The Prosperity UK Alternative Arrangements Commission, which launched earlier this week, is a serious attempt to address the complexities of the Irish border and break the Brexit logjam. Co-Chair Nicky Morgan and I have decided to take an entrepreneurial approach to solving the conundrum of the Irish border, and ask the private sector for its help.

Our starting point is to find out what is possible by asking a panel of technical experts to develop credible Alternative Arrangements for the Irish border, which can be delivered in a timely fashion, and without the presence of physical infrastructure at the frontier.

The Commission will be made up of a broad spectrum of MPs and Lords, representing many different views on Brexit. The Commission is agnostic on the preferred future relationship between the UK and EU. Our work will be compatible with virtually all of the EU-UK end states currently under consideration and will ensure that the UK retains full flexibility in its future negotiations with the European Union.

There are three common misconceptions about Brexit which are relevant to the Commission.

The first is that Alternative Arrangements will not be necessary. But in every single scenario bar staying in both the EU Customs Union and the Single Market, for goods and agrifood, alternative arrangements of some kind will be necessary. And if we are in that scenario, we would have no ability to execute an independent trade policy or improve our domestic regulations, taking away all the potential economic gains of Brexit.

It is not well understood that free circulation of goods comes from both the Customs Union (CU) – and the rules of the Single Market. If the UK were a full member of the EU Customs Union, this would only address rules of origin. Checks would still be needed on animals, animal products (including processed food), plants and plant products. Technical regulations and standards that define specific characteristics of a product would also require checks. If the UK was in a CU, not the CU (like Turkey), the UK would need movement certificates for all relevant goods. For these very reasons, a customs union on its own does not solve the Irish border question.

Let us look at some of these potential scenarios:

  • Membership of the EFTA/EEA? We will need to prove origin, and consequently, there will be customs checks.
  • Membership of a Partial Customs Union? We will need movement certificates and there would need to be checks for standards, TBT (Technical Barriers to Trade) and SPS (Sanitary and Phytosanitary) issues.
  • A Customs Union and EEA? We would still need movement certificates and some customs checks.
  • A comprehensive Free Trade Agreement between the UK and the EU? Yes, this will require the complexities of the Irish border to be addressed.
  • But what about leaving on WTO terms, a so-called ‘no deal’ scenario? Leaving the EU without a deal doesn’t absolve us from finding a solution to the Irish border. If anything, it makes it more important.

The second misconception is that there is no majority in Parliament for any Brexit alternative. But as avid BrexitCentral readers will know, the Brady Amendment was the only amendment during the recent Brexit debates to gain a parliamentary majority. Central to the amendment was the need to come to an agreed path on alternative arrangements for the Irish border.

The Alternative Arrangements Commission is – and was designed to be – a broad church. We welcome any parliamentarian who is committed to finding a workable solution to the Irish border, which means the UK can leave the EU.

The third misconception is that Alternative Arrangements for the Irish border would be a hi-tech unicorn, dreamt up by some futurologist in Silicon Valley and which would take years to develop. To that, I say, no, absolutely not. We are seeking solutions based on existing, working technology and processes. There just has not been sufficient practical work done on this by the Government or anyone else. And whilst this lack of work is regrettable, it does no good to look backwards.

The Commission has engaged a Technical Panel comprising border and customs experts, practitioners and lawyers with detailed knowledge of Ireland as well as the EU, UK and international trade regulations in order to create draft processes and procedures to fulfil our goal. In addition, the Commission will engage with established technology providers in order to develop a comprehensive set of solutions and timelines for review.

The Technical Panel will address the most challenging aspects of the Irish border including small traders, tax issues, security and movement of people, trusted trader schemes, rules of origin, financial settlement and issues relating to Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (i.e. treatment of food and plant-based goods).

The Commission is seeking solutions that are both realistic and sustainable and recognises that their formulation and implementation will require the engagement of many stakeholders in the UK, the Republic of Ireland and Europe. Central to the proposals will be a commitment to protecting the Good Friday Agreement.

