Four days after the release of the 585-page draft Withdrawal Agreement for the UK’s exit from the European Union, the European Research Group (ERG) of eurosceptic Conservative MPs today publishes a concise guide making the case against the putative deal.
In Your Right to Know, the group – chaired by Jacob Rees-Mogg – seeks to put the case against what Theresa May has agreed with the EU in plain English – and BrexitCentral is exclusively publishing the full text of the 7-page document.
The publication identifies five key areas of concern over the draft Agreement:
- The UK would hand over £39 billion of taxpayers’ money with nothing guaranteed in return
- The UK would remain a ‘rule taker’ over large areas of EU law
- It would lock us in a Customs Union without the ability to leave
- It would creates internal borders within the UK, undermining the integrity of the Union
- The European Court of Justice would remain in control of the agreement and large areas of EU law directly effective in the UK
The ERG conclude:
“The combination of these measures means the United Kingdom will have not left the European Union but will instead be ‘half in and half out’. This will mean that we will become a ‘vassal state’ many of whose laws will have been created abroad and over which we have no influence. This is completely against the spirit of the 2016 referendum in which 17.4 million UK citizens voted to leave the European Union.”
You can read the document for yourself below or by clicking here to read it as a pdf.
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Following the resignation of Dominic Raab over the draft Withdrawal Agreement, Theresa May has just appointed the relatively unknown middle-ranking minister Steve Barclay as the new Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.
Elected Conservative MP for North East Cambridgeshire at the 2010 General Election, he spent most of his first term in Parliament on the Public Accounts Committee. After the 2015 General Election he was appointed to the Whips’ Office, where he served for two years before a brief stint as Economic Secretary to the Treasury between June 2017 and January 2018, since when he has been a Minister at the Department for Health and Social Care.
At the 2016 referendum, he backed Leave, declaring in a tweet on referendum day:
“Let’s believe in Britain not Brussels. It is time to have confidence in our country and take back control.”
Indeed, by my reckoning, he was the only whip to declare for Leave at the referendum, when all others backed the Remain campaign.
Meanwhile, replacing Suella Braverman as a junior minister at DExEU is Leave-backing Kwasi Kwarteng, who has been MP for Spelthorne in Surrey since 2010 and who has been Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, for the last 18 months.
In other reshuffle news, Amber Rudd returns to Government as Work and Pensions Secretary in place of Esther McVey; arch-Remainer Stephen Hammond takes Barclay’s job at the Department for Health; and European Research Group officer John Penrose (who actually voted Remain) fills the vacancy at the Northern Ireland Office created by Shailesh Vara’s resignation.
Dominic Raab has tendered his resignation as Brexit Secretary, saying he “cannot in good conscience support the terms proposed for our deal with the EU”. Below is the letter he has written to Theresa May:
It follows the resignation a little earlier this morning of Shailesh Vara, the Northern Ireland minister, whose letter to the Prime Minister is below.
Esther McVey has confirmed her resignation as Work and Pensions Secretary, and referencing the draft Brexit deal, she wrote, ‘I cannot defend this, and I cannot vote for this deal.’ Below is her full letter to the Prime Minister:
Suella Braverman resigns as Brexit Minister, saying, “This has not been an easy decision.” Her letter to the Prime Minister is below:
Anne-Marie Trevelyan resigns as PPS to the Education Minister, saying, ” It has been a joy and a privilege to have served in defence and education.” See below for her letter to the Prime Minister:
Ranil Jayawardena has resigned as PPS to Justice Ministry, and writes, ‘…I cannot agree, in the cold light of day, that the deal in front of us is right for our country.’ His letter to the Prime Minister is below:
Rehman Chishti has resigned as Conservative Vice Chairman and the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Pakistan, giving his inability to support the draft EU Withdrawal Agreement as one of his reasons. See his letter to the Prime Minister below:
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After the end, the beginning. The long months of talks in Brussels have brought forth a draft withdrawal agreement to leave the European Union – all 585 pages of it. Amid the drama, the essential themes are clear. There will be a backstop agreement to the deal without an end date and with no ability for the UK to extricate ourselves without the consent of a third party. And there will be a grave threat to the Union.
