination of threatening No Deal until the moment when it might actually matter in the negotiations, then dropping the threat on the feeblest of latest excuses, is about as foolish as one can imagine. And now rushing off to hand the initiative to an apologist for totalitarians, anti-Semites and terrorists instead. Thanks.
The Prime Minister and her allies are now chanting that it is all the fault of the European Research Group for rejecting her deal and are saying they have no alternative than the dismal choices of supporting her deal or no Brexit, as if amnesiac about the third option: their recent promises to leave with No Deal if necessary. Yet the truth is that ever since the debacle at Chequers in July, when everybody from half the Cabinet to the Democratic Unionists to the media to the people themselves told her quite clearly that she would never get the Chequers plan through Parliament, she has been the one at fault.
Hard as it has been, I have loyally supported the Prime Minister throughout this process, never once voting against the party whip in the House of Lords, unlike many Remainer colleagues who have done so repeatedly. I have worn out shoe leather at both the last elections to get support for manifestos that promised a referendum and then promised that the result would be respected. The Prime Minister has repaid my loyalty with betrayal.
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As I mulled over writing what you are about to read while walking past the pro-Brexit demonstrators outside Parliament yesterday, I don’t mind admitting that my eyes welled up and I was overcome with emotion.
I thought about the strength of feeling among those demonstrators – and indeed amongst the tens of thousands of loyal BrexitCentral readers – about the need to deliver on the historic referendum result of 2016 where our fellow countrymen voted in unprecedented numbers for that proposition which defied the will of the political establishment; and I thought about how some of them may feel let down.
That’s because I have, with the heaviest of hearts, come to the conclusion that Parliament should pass the deal which Theresa May is putting to the House of Commons again later today. Please hear me out as I explain why.
There can be few who have been more invested in the whole process of getting Brexit delivered than me, having been chronicling the process on a daily basis since September 2016, firing up my laptop before the crack of dawn most days and then staying up later than is healthy to read the first editions of the following day’s papers in order to provide the comprehensive service that I know is appreciated by so many. And from the start, BrexitCentral has been unapologetically in favour of promoting the delivery of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU with an optimistic attitude about our future as an independent nation.
As the details of the likely shape of the Brexit deal emerged with the Chequers proposals last summer, we published numerous articles critical of the approach being taken by the Government. And ever since the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration emerged last November, barely a day has gone by when BrexitCentral has not carried pieces exposing the shortcomings and failings of the deal for a whole variety of reasons.
I understand the strength of hostility to the deal. I share the feeling. It is a bad deal. I vividly remember welcoming Theresa May’s statement at Lancaster House that “no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain”. So after she presented the country with a bad deal, I concluded that leaving the EU on WTO terms with numerous mini-deals on the side – because that’s what ‘No Deal’ would actually entail – was the optimal outcome. Judging from my daily inbox, I know that huge numbers of BrexitCentral readers agree.
And, of course, leaving without a deal is the default position in law, as I have said in many an interview on TV and radio over the last few months.
However, as someone who has nerdily followed politics and Parliament for the best part of three decades, I thought there were also a number of other things that were taken to be default positions and incontrovertible rules of our parliamentary system. Such as neutral motions in the House of Commons not being able to be subject to amendment. Or the Government being in charge of the parliamentary timetable. Or ministers being expected to resign if they are not willing to vote with the Government. Or the Speaker of the House of Commons observing and protecting long-standing rules of procedure. Yet I’m afraid the events of recent days and weeks have seen all these norms – and more – discarded and abandoned.
The default position might be to leave on WTO terms if the deal is not agreed, but the House of Commons has shown itself to be fervently against allowing a no-deal scenario: in Wednesday’s indicative votes, only 160 MPs were willing to say they would back No Deal while no fewer than 400 voted against it – a majority of 240. And twice now Speaker John Bercow has allowed MPs on a mission to scupper the Brexit for which I yearn to vote to seize control of the House of Commons’ agenda. And that’s just the beginning of their antics.
I have concluded that those same MPs would therefore have it within their power to use every trick in the book – and most probably tricks that aren’t even codified in books – to prevent a no-deal Brexit over the coming fortnight if the deal is not passed. In extremis they might be able to contrive to act in a way that resulted in the revocation of Article 50. At the very least, they would likely cause the imposition of a long extension to Article 50, during which their parliamentary shenanigans would continue and by the end of which the mandate of our 2016 referendum would doubtless be called into question.
We are into serious uncharted territory with precedents being ripped up here, there and everywhere. So failing to back the bad deal on the table gravely risks the prospect of any form of Brexit being delivered at all.
There is one particular saving grace of backing the deal and formally leaving the EU, as former Cabinet minister Lord Lilley sets out in today’s Sun newspaper:
“Once outside the EU, there will be a ratchet preventing our return – because that would involve accepting the euro, Schengen, free movement and an annual contribution without Mrs Thatcher’s rebate. Moreover, the very humiliation of our Vassal status – being subject to EU laws, tariffs and trading policies without any say – will amplify pressures to extricate ourselves from this status.”
He concludes that “in this fallen world we often have to make choices between two evils” and that “this appalling Withdrawal Agreement is the lesser evil”. I believe he is correct.