There are no easy answers with Brexit, but I hope this Commission into Alternative Arrangements is the impetus for finding both the technical solutions and the political consensus for a deal with the EU. We owe it to the country, and Northern Ireland in particular, to do everything we can to create a seamless border in Ireland. Just because it has not been done before, does not mean it is impossible.

Anyone wishing to offer their expertise or to make a submission to the Commission can do so by emailing Greg Hands.

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This morning sees the launch of a new initiative to develop “credible and practical alternative arrangements relating to the Irish border that can be delivered in a timely fashion to ensure that the UK retains full flexibility in its future negotiations with the European Union”.

The Alternative Arrangements Commission is to be co-chaired by former International Trade Minister, Greg Hands, and Treasury Committee Chair and former Cabinet minister, Nicky Morgan, and will be a cross-party venture with yet-to-be-identified representatives from across the political spectrum, with a view to producing a report in June.

But, intriguingly, it has not been established by the Government – which some might suggest ought to be working night and day on this very issue – but rather Prosperity UK, the organisation co-founded by Sir Paul Marshall to bring together business leaders, academics and policy-makers to seek solutions to Brexit issues and look constructively at the UK’s post-Brexit future.

The House of Commons may have rejected the Government’s Brexit deal three times and then every proposal tabled during the ‘indicative votes’ process before Easter, but lest we forget that back on 29th January, MPs did support by 317 votes to 301 (majority: 16) the proposal from Sir Graham Brady (the Brady Amendment) to back the Withdrawal Agreement subject to the Northern Ireland backstop being “replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border”. It is indeed the only Brexit proposal to have enjoyed a parliamentary majority.

The Commission’s aim, therefore, is to build upon the Brady Amendment, working within the parameters of the Withdrawal Agreement, to seek solutions that are both realistic and sustainable while continuing to protect the Good Friday Agreement. Its principal objective will be to develop detailed proposals to avoid physical infrastructure at the border via “consideration of comprehensive customs cooperation arrangements, facilitative arrangements and technologies,” as was described within the Joint Instrument relating to the Withdrawal Agreement agreed in Strasbourg in March.

A press release announcing the establishment of the Commission provided the following further details:

The Commission’s work seeks to create further material for parliament to debate, to highlight to our European partners that there is an ongoing parliamentary majority for the Withdrawal Agreement provided that a template for alternative arrangements can be agreed. It should be noted that the work of the Commission will be compatible with any of the EU-UK future relationship proposals currently under consideration.

The Commission has engaged a Technical Panel comprising border and customs experts, practitioners and lawyers with detailed knowledge of trade, business and community relationships in Ireland as well as the EU, UK and international trade regulations in order to create draft processes and procedures to fulfil these goals. In addition, the Commission will engage with established technology providers in order to develop a comprehensive set of solutions and timelines for review.

Nine working groups have been created covering topics including the border and the movement of people in the context of the Good Friday Agreement, Tax, Sanitary and Phytosanitary standards, Small Traders and Trusted Trader Schemes. As part of the Commission’s work, a consultative conference will be held in London before the publication of its report. Further events are planned in other European jurisdictions to communicate the Commission’s recommendations.

Explaining the decision to establish the Commission, Prosperity UK Co-founder Sir Paul Marshall said:

“It is clear that the real Brexit logjam is around managing the Irish border and thereby eliminating the need for the Backstop. Our intention is to bring people together and to find practical solutions to this complex and emotive issue, drawing upon the expertise of some of the world’s best border experts.”

Commission Co-Chair Nicky Morgan – who was previously involved in the Government’s Alternative Arrangements Working Group which considered some of these issues in February – explained:

“The work of this Commission is hugely important. Implementation of suitable border arrangements for Ireland are vital not only to fulfil the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, but also key to agreeing a successful future UK relationship with the European Union, whatever happens in the withdrawal phase and however that future relationship is formulated. The EU have already indicated a desire to get on to discussing alternative arrangements and so we should try to do that.”