Northern Ireland will find itself in a different regulatory regime to the rest of our country – to use the analogy that is being deployed about the “backstop within a backstop”, it will be in the deep end of the swimming pool while the rest of us are only paddling up to our knees. This represents gold dust for the Scottish Nationalists, who will seize on a different arrangement for one part of the country to demand a separate arrangement for Scotland.
We will be asked to sign up to all this, and hand over £39 thousand million, in exchange for a flimsy 15-page “political declaration” about the hoped-for trade relationship that would lie beyond this, should we ever be able to escape. That political declaration will be drafted to mean all things to all men, but will lead inexorably to the ultra-high alignment agreed at Chequers in July rather than the Canada-style free trade deal we should be aiming for. There will be so-called “non-regression clauses” to ensure the UK cannot out-compete the EU. This would scupper our hopes of being a global trading titan and bind us into EU manufacturing rules in perpetuity. As humiliations go, this would be complete and unendurable. The Prime Minister will have unerringly delivered a deal that delivers none of the benefits of leaving the EU and none of the benefits of remaining.
85 years ago, Churchill warned:
“All down the centuries, one peculiarity of the English people has cost them dear. We have always thrown away after a victory the greater part of the advantages we have gained in the struggle. The worst difficulties from which we suffer do not come from without. They come from within… from the mood of unwarrantable self-abasement into which we have been cast by a powerful section of our own intellectuals. They come from the acceptance of defeatist doctrines by a large proportion of our politicians… Nothing can save England if she will not save herself. If we lose faith in ourselves, in our capacity to guide and govern, if we lose our will to live, then indeed our story is told.”
Such will be the legacy of Brexit if this deal goes through. The brave decision of the British people to leave the European Union, taken in the largest democratic vote in our history, will have been reduced in two years to a shameful and squalid surrender. This must be resisted at all costs, and I have little doubt that the House of Commons will indeed defeat the deal should matters go that far.
The burning question will then arise: what next?
A deal may still be salvageable, based around the broad and generous offer made by European Council President Donald Tusk in March. This would be an advanced free trade agreement, encompassing services and covering all sectors with zero tariffs and no quantitative limitations. Alongside this the UK would offer deep security cooperation and mutual recognition of practical issues from aviation regulations to driving licences. The EU’s offer, of course, was made to Great Britain and not the whole of the UK. The EU was not prepared to extend its offer to Northern Ireland – hence so much of the tortuous negotiation that has ensued.
But there is a way to deliver such an agreement, in the form of a free-standing treaty on trade facilitation between the UK and Ireland to be negotiated in parallel to the wider negotiations, as it surely could be. Such a treaty would deliver an invisible border that would satisfy WTO rules and could be referenced in the wider UK-EU free trade agreement. There would be no hard border and no need for a backstop beyond this.
This seems to me to represent a deal that could secure sufficient votes to satisfy Brussels and pass the House of Commons. In tandem with this, an immense national effort must be set in motion so that the UK Government and businesses prepare themselves day and night between now and 29th March next year for a no-deal scenario. Every moment that passes without such an effort is a moment wasted, and weakens our hand in securing the good Brexit deal that our country expects and deserves.
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The Government has been rocked this afternoon by a resignation over Brexit policy from a minister who has concluded that the likely deal to be struck by the Government will “leave us trapped in a subordinate relationship to the EU with no say over the rules that will govern huge swathes of our economy”.
But the minister in question is not a Brexiteer, but Remain-backing Transport Minister Jo Johnson, whose resignation reminds us that there is discontent at the Government’s position from all swathes of opinion on the Tory benches both inside and outside the Government.
In his resignation blog post this afternoon he wrote that the Government’s proposals would leave the UK “out of Europe, yet run by Europe” – a line I first heard used by his brother Boris Johnson’s former parliamentary private secretary, Conor Burns, in his speech at the BrexitCentral rally at this year’s Conservative conference.
Johnson wrote in his blog post:
“While we wait to negotiate trading terms, the rules of the game will be set solely by the EU. Britain will lose its seat at the table and its ability to amend or vote down rules it opposes. Instead of Britain “taking back control”, we will cede control to other European countries. This democratic deficit inherent in the Prime Minister’s proposal is a travesty of Brexit. When we were told Brexit meant taking back powers for Parliament, no one told my constituents this meant the French parliament and the German parliament, not our own. In these circumstances, we must ask what we are achieving. William Hague once described the goal of Conservative policy as being “in Europe, but not run by Europe”. The government’s proposals will see us out of Europe, yet run by Europe, bound by rules which we will have lost a hand in shaping.