I’m not giving the deal an enthusiastic endorsement. Far from it. I am merely saying that MPs should, with the greatest of reluctance, vote for it on the basis that the realistic alternatives are even more unpalatable.
I know some people – including passionate campaigners who have written for and supported BrexitCentral – will be disappointed by my conclusion. I hope that we can disagree respectfully; and they should know that they will continue to have access to the BrexitCentral platform to put their case as I have always sought to make this website a place for the range of opinions from within the Brexit-backing family to be heard (and today, for example, Alasdair Dow makes the case for rejecting the deal on the basis of the Irish backstop here).
This has been one of the hardest things I have ever had to write. I have agonised over the issue these last few days, ever since the Government lost control of the parliamentary agenda. I dare say some will believe me to be deserting the cause of a clean break Brexit. But I’m afraid the simple truth is that political reality and parliamentary arithmetic dictate that such an option is not now available to us.
The post Why I’ve reluctantly concluded that MPs need to vote for Theresa May’s deal appeared first on BrexitCentral.
The Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, has been tasked with coming up with a legal solution to the ‘backstop’ that the Government hope will persuade or bamboozle the DUP and Conservative backbench MPs into backing the Prime Minister’s EU deal largely as it is. We do not know what he will come up with, but there is a range of options from a legally impotent ‘codicil’ to a full replacement of the backstop with alternative arrangements as mandated by the Commons’ vote on Sir Graham Brady’s amendment.
If the Attorney General concludes a legal agreement the Government may bring back a new ‘meaningful vote’ to approve the deal next Wednesday. To understand the importance of this we need to go through his options. But before starting, lets recap as to what the ‘backstop’ is and why it is a problem.
The problem with the backstop
The ‘backstop’ is the ‘Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland’ attached to the Withdrawal Agreement. The Withdrawal Agreement, if approved, would become an international treaty and the Protocol would have the same legal force as the main text.
The backstop would commit the UK to placing Northern Ireland in a Customs Union with the EU. Among other things, it commits the UK to keeping EU regulations in Northern Ireland, to EU policing of ‘state aid’ to prevent the UK Government using public money to Northern Ireland’s advantage and to following the EU VAT regime in the province.
These provisions are controversial on many levels. Firstly, imposing EU law on Northern Ireland over which they have no say is undemocratic. Secondly, as these provisions do not apply to the rest of the UK, it opens up the probability of an internal UK border. Goods going from mainland Great Britain to Northern Ireland will cross a regulatory and customs border. GB goods would require an archaic ‘A.UK movement certificate’, a paper form requiring a physical wet stamp (Article 4 of Annex 3 to the Protocol) which would in all probability not work. Creating an internal border with Northern Ireland on the other side has obvious economic (60% of NI’s exports/imports are with GB) and political problems for Unionists and is potentially in contravention of the principle of consent agreed in the Belfast Agreement.
No exit clause
So far so dreadful. The Protocol would divide the UK, lock Northern Ireland in a Customs Union following EU law under the European Court of Justice and subject UK trade with the EU to an archaic paper based system that is already obsolete.
If that is not bad enough, the real killer problem is that there is no way out. If the UK ended up in the backstop there is no exit unless the EU wished to let us leave.
The only route out of the backstop is contained in Article 20 of the backstop – the ‘review clause’. This states that if the UK notifies the Joint EU/UK committee of a desire to leave the “union and the United Kingdom decide jointly” on the outcome – i.e. the EU can say no. To make matters worse, the EU could only decide to let the UK out if the conditions in Article 1 (3) of the backstop are fulfilled: These are “the necessary conditions for continued North-South cooperation, avoid a hard border and protect the 1998 Agreement in all its dimensions.” These are all disputed and vague terms that are designed never to be met.
If the review clause is designed to keep the UK cemented in the backstop, it fulfils another vital task. It prevents the UK using the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties to denounce the backstop and escape. If there were no review clause, the UK could use Article 56 of the convention to give notice and walk away. The presence of the clause closes off that option.
Why did the Prime Minister agree the Backstop?
It is clear to me that no MP could in any good conscious agree a treaty that divides the UK permanently with no exit. So why did the Prime Minister and her advisers agree to it?
To the Downing Street Europe Unit, that dreamt up this horror, it is actually rather clever and fulfils many of their main objectives.
The central objective and current planning assumption in Downing Street remains the adoption of the Chequers Customs Partnership. This Chequers plan is based on technology and practices that do not exist that would create a virtual Customs Union between the UK and EU with associated regulatory alignment. This involves a complex system for tracking goods around the UK to ensure they do not enter the EU.
This plan is currently unworkable and will probably never be workable. It is also highly undesirable as it would lock the UK into EU rule-taking and prevent the UK having its own trade policy. But that is of little concern in Downing Street.
For Downing Street whether Chequers works or not is of little concern: the immediate aim is to remain in a Customs Union with EU rule-taking. The backstop was vital to get them there. With the backstop, Downing Street has a method of permanently cementing the UK into a Customs Union for Northern Ireland which they could then build on during the implementation period to get to Chequers/CU for the entire UK. For them, the permanence of the backstop is its primary quality and purpose. The UK at the end of the implementation period must stay in an all-UK Customs Union so the future framework will by necessity be a Customs Union.