Her Co-Chair, Greg Hands, added:

“Alternative Arrangements were a key part of the Brady Amendment, the only Brexit proposal to have passed the House of Commons. I am looking forward to using my background to work with a wide variety of MPs and experts to help move this work forward and explore in detail how these alternative arrangements can work.”

Responding to the announcement, a DExEU spokesperson said:

We welcome all efforts by Parliamentarians to find solutions to break the Brexit deadlock and progress the development of alternative arrangements, as talks with the Opposition continue. The commission’s work will complement our own work on alternative arrangements, which we announced last month.

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At Prime Minister’s Questions on 20th March, the Prime Minister stood at the Despatch Box and repeatedly told the Commons the maximum extension to Article 50 that she could countenance. Answering MPs from across the House, she said:

“I am not prepared to delay Brexit any further than 30th June… I could not consider a delay further beyond 30th June… There will be no delay in delivering Brexit beyond 30th June.”

Yet when, in the small hours on Wednesday morning, the EU offered an extension to 31st October – fully four months after her self-imposed cut-off and seven months after we should have left – she accepted. Another promise, made to Parliament and the country, was broken. We should have left at 11pm on 29th March. Even as the Prime Minister arrived in Brussels, the law of the land was that we would leave at 11pm this evening, Friday 12th April. All she had to do to deliver that was nothing.

So for all that the Prime Minister may speciously argue that she has been somehow forced to extend, there is no doubt that she has sought delays of her own volition. Remember that the formal letter requesting an extension was sent before Parliament had approved the change in domestic law.

Just as common law courts once applied the maxim Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, this latest broken promise could have been predicted from the previous occasions when what the Prime Minister has said and what she has done have not matched. Throughout her tenure, Mrs May had said that “no deal is better than a bad deal”. The Withdrawal Agreement is evidently a bad deal; the House of Commons has thrice told her so. Logically, she should then have pursued the “no deal” option, but did not. Evidently, she has bought into the ludicrous, apocalyptic predictions of Project Fear, convinced now that any deal would be better than “no deal”.

But the “no deal” which the prophets of doom continue to predict is a complete misnomer. In reality, when we say “no deal” we mean a WTO deal – leaving the EU without the Withdrawal Agreement but with a series of pragmatic, mutually-beneficial mini-deals in its stead.

The former Brexit Minister Chris Heaton-Harris – who resigned in exasperation – confirmed that such preparations are “well advanced” and told the Prime Minister that:

“I truly believe our country would have swiftly overcome any immediate issues of leaving without a deal and gone on to thrive.”

He is right. One by one, the absurd falsehoods peddled about “no deal” have been and are being debunked.

Air travel will continue. The EU confirmed in November that it would continue to allow UK airlines to fly over, land in and return from EU airports even if there is no Withdrawal Agreement, provided the UK reciprocates. Of course, it will. As Transport Minister Baroness Sugg confirmed in March:

“Measures put forward by the UK and the EU will ensure that flights can continue in any scenario; deal or no deal.”

Medical supplies will arrive. Health Secretary Matt Hancock has worked hard to neutralise this issue and, as the President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Professor Russell Viner, said in his message to 19,000 doctors:

“I have been considerably reassured by governments’ preparations relating to medicines supplies…Governments, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and the NHS have been working hard behind the scenes… and we believe that our medicine supplies are very largely secured.”

Cross-Channel trade will continue. The Chairman of the Port of Calais, Jean-Marc Puissesseau, has robustly refuted the alarmist claims of disruptions to freight. Xavier Bertrand, President of the Hauts-de-France region has dismissed the scare stories with admirable clarity:

“Who could believe such a thing? We have to do everything to guarantee fluidity.”