“Worse still, there is no real clarity about how this situation will ever end. The proposed Withdrawal Agreement parks many of the biggest issues about our future relationship with Europe into a boundless transitionary period. This is a con on the British people: there is no evidence that the kind of Brexit that we’ve failed to negotiate while we are still members can be magically agreed once the UK has lost its seat at the table. The leverage we have as a full member of the EU will have gone. We will be in a far worse negotiating position than we are today. And we will have still failed to resolve the fundamental questions that are ramping up uncertainties for businesses and stopping them investing for the future.
“My brother Boris, who led the leave campaign, is as unhappy with the Government’s proposals as I am. Indeed he recently observed that the proposed arrangements were “substantially worse than staying in the EU”. On that he is unquestionably right. If these negotiations have achieved little else, they have at least united us in fraternal dismay.”
Johnson has pledged to vote against legislation enacting the Withdrawal Agreement, but in his resignation blog he also signalled his desire now for another referendum:
“It is now my intention to vote against this Withdrawal Agreement. I reject this false choice between the PM’s deal and “no deal” chaos. On this most crucial of questions, I believe it is entirely right to go back to the people and ask them to confirm their decision to leave the EU and, if they choose to do that, to give them the final say on whether we leave with the Prime Minister’s deal or without it.”
It is not clear whether he envisages one referendum with two questions or an initial vote to confirm the June 2o16 decision and then another on the deal. However, time constraints over the passing of legislation and the rules surrounding the running of referendums make it impossible for the holding of any such referendum before the UK leaves the EU on 29th March 2o19.
A Downing Street spokesman responded by saying:
“The referendum in 2016 was the biggest democratic exercise in this country’s history. We will not under any circumstances have a second referendum.”
The June 2016 referendum took place because the 2015 Conservative manifesto promised to:
“hold that in-out referendum before the end of 2017 and respect the outcome. We will honour the result of the referendum, whatever the outcome.”
As Guido Fawkes points out, the lead author of that manifesto was one Jo Johnson.
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The wide-ranging Free Trade Agreement with zero tariffs proposed by Donald Tusk in March foundered on the supposed problems of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In response, the Prime Minister proposed in her Chequers document to bind the UK to a “common rulebook” – really the EU’s rulebook – for goods in order, she said, to ensure continued frictionless trade between the EU and the UK.
This attracted little political support in the EU because it was seen as “cherry-picking” and even less in the UK for leaving us as permanent, non-voting rule-takers. The proposals were rejected on a technical level by the professional customs body, CLECAT, whose 19,000 members handle 80% of European customs transactions. They found that Chequers “would require five to ten years before it can be applied in practice… new/non-existing systems and procedures will potentially lead to more complications.”
Reports this week suggest that the Prime Minister has now gone even further to secure a deal at any cost. Her new “backstop” proposal is for an open-ended customs union. She has ruled out customs union membership 21 times, so this would represent a humiliating defeat. The UK would have submitted to everything the EU demanded, paying them over £40bn for the pleasure and completely ceding our international trade policy to Brussels in clear breach of the Conservative Party’s manifesto commitments.
How has the Prime Minister got into this mess? Her motivation – a seamless border – is well founded, but her premise is that the only way to guarantee this is by some new, complicated customs arrangement. This is simply not true.
Firstly, only 4.9 per cent of Northern Ireland’s sales are with the Republic of Ireland, representing under 0.2 per cent of UK GDP. We should not, surely, give up our law-making capability over a wide area for the sake of that tiny fraction.
Secondly, there is already a border now – for tax, VAT, currency, excise duty and security – managed by technical and administrative procedures. These existing measures provide the foundation to maintain frictionless trade after Brexit. The Heads of HMRC and the Irish Revenue have confirmed this, saying that any additional requirements can be achieved without any new facilities at the border.