Very clever, notwithstanding the fact that a Customs Union was ruled out in the Conservative Manifesto, would leave the EU in charge of our trade policy and our legislation without any UK say. No doubt it may even have crossed some of their minds that this would be a good platform to re-join the EU in a few years – in order to give us back our say etc. We now know this was all cooked up behind the backs of the FCO and DExEU.
So what might the Attorney General have asked for?
If the Attorney General believes he has been tasked with finding an exit to the backstop, he has an immediate problem. If he replaces or gains an exit from the backstop, he will unravel the entire strategy Downing Street has been working on for the last two years. If he does not, MPs are unlikely to be impressed and vote down the deal again. So here are his options:
1. Treaty Change
The text of the draft treaty could be opened up and replaced with something in line with the Conservative manifesto. Depending on what is changed, changing the treaty text is the only 100% legally fail-proof way of altering the meaning of the agreement. Options might include:
- Change Article 20 of the backstop – the review clause – and the linked objectives in Article 1 (3). If this article were changed to make the decision to leave one that either party could take, that would allow a guaranteed UK exit.
- Add a sunset clause. A new termination date could be added in the treaty text. For this it would be important the date was not too far in the future so as to be effectively permanent. In truth, there is no reason for it to be any later than the end of the implementation period, but that would be to misunderstand its real purpose.
Verdict: Potentially Potent—————————————————
2. A new Protocol
If the parties were keen to preserve their backstop unamended, they could agree a new Protocol. Protocols in EU treaties have the same legal force as the main text and derive their legal potency from it. Unfortunately, the existing text of the backstop is so clear in its objectives that there would seem to be little a new Protocol could say that would not cut straight across it – i.e. create an exit – or be irrelevant. If they do conflict and one declares it is superior, will the European Court of Justice find in the UK’s favour?
One weak idea might be to add a Protocol that puts a greater obligation on the EU to deliver a trade agreement that would replace the backstop. This is hardly an ideal solution. A legal commitment to deliver Chequers would arguably make the deal worse and effectively just replace one backstop with another backstop.
Verdict: Unlikely to be Potent———————————-
3. An ‘interpretive instrument’
Under international law, parties to a treaty that is imprecise can agree an additional ‘interpretive instrument’ that would set out in more detail how they intend it to operate. These are accepted under Article 31 of the Vienna Convention. The important point to note here is that the draft Withdrawal Agreement is actually very clear. It has a commencement clause (Article 185) and a review mechanism (Article 20 of the backstop) that gives the EU a veto. It would be impossible to interpret these clauses away.
If an interpretive instrument could not interpret an exit where one does not exist, it could potentially strengthen the “best endeavours” clause in Article 184 on achieving a new trade deal (based on the Political Declaration) to replace the backstop. This, however, would only make matters worse. As long as the backstop is there, any future trade agreement will be a Customs Union. Creating a further UK commitment to deliver a deal based on the Political Declaration and the parameters of the backstop would further tie the hands of any future Prime Minister seeking to negotiate a genuine trade agreement.
Verdict: Minimal legal value as it cannot overrule the treaty text
4. Amend the Political Declaration
The Withdrawal Agreement comes with a Political Declaration that is of itself not legally binding. The EU itself has said that it would be open to changing the Political Declaration – a tell-tale sign that this is a reasonably futile gesture. [The current one referenced in Article 184 is dated DD/MM/2018]
The Political Declaration sets out the broad parameters of a future trade agreement. While the wording is vague, it is clear that the current Withdrawal Agreement + the Political Declaration means a Customs Union. Indeed it is not well disguised. Paragraph 23 of the declaration refers to “single customs territory.”
So could the Political Declaration be amended to help allay concerns over the backstop? There are multiple problems. Firstly, the Political Declaration is not legally binding; it cannot touch the text of the backstop (and nor would we want it to be legally binding, given that it takes us to somewhere we don’t want to go). What it could do is redouble a joint commitment to move on with trade talks to come up with a replacement.
The problem with any potential replacement to the backstop is that the backstop itself sets a test that can only be met by agreeing a Customs Union. Article 1 (3) of the backstop as interpreted by the EU and Irish Government (with UK connivance) leads you to an all-UK Customs Union or a separation of Northern Ireland from the UK.
The Attorney General could insert lots of fine wording on sensible minimal border procedures, based on the Malthouse Compromise, into the Political Declaration. We could agree to move forwards on them at speed, using ‘best endeavours’ (Article 184) so they can be implemented at the end of the implementation period with no need for the backstop. We could put all of this in the non-binding declaration, but it would come straight up against the actual text of the backstop. The UK could still not leave unless the EU agrees and the Irish have made it perfectly clear that they would not accept any change at all. It would lead us back to a Customs Union.
Verdict: Almost worthless and could potentially make matters worse
5. A Council Conclusion including basic ‘assurances’ or comfort wording
In addition to amendment of the existing Withdrawal Agreement or text, the EU might seek to make the Attorney General accept some lesser form of life. Perhaps a standard Council Conclusion including basic ‘assurances’ or some other comfort wording.
The point to note here is that political agreements are not binding in EU law or international law. There is little these could add if the existing wording remains as is.
Verdict: Of no value whatsoever
6. No change, but the Attorney General changes his legal advice anyway
The Attorney General is supposed to be an independent legal adviser to the Government. This principle is long standing. The appearance of partiality by A-G Hastings led to the 1924 Campbell case and the fall of a Labour Government. More recently we have had the appearance of politically influenced advice in the run-up to the Iraq war.