The UK has been given approval to continue exporting animals and products of animal origin to the EU in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Live animals, including horses, will still be able to travel across borders. Will Lambe, Executive Director of the British Horseracing Authority, was right when he said that:

“This decision on listing from the European Union is extremely welcome and reflects the UK’s high health standards in respect of its animals, and of course the thoroughbred population within this. It provides important clarity for the racing and breeding sector ahead of a potential no-deal departure from the EU.”

Even the fears of a “hard” Northern Ireland border which have so dominated the debate are now subsiding. The Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has expressed confidence that arrangements can be implemented to avoid new border checks in the case of “no deal”. These arrangements are the same as our ERG proposals which were once smugly dismissed as “magical thinking”, but Michel Barnier has confirmed that in any scenario the Belfast Agreement will continue to apply and “there will be no hard border” using our alternative arrangements.

This approach would not be “crashing out”, as the fearmongers claim. Sensible measures, adopted in the best interests of both the UK and the EU, can mitigate any disruption and ensure that our relationships with our neighbours remain amicable and prosperous.

Nor is “no deal” an end state. With arrangements worked out for the Northern Ireland border, we can quickly return to the offer which Donald Tusk made in March last year of a wide-ranging, zero-tariff Free Trade Agreement – for the whole of the UK rather than just Great Britain.

In such a scenario, both sides can invoke Article XXIV of the WTO’s General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. As long as the UK and EU agree to an FTA and notify the WTO of a sufficiently detailed plan and schedule for the FTA as soon as possible, we could maintain our current zero-tariff arrangements while the new deal was being negotiated.

Most importantly, this approach would provide the certainty which everyone craves. It would, finally, allow businesses to know where they stand and release much pent-up, pending investment.

All of this beckons if we leave with “no deal”. The decision from the European Council on Wednesday states that the UK must now, if still a member, hold European Parliament elections on 22nd May. If it “fails to live up to this obligation”, we will leave on 1st June.

This is an important opportunity which the Government must grasp. It is win-win. At a time when the Government is daily faced with the difficult task of balancing discipline on public expenditure with pressing demands for improving schools, roads and hospitals, it would be an act of the most outrageous folly to squander £100 million on unwanted elections when newly-elected British MEPs will immediately stand down in October, never mind the £39 billion which the Withdrawal Agreement would give away.

Yet by avoiding these utterly pointless elections, we can leave in an orderly way on 1st June and use the money on our own priorities. Do that, and the Government will honour the referendum result, its manifesto commitments, and repay the trust of the British people.

Do not, and its betrayal will be complete. If reports last night are correct that the Government has wound up its “no deal” planning at this crucial juncture, that would be stupidity verging on sabotage. The Government will have failed to deliver the single most important policy in a generation, and broken every promise it has made.

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The self-satisfied, smug smiles of those who arrogantly proclaimed that tearing up the Standing Orders of the House of Commons and creating a dangerous constitutional precedent would produce a way forward in the current Brexit impasse, turned into angry scowls when, for the second time, Parliament was unable to come up with a solution which commands a majority last week.

Without the least sense of irony, those who quite rightly pilloried the Prime Minister for bringing her failed deal back for a third vote believe that they should be allowed a third attempt to get their preferred option adopted. Even if they were to get a majority for one of the Remainer options (which are the only ones the Speaker has allowed the House of Commons to consider), there is absolutely no reason why the Government should run with it and every reason why it should refuse to promote something which would tear up its own manifesto and split its own party. To recap on the four options rejected in the last week’s indicative votes: 

  • Kenneth Clarke’s customs union proposal would remove any ability for the UK to have control over its trade policy, would result in us having to pay huge amounts into the EU and not deal with the United Kingdom-splitting backstop.
  • Nick Boles’ “Common Market 2.0” proposal keeps us in the Customs Union, the Single Market, requires us to keep open borders and pay for the privilege, while having little say over the rules which the EU would impose on us. It is not even clear after having conceded all that whether the backstop imposition would be fully removed.
  • Peter Kyle’s confirmatory vote is no choice at all since it would give a referendum where the public could choose between remaining in the EU or accepting a Remain Parliament’s version of Brexit which would keep us so involved with the EU that we may as well be full members. It’s a real Hobson’s choice dressed up as a democratic exercise.
  • Joanna Cherry’s Article 50 revocation proposal is simply a call to abandon the result of the 2016 referendum.