To see why, consider the range of simplifications to customs procedures and administrative obligations available under EU law. These are an ideal fit for much cross-border trade, characterised by regular, repetitive shipments – the same milk, from the same cows, from the same farm, in the same tankers, on the same roads, to the same destination. These obligations typically require only a one-off registration and, for regular trade, negligible costs of repetition. Companies already have to report all cross-border trade for VAT purposes, and the current system provides a framework for streamlining customs controls. Even small traders can – and currently do – take advantage of a voluntary registration to claim back VAT.
The agri-food sector accounts for just under half of all cross-border trade. Inspections can be necessary for these products but can, in practice, take place many miles from the physical border. I saw this myself when I visited Rotterdam, Europe’s largest port, this week. The Border Inspection Point is 40km from the docks and deals with 30,000 shipments annually from all over the world, including from outside the Single Market and Customs Union. There, 97-98 per cent of chilled or frozen meat and fish are cleared without physical inspection. Only 2-3 per cent are physically checked, based on intelligence, and 90 per cent of those shipments are cleared well within an hour.
The simplest way to avoid the need for animal checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is by maintaining an all-island biosecurity zone for disease prevention and public health. I visited the facility where inspections already take place for livestock shipments from Great Britain at the port of Larne. There are clear lessons from Rotterdam as to how such checks can be managed efficiently and how intelligence can minimise the need for lengthy inspections.
The Prime Minister’s convoluted customs proposals are unnecessary. Existing technical and administrative processes can ensure that a frictionless border is maintained after Brexit, not as a temporary, cobbled-together “backstop” but as a durable, long-term arrangement which allows for the wide-ranging, zero-tariff trade agreement which Donald Tusk proposed. That, surely, is the optimal solution for all sides.
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I won my seat in Mansfield at the last General Election by 1,057 votes. I am so grateful to local people for their support and I never take their votes for granted. I work hard to represent them, to promote our town and to improve the lives of all my constituents.
I’m confident that I understand the concerns and aspirations of people in what is a key marginal seat. They were heartened when the Prime Minister said at the Conservative Conference that their hard work was paying off and austerity was over. They are sick of feeling like they are worse off.
Speaking at the sidelines of the recent IMF summit, Philip Hammond then confirmed a £15 billion buffer to “plot the path out of austerity” that he would be able to release with the conclusion of a Brexit agreement. This, he said, “could be released to support the spending envelope or to deliver tax cuts or to pay down the debt more quickly”.
Now it looks like this – and more – could instead be handed over to the EU for an extra implementation period that nobody wants and our country does not need. The cost of extending the negotiating period is estimated to be as high as £15 billion. This extra cost comes on top of the £5 billion EU rebate that the UK would lose if it stays in the EU.
We know that the Chancellor says he cannot find extra funding for Universal Credit, so where are we now finding all the extra funding to send to the EU?
As Conservatives, we should exist to help people keep more of their hard-earned money – and siphoning off huge amounts to the EU risks diverting cash from people’s pockets and from public services.
If this plan goes through to divert funding away from domestic needs and instead subsidise the EU – in the vague hope of reaching a future agreement with them on our future relationship – then I and colleagues will need to seriously question why budgetary restrictions are being proposed on a domestic level in the forthcoming Budget.
We should not allow ourselves to be bullied by the EU and we should not treat Brexit as some sort of damage limitation exercise. People voted to Leave because they wanted a change, not because they wanted to replicate the status quo as closely as possible. This ought to be the time to stand up for the national interest, to believe in our country and plot a better course for people like my constituents.
Why on earth would we want to extend the transition phase when we don’t know where or what we are even transitioning to? If we know that deals will be done on the final day, at the eleventh hour, then we should be bringing that day forward rather than delaying it. We need certainty, not further confusion.
We know that this extension would cost billions, it won’t tackle any of the supposed issues around the Irish border, it would tie the UK to the Single Market and Customs Union and offer no leverage to secure a better deal with the EU.
We’ve got to work out whose side we are on. I’m on the side of the people of Mansfield, where 71% voted to Leave. It’s their lives and future I will take into account when voting on the Budget and future financial plans. Let’s back them and the British people who overwhelmingly voted to Leave the EU and take back control of money, borders, laws and trade.
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Brexit: Theresa May pours cold water on move to renegotiate deal as cabinet ministers call for rewriteThe prime minister will visit Jean-Claude Juncker this week for further talks focussing on the outline future relationship