In this case, the Attorney General has already put his thoughts down in public in the House of Commons and privately in a memo to the Prime Minister that was subsequently released. In this private advice, the Attorney General was emphatic that there was no escape from the backstop. It would not be credible if he decided to change this advice while leaving the Withdrawal Agreement untouched. A lawyer who negotiates a new agreement and then gives his opinion on the outcome of the negotiation is no longer impartial. He has himself for a client…
Verdict: Worse than useless———————————————–
We do not know what the Attorney General will come back with – but I will have a guess.
The key priority from Downing Street is for a minimal change that looks as if they have solved the backstop permanence problem while leaving them open to use it to build a permanent Customs Union.
On past performance, the EU is open to interpretive instruments as a way of avoiding tricky problems with treaties. An “interpretive instrument” was given to Belgium to help overcome Wallonian objections to CETA. The Dutch Government gained an interpretive instrument in a Council Conclusions annex, having voted down the EU-Ukraine agreement in a referendum. None of these made any difference.
So potentially they could agree an interpretive instrument that seeks to reinterpret the review clause and add in more commitments to future trade talks. In addition to that, Cox may seek to change the Political Declaration to add new options for the Northern Irish Border based on the Malthouse Compromise. They could even grant a modicum of treaty change – the date on the political declaration in Article 184…. Perhaps some new wording in Article 1 of the backstop setting a more manageable test.
This will then get packaged up and given a grand and meaningless name – a codicil. To add more theatre, the Attorney General will then try the same trick David Cameron tried and ‘lodge it at the UN’. This has no legal importance, and does not, as with David Cameron’s renegotiation, make a document a ‘treaty’ (see David Lidington here). So there we would have it, a legally worthless document announced with fanfare – game set and match…
Not so fast
Let’s stand back a moment. The Withdrawal Agreement was defeated by 230 votes, the largest in history for a government. It was defeated for good reason. It will cost £39bn, potentially split up the UK, prevent us having a trade policy, make the UK a rule-taker for years to come and puts the ECJ in charge of rules applied to the UK, penalties and even the calculation of the £39bn.
Of this deal, the backstop is undoubtedly the worst and most permanent feature – but not the only one. Taking this into account, the Commons voted to support Sir Graham Brady’s amendment that “requires the Northern Ireland backstop to be replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border”.
These should be the tests we set when looking at the Attorney General’s package:
- Does it replace the backstop with something reasonable? If it does not replace it, does it come to a guaranteed end in the near future or allow the UK the right of unilateral exit? If there is a technical legal way out, is it drafted in a way we think the UK Government would actually be able or willing to use it?
- Does the new agreement still tie the UK into remaining in a Customs Union / Chequers using the backstop as a means to get there? Or could a new Prime Minister be free to negotiate a genuine Free Trade Agreement?
- Taken as a whole, is what remains of the Withdrawal Agreement once the backstop is removed – essentially the £39bn for two years’ negotiating time – worth the money? Is there an alternative free trade deal on the table we want and need the implementation period to negotiate and implement?
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For some, a key plank of the support for Brexit at the referendum was the impact of uncontrolled immigration into the UK where voters worried about the associated negative impact on their access to public services provision in terms of housing, GP medical appointments, stresses on educational provision, social care and effects on jobs availability. It is often the poorer communities which are at the sharp end of all of this.
The immigration issue is thus central to the fundamental notion that Brexit is about “taking back control” of our borders, our monetary contribution to the EU’s (unaudited) Budget, the right to strike independent trade deals and freedom from subjugation and compliance with EU law and prescriptive EU regulatory requirements. Indeed, concerns about uncontrolled immigration are just not exclusive to the UK as across the EU, there has been a dramatic change in the political landscape in many countries where voters are saying “no” to uncontrolled immigration and “no” to established political parties in Germany, Italy and Sweden to name just a few.
As far as the Remainers are concerned – and as part of the continuing negative drip feed of Project Fear propaganda to thwart the wishes of the Brexit referendum result – immigration control can only result in labour shortages and massive economic disruption as a variety of sectors seemingly dependent on migrant labour, such as the NHS, will come to a halt. Economists for Free Trade (EFT) research has shown that it is uncontrolled, unskilled migration which imposes costs on local communities as well as imposing a cost on the UK’s public purse.
The Remainers tend to conflate the economic effects of skilled and unskilled migration as many studies produce results that rely on the effects from skilled, better-educated and more highly-paid migrants. The EFT research shows the cost of wage subsidies (20% of wages) are paid to uncontrolled, unskilled EU migrants. As Esther McVey, the former Work and Pensions Secretary, correctly pointed out, the Remainers cannot simultaneously argue that Brexit will produce economic Armageddon and mass unemployment while also arguing that the UK will need migrants to fill jobs. For skilled labour, there should be no particular impediments subject to existing arrangements for entry into the UK – and from an economic point of view no dispute about the positive impact of skilled labour in contributing to the UK economy.