It is hard to see any basis on which the Government could adopt any of those options unless it was prepared to ignore the views of the majority of its own party and drive through the policy or policies of its opponents. Surely even this dysfunctional Government would baulk at that?

It’s easy to shoot down others’ proposals but that is no substitute for a strategy to break the impasse. This is caused by the backstop in the Withdrawal Agreement and the impact it would have on the unity of the UK and the restrictions it would place on the ability to negotiate our future relationship with the EU which would not be detrimental to our economic and legislative freedoms and which would not have us prisoners of the EU until we agreed whatever deal suited its objectives. That is why the backstop has to be dealt with.

Impossible, say some, because the EU have said they will not reopen the Withdrawal Agreement. Yet it is clear that the argument on which the backstop is based – i.e. the unacceptability of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – is no longer a credible threat since the EU and the Irish Government have demonstrated in their plans for a no-deal Brexit that it can and will be avoided.

The Government may have weakened its hand by its own pathetic negotiations, but it still has arguments which could be used to have the toxic backstop removed instead of either becoming the advocate for the policies of the Labour Party, the SNP and the Lib Dems or continuing to hope that it can get the Withdrawal Agreement accepted by wearing down the opposition to it.

Neither can succeed and both run the risk of destroying what credibility the Government has with its own frustrated and angry supporters. There is still time to put the heat on the EU.

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It’s another pivotal day for Brexit. After Prime Minister’s Questions at lunchtime, Theresa May will head to Brussels for tonight’s emergency European Council meeting where she will plead with her 27 counterparts for another extension to the Article 50 period, to confirm yet another delay to our departure from the European Union. 

I think the public are looking on with increasing disbelief as, nearly three years after the referendum, deadlines for leaving the EU come and go and keep getting pushed back. We are told the government will have to spend in the region of £100 million of our money holding elections to the European Parliament next month. People see a Prime Minister unable to get a majority of her own MPs to back her strategy, as evidenced by yesterday’s Commons vote where less than 43% of Tory MPs backed her proposal for an Article 50 extension until the end of June. They see the cross-party talks between Government and Opposition seemingly going nowhere. And with senior European figures arrogantly encouraging the UK simply to reverse its decision to leave the EU, they see Brussels making the process of leaving as difficult as possible, with EU intransigence on a range of issues effectively leaving the UK as supplicant in the exit negotiations.

This cannot go on. And if the British Prime Minister tonight accepts a series of conditions on a lengthy Article 50 extension the EU wants to impose on the UK, it would not only be a further embarrassment and humiliation for Theresa May personally, but also for us as a nation collectively.

The Prime Minister has now said on a number of occasions that we can’t leave without a deal because MPs have indicated they don’t want a no-deal Brexit. But MPs have also repeatedly rejected the Withdrawal Agreement that she and Olly Robbins have negotiated, yet she continues to insist that it remains the only way forward. MPs have also rejected the idea of another referendum, a UK-EU customs union and a whole range of other options. 

The EU has pleaded to know what MPs would actually support and of course there is one thing that the House of Commons did vote for: they backed the Brady Amendment which supported the Withdrawal Agreement subject to the hated backstop being replaced with alternative arrangements. But did the EU take this on board and make alternative proposals along those lines? No. Non. Nein. The EU has intransigently failed to budge a centimetre (or, should I say, an inch).

The default position in law as of today is that we leave the European Union without a deal on Friday night. Support for doing so is growing by the day among the public.