Research I have authored for EFT found that in a region like Leicester, which has the densest immigrant population in the UK, the burden of unskilled immigrants costs £287 every year or £6 a week. This equates to around 1 per cent of average UK household disposable income per head. I found that from a national economic viewpoint, it costs £3.5 billion to support unskilled EU immigrants (£3,500 per year per adult immigrant), but “from the local populace viewpoint it is a proportionately bigger cost per resident – one that we are unwilling or unable to compensate for”.
As Brexit negotiations become more fractious and Theresa May’s Chequers Plan seemingly a “dead duck” as it totally transgresses what Brexit is about, any deal – should there be one – needs to be clear on the immigration issue.
The Prime Minister’s obduracy and unwillingness to consider the “World Trade Option” or “Canada+ deal” is remarkable. But you do not need a trade deal to trade. The EU’s biggest trade partners such as the US and China do not have trade deals with the EU and half our trade is under WTO rules anyway. Our biggest trade partner is already the US. We do not have a deal with the US, and such a deal would be ruled out by sticking with the EU, who rule out any independent trade deals under the EU Treaty.
A no-deal on trade would bring a number of economic benefits, saving the so-called £39bn “divorce bill”, freeing the UK from EU protectionism and reducing prices on goods from non-EU countries to the benefit of UK consumers. Professor Patrick Minford has estimated that the net effect of leaving on WTO terms would provide a net boost to the economy of at least 4% of GDP. This would give fiscal space to the perennially gloomy Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond to deliver a “Brexit bonus”.
The EFT found that by securing a Canada + deal or a World Trade deal with the EU, the poorest households in Britain will be a massive 15 per cent better off due to “a combination of above average falls in their shopping basket prices, the elimination of the costs of sustaining the unskilled immigrant families, and the reversal of the fall in their unskilled wages.”
Thankfully, it seems that the Cabinet is starting to get the message on immigration though, and has agreed in principle that EU migrants will not be given preferential treatment in a post-Brexit world with government plans aiming to reduce low-skilled migration into the UK. Failure to do otherwise simply from a political point of view would mean the Government paying a price at the next election, with the same applying to Labour if it fails to satisfy its Brexit-voting Northern constituencies where uncontrolled immigration is a sensitive issue. Some reports suggest that there might be an element of “horse-trading” where so called “free movement of labour” is traded in in order to obtain a trade agreement. The risk, of course, is that any bending of “red lines” ends up in an unacceptable concession or runs into vetoes from the rest of the EU.
The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has just published its final 140-page report on the immigration issue and recommendations for the UK’s post-Brexit immigration system. MAC recommends moving to a system in which all migration is managed with no preferential access to EU citizens but with a less-restrictive regime for skilled workers who typically do not put any downward pressure on average earnings in the economy, subject to the minimum wage, and make a clear positive contribution to the UK’s public finances.
In particular and quite importantly, MAC’s report focuses on the need for a more restrictive policy on lower-skilled migration with a guideline subject to a minimum annual salary as defining “low-skilled” (£30k although this might end up being nearer £20k). This would mean ending free movement but this would not make the UK unusual, as a country like Canada does not have a free movement agreement with any other country yet has managed to secure a trade deal with the EU without being totally subject to the terms and conditions that the EU would like to impose on the UK.
MAC’s report emphasises that the problem with free movement is that it leaves migration to the UK solely up to migrants, with UK residents having no control over the level and mix of migration. In addition, MAC’s empirical findings note that between 1983 and 2017 the ratio of working age EU immigrants to working age UK-born population increased from 1.3% to 7.9%, leading to the report’s conclusion that EU immigration over this 34-year period has reduced the employment rate of the UK-born working-age population by around 2 percentage points compared to a scenario with no EU immigration.
There is evidence of differential impacts across different UK-born groups with more negative effects for those with lower levels of education. Similar effects are found on the earnings of UK lower-skilled workers. A 1 percentage point increase in the EU-born working age population ratio can reduce UK-born wages for the lower-skilled by up to 0.8%. The EFT report The Economics of Unskilled Migration estimated the cost to the average UK worker of supporting EU unskilled migrants at £3,500 per annum with the cost rising further in areas of dense migrant population. Limiting these costs to the public purse relies on controlling unskilled, uncontrolled migration. This is why uncontrolled immigration is a key economic issue, never mind a political one.
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We’ve all heard the arguments over how Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration do not respect the referendum result in areas including fishing, trade, financial contributions and our laws. But the public, MPs and even ministers seem to be oblivious to one of the greatest sleights of hand in recent political history: how Theresa May has covertly given away control over policy, rules and structures which govern the future of our armed forces and foreign affairs.
Up until Chequers, I was blind to any idea of a sell-out over our armed forces, as were most MPs I have spoken to. How could this even be an issue? It wasn’t in the mainstream news, Brexiteer MPs weren’t concerned, we had Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary – we appeared to be in safe hands.
As it turns out I was completely wrong.
To sum up an extremely complex situation: Theresa May has signed up the UK to EU defence institutions meaning continued vast annual payments to Brussels, giving away control over major aspects of defence and foreign policy and all this has the power to undermine NATO.
I have spent a considerable amount of time researching this issue, and with the help of the excellent campaigning group Veterans for Britain I have produced a detailed documentary into the matter for my YouTube channel.
Let’s start from the beginning.
It’s 24th June 2016 and Brexiteers like me are over the moon. We had finally done it. Now was the time to celebrate, and look forward to our bright future as a sovereign nation. Whilst our heads were full of optimism and likely still drunk with joy (and the booze from the previous night), the EU were already on manoeuvres.
Just five days after the Brexit vote, a secret paper was published in Brussels to EU ambassadors describing the EU’s Global Strategy, which includes its ‘Implementation plan for Security and Defence’. The paper laid out the groundwork for the bloc’s ambitions on centralising defence and security policy, which would eventually lead to an EU army.
Months later in September of that year, the Defence Secretary at the time, Michael Fallon, used tough language against the EU’s defence power grab. He said Britain would “oppose any idea of an EU army, or an EU army headquarters which would simply undermine NATO.” Oh how quickly the mighty fall.
In the following months Fallon and other ministers responsible at the time waved through EU Council proposals for closer military integration including the EU’s Security and Defence Implementation Plan, European Defence Action Plan and the EU’s Global Strategy. These plans boosted the power and remit of organisations such as the European Defence Agency, European Defence Fund and countless other bureaucratic dreams.
Why did Britain allow this to happen? Well, Boris Johnson – then Foreign Secretary – made the now infamous “dog in a manger” speech in December 2016. Johnson said that because Britain was leaving the EU, it was not our place to cause a fuss by vetoing their plans and he said we should “let them get on with it”.
Over the following year, throughout 2017, the EU continued to build up its defence ambitions, all with no objections from the UK. The key point is that it was implied that Britain would have no involvement in any of their plans.
There was a point when I was researching this whole issue when I asked Veterans for Britain researcher David Banks a simple question. When did the UK decide sign up to all these EU military structures? He replied: “12th September 2017”.
This was the date DExEU published a cross-departmental paper entitled Foreign policy, defence and development – a future partnership paper. This meant no one department could take responsibility directly.
It was in this paper Britain decided to sell out its armed forces.
But the EU already knew this was the plan. How? UK civil servant and defence advisor to the Cabinet Office, Alastair Brockbank, revealed later in an LSE speech to EU diplomats that the Government was always planning to have ‘no gap’ in the UK’s subordination to EU foreign and security policy including EU defence policy. He then went on to lay out the UK’s intentions to stay tied to EU defence structures. The only reason we know this is because he was secretly recorded and subsequently exposed in The Sun. To be clear: a UK civil servant told the EU we would sign up to their Common Defence Policy whilst the British Government said publicly we would not be part of it.
Theresa May’s Munich speech, Chequers plan and now the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration slice by slice signed Britain up to more EU mechanisms in defence until we have come to a situation that Major-General Julian Thompson describes as “potentially disastrous” and “a surrender which will make the surrender in Singapore in 1942 look like a minor event”.
Colonel Richard Kemp, who commanded British forces in Afghanistan, told me the Prime Minister has used our armed forces as a “throwaway bargaining chip” in the negotiations.
Worst of all, it seems MPs had no idea about any of this until recent months. Moderate Leaver Crispin Blunt told me: “I think this subject is in urgent need of very close attention by Parliament about what the medium to long term implications are of what we appear to be signing up to.”
Even vocal Brexiteer Andrea Jenkyns, who has sat on the Brexit Select Committee for the last two years said she only found out a few months ago from a briefing with Veterans for Britain.
However the Government claim this is all nonsense, with Rory Stewart tweeting: “I have just been asked by a highly intelligent hard Brexiteer – with two masters degrees – whether the backstop would mean that we have to join the European army. The answer is ‘no’. We would be leaving the EU, the ECJ, EU Parliament, immigration policy and any idea of ‘EU army’”.
But this simply isn’t the case; Britain is signing up to be involved with the European Defence Agency, the European Defence Fund, the European Defence Industrial Development Programme and PESCO. This is in the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration. All of these together are openly described the EU as the beginnings of its military unification project – ‘integration’ which leads to the ultimate creation of ‘a Common Defence’ in just over five years’ time.
Some people ask why it even matters that Britain is signing away control to the EU in defence. After all, we are allies and have similar objectives. The answer to this is in two parts: democratic accountability of defence decisions and the existence of NATO, the fundamental force which has protected the Western world for decades. The European Union is not only leeching on the sovereignty of its member states, it is actively attempting to duplicate and therefore undermine NATO and packages its political moves with reckless rhetoric about the US as an untrustworthy ally or even an enemy. Putin is laughing away at the prospect of an EU army, because he knows that it will weaken his biggest adversary in NATO.
Not only will it make us less safe, but is will also make us less democratic. It means signing away control over major aspects of defence policy and procurement to the unelected European Commission and its numerous agencies, and we will pay a heavy price in monetary and sovereign terms for the giveaway.
Not enough Brexiteer voices are talking about this, partly because they haven’t understood what’s going on, along with most of the public and defence establishment. It is vital MPs and commentators hold the Government to account on this issue. After all, it is the defence of this nation that is at stake.
If they don’t, Britain could sign away its military autonomy, and it will be years before anyone realises.
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On the BrexitCentral podcast this week I spoke to Beccy and Helen from #StandUp4Brexit.
Despite all the media attention, the small team have no office and instead work from any pub or cafe around Westminster that has decent WiFi. The campaign now has 51 MPs lined up to oppose Theresa May’s Brexit deal and they are confident that those who have pledged to Chuck Chequers will stick firmly to the Conservative manifesto and the vision set out by the Prime Minister at Lancaster House. They say the 51 MPs who have pledged to #StandUp4Brexit will not vote for anything that keeps the UK in the ECJ, the Customs Union, or the Single Market.
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Theresa May’s negotiating technique with the EU has been to go in announcing red lines she wouldn’t accept, then – as soon as she found that she wouldn’t get them – to throw herself in front of the EU steamroller appealing to better natures the EU hasn’t got.
The calculation must have been that by acting humble she could get some kind of settlement, however unsatisfactory. The Tory Party in Parliament will then be forced to accept it as the price of staying in power and the accurate criticisms of the Brexiteers will be brushed aside. Then a long transition period can postpone the problems, rob the Rampant Remainers of their fear weapon and the People’s Vote wreckers of their hopes of staying in the EU by democratic deceit. Boris and his Brexiteers will grumble, even revolt, but most of the party will heave a sigh of relief and shuffle into line while Labour, even more divided, will be torn between its desire for an election and its commitment to a ‘soft’ Brexit. It may even fall apart with those keen to stay in the Single Market supporting the Government.
It’s a calculated strategy, which might work in a country getting fed up of the long futile argument. But it won’t achieve the Brexit the people voted for at the referendum and will leave Britain at the mercy of an intransigent and unforgiving EU. The two essential requirements of independence, control of EU immigration and the ability to come to trade deals with other nations whose trade is now growing while the EU’s share remains stagnant, will not have been delivered. We’ll still be subject to the EU rule book. That means dearer food and German dominance continuing to drain Britain.
The EU will have us over a barrel. We’ve already seen how rule-bound and hostile to British interests and arguments they can be, but in an infinitely extendable “transition period” to work out the details of Brexit, we’ll be well and truly trapped. An open-ended deal is infinitely extendable to keep the UK on a rack so they can refuse any of the changes we need and force us to observe the “EU rule book” as adjudicated by the EU court. We’d be hog tied unless we insist that no money will be handed over until we get an acceptable settlement. Nothing is settled (or paid) until all is settled.
After Theresa May has given away so much in her Chequers appeasement, the only point of leverage left is the enormous bill she’s undertaken to pay to allow the Commission to continue building marble palaces in Brussels and protect the other 27, who are already getting restive with the EU, from having to increase their contributions. “Can’t Buy Me Love,” as the Beatles sang. Theresa’s attempt to do so falls due next March when the notice we’ve given under Article 50 expires.
To pay that ransom, or anything at all, before everything is settled removes our last means of influence. The EU’s insistence that our departure allows them to punish us for being so naughty will prevail and we walk naked into the negotiating chamber. There we’re in limbo and they can dictate on all the issues remaining to be settled, as they most certainly can’t be before next March. That’s the reason they talk about a transition. To pay anything before it’s completed is to accept being a colony of the union our electorate voted to Leave.
Parliament can, and must, reject that, by insisting on a ‘no tickee, no takee’ clause before any deal is ratified. The Government would find it difficult to resist, Labour couldn’t vote against saving money and the canny Scots would be forced to choose between bawbees and their love of the EU. That leaves only the Liberals – who’re so Euro-daft that they’d be happy to pay even more to stay in – likely to vote against. As for the public, they’d be overjoyed that at last something is being done to implement their wishes, instead of all the wheedling, fear, manipulation, delay and weakness they’ve had to put up with up to now.
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It’s impossible to know for certain what deal the Prime Minister and her advisers are planning to spring on the Cabinet, Parliament and the country over the coming days; all that’s for sure is that they are, we are told, about to come up with something. The signals have, however, been clear enough, so that a pretty good guess can be made: their plan is to come up with a last-minute triumphant announcement that the ‘backstop’ problem on the Northern Ireland border issue has been resolved, and in the UK’s favour.
Whether they will be correct or not in announcing that is irrelevant; that’s what they’ll announce – and indeed, it is perfectly possible that some major concession will be offered up by the European Union on this point, since the border ‘problem’ was always a ruse, designed to focus attention on a non-problem while funnelling the negotiations into an agreement that would include membership of the Customs Union (and, to all intents and purposes, the Single Market). If the Northern Ireland border was a problem, then it could be resolved by us staying in the Customs Union; ergo, we agree to stay in the Customs Union thus ensuring that the Northern Ireland border is not a problem. Whatever the reason for the backstop imbroglio, it is in any event a chimera – something that has become, in the most ludicrous way, the tiny tail that wags the enormous dog of Brexit.
The border in Ireland already divides two jurisdictions with different tax regimes, products and the like. It should never have become an issue; the authorities on both sides already monitor it, to prevent smuggling, but through intelligence-led policing, not physical border structures. It is a border that the UK, the Irish and the EU have all confirmed will never be hard.
Now it has become a pretence for bouncing a post-Brexit UK into the Customs Union, complete with further surrenders on fishing and financial services. That reputable people apparently take the backstop issue seriously is a puzzle. The backstop is nonsense; both sides have repeatedly confirmed that they will not impose a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The issues of wandering cows and travelling milk can be resolved through agreements on sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards, not through physical border impedimenta. The amount of trade involved is negligible. The issue is a fraud and should be treated as such.
Some assert that the Prime Minister is desperate to keep us in the Customs Union because of promises, never published, that Greg Clark made to the auto industry two years ago. Others point to paragraph 49 of the December agreement with the EU (where the backstop is promised). This ignores the next paragraph, paragraph 50, inserted at the insistence of the DUP, which basically negates any claim that paragraph 49 is binding. Regardless: the Prime Minister and her advisers’ major mistake seems to be that they believe that if victory can be declared regarding the backstop, they can then come back from Brussels, waving a piece of paper and asserting a good deal has been agreed, because the backstop has been resolved.
It won’t work. Way before backstop became the cause du jour of the negotiations, Chequers had already reared its ugly head, and Chequers is what this whole false angst about the Northern Ireland border has been about; to provide a reason for the UK to stay in the Customs Union after Brexit. Chequers is no good; enough people know it is no good; it won’t be possible.
There are many reasons why the UK must avoid at all costs being in the – or a – Customs Union. This article by Graham Gudgin published on BrexitCentral yesterday is a comprehensive tour d’horizon of these reasons. MPs – both Remainers and Brexiteers – understand all that, enough of them to preclude its being accepted by Parliament. And yet, when the Irish border “issue” has allegedly been put to bed, with some sort of faux “backstop” agreement, Chequers will, apparently, remain as the Government’s negotiating stand for Brexit: a proposal that we remain tightly bound into the Customs Union (and for all intents and purposes, the Single Market) – goods, fisheries, banking and all.
There have been some eyebrow-raising odd leaks from “EU officials” in recent weeks, claiming that the EU’s arm was being twisted to force them to graciously allow the UK to stay within the Customs Union. Some may find that a joke – since the UK in the Customs Union is, in theory, precisely that vassal status that the EU should want the UK to be in (i.e. having German goods and French produce stuffed down our throat, with no say in the rules that govern competition in such goods and produce).
Nonetheless, I’m told that M. Barnier has assured delegations from the UK, with the utmost sincerity, that he does not wish the UK to be in the Customs Union. That is, however, what looks like is being offered by the UK in return for a “solution” to the Irish border. It is, also, precisely where the Government’s fatal error lies: enough Members of Parliament have made it very clear that they are not going to vote for such a deal, so any deal built around a Chequers view of the world will fail in the so-called ‘Meaningful Vote’ that we expect to take place in the House of Commons in the coming weeks.
The Chequers construct involves keeping the UK within a Customs Union and (as the news from the City of London illustrates) also the Single Market – for an extended, possibly indefinite, quite possibly permanent, length of time. It has been identified over and over as something that a large group of MPs will not accept.
How many such MPs? Well, there are so far 51 who have signed up to the “Stand Up for Brexit” pledge; there is a handful of Labour Leaver MPs; there are 10 DUP MPs; there are the ten or so further Scottish Tory MPs from fishing communities who know it would be electoral suicide to vote with the Government on this; there are the Remain-backing Conservative MPs, such as Jo Johnson, who now recognise that Chequers means vassalage; and there are most likely several Cabinet Ministers who will finally vote with their conscience by resigning their post and then voting against the Government in the Meaningful Vote.
The Labour Party says it will not support the Government in the Meaningful Vote, and it cannot be imagined that there will be enough renegade Labour Remainer MPs prepared to support the Conservative Government to overcome this group of anti-Chequers MPs so the Government, with its thin majority, faces an anti-Chequers vote that in total adds up to 60; 90; maybe many more.
What will the Prime Minister do when the reality of this becomes clear? What will happen if and when a Meaningful Vote on a Chequers-based deal is lost? The most likely outcome of such an event has to be that we would shortly thereafter have a new Prime Minister. If not, and somehow – however unlikely that may be – she survived the defeat of her policy (perhaps by ditching her clique of hardcore Remainer advisers, just as she ditched Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill after the 2017 election fiasco), then she would have the same choice as a new Prime Minister would: either to hunker down and start properly preparing to leave the European Union on WTO terms on 29th March next year; or to seek some kind of unholy alliance in Parliament with the Labour Party that allowed her to sue for peace with the EU by asking for an extension (temporary or ongoing) of Article 50 – with all that implies for a never-ending failure of the UK to exit the EU
The former choice carries the possibility of some – but if truth be told, not a lot – short-term pain, with a saving of £39 billion (enough to fund roughly 20,000 policemen and 20,000 teachers and 20,000 nurses for the next 20 years); the latter would rent the Conservative Party (the vast majority of whose voters side with the “Stand Up for Brexit” MPs) in two, with disastrous likely consequences in 2022. The Conservative Party might not recover for a generation or more.
It is late – very late – but the Government must urgently reconsider its position, and move to, first, making clear that a WTO terms exit is very much in contemplation, and second, offering as an alternative to that a Canada-style deal with the EU, as described in Plan A+ – a clearly laid out and workable plan for a Free Trade Agreement that builds on the already solid work that David Davis and Steve Baker did while still in Government.
The EU has indicated it is prepared to accept such a deal; it is the only deal that can pass a Meaningful Vote in the Commons; it is extraordinary that the Government has not already pivoted to such a deal. Anything else, and the current shambles will just get even worse: if and when Chequers comes to the Commons, it will be defeated and the Government, as currently led, will fall.
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