The only reason I reluctantly came to the view that MPs should let the Withdrawal Agreement pass at the third time of asking was because of my very real fear that the Remain-dominated House of Commons would somehow prevent a no-deal Brexit if May’s deal were not passed.

Yet over the last few days, when the House of Commons did seize control of the parliamentary agenda, all MPs could do was pass Yvette Cooper’s Bill to mandate the Prime Minister to seek an Article 50 extension. Despite claims to the contrary from those who ought to know better (I’m looking at you, Sir Keir), the Cooper Bill does not prevent No Deal and changes very little, as Martin Howe QC explains in the Telegraph today.

The Bill merely mandates May to ask for an extension, which she will do; it does not say she has to accept whatever counter-offer the EU may make, especially if it is a far longer extension with numerous strings attached.

I therefore believe it is time for our Prime Minister to tell Brussels that enough is enough. The Government has spent around £4.2 billion planning for a no-deal scenario precisely because, as Theresa May repeatedly reminded us, no deal is better than a bad deal. And what’s on offer from the EU is a bad deal. As Dover MP and Remain-backer in 2016 Charlie Elphicke writes for BrexitCentral today, we are prepared for a no-deal Brexit on Friday and while there would doubtless be some bumps in the road, they are not insurmountable. And if you don’t want to take his word for it, then it is worth re-reading the recent Telegraph article from Chris Heaton-Harris who was the Brexit minister responsible for no-deal planning until his resignation last week.  

We are told that the Prime Minister’s opposition to No Deal hinges on her fear that it could destroy the Union of the United Kingdom through the consequences of a hard border being imposed between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. But a hard border is simply not going to happen, as has now been declared on numerous occasions both by the Irish Government and those in Brussels.

As I said above, the public appetite for No Deal is growing by the day. And if tonight Theresa May embraced No Deal by refusing whatever offer with strict conditions that the EU makes her, she could at a stroke restore her reputation as a politician willing to stand up for the UK and take tough decisions (rather than kicking cans down the road), by standing up to those in Brussels who evidently don’t have the UK’s best interests at heart.

And I know the interests of the Conservative Party don’t concern all BrexitCentral readers. But with Tory ratings in freefall and a punitive backlash beckoning at the ballot box at local and European elections if Brexit has not been delivered, she could prevent her party falling into a potentially fatal abyss by making a bold move tonight.

Will she do it? All the evidence based on past form is that she will not. But we can hope. Go on, Theresa. Surprise us; confound your critics. Show some steel in Brussels tonight, resolve to stop being a supplicant at the European negotiating table, draw a line under this painful process and explain that we’ll make a clean break from the EU on Friday. The UK will have properly regained its independence – and you might just save your party in the process.

The post Go on, Theresa, surprise us: Stand up to Brussels tonight and embrace a clean break on Friday appeared first on BrexitCentral.

There is no doubt that Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement is a terrible deal. It gives the EU pretty much all they could have ever hoped for, and achieves absolutely nothing for the UK. That was cruelly illustrated by the Prime Minister’s doomed attempt to sell the deal directly to the electorate in December. Claiming that she had “negotiated” all sorts of things that we would have got simply by doing nothing for two years was sadly typical of our bumbling Prime Minister.

So yes, the Withdrawal Agreement is truly awful. But it looks increasingly as if it is all Brexiteers will get. So is it worse than Remaining, as some claim? No, it is not. There is hope, and we should carefully consider whether we accept the tiny sliver of Brexit being offered. That is not to say that if May’s deal passes, achieving a proper Brexit will be easy. The backstop looms over any negotiation, and there are many other obstacles. But it is still possible, and the backstop might just be the reason why.

Let’s start with the (very) limited good news. If May’s deal passes, we will legally have left the EU. That seems a small thing, but it is not. Leaving will kill off both the second referendum and revoke Article 50 campaigns. From 30th June, if we have left by then, the attitude amongst the general public will range from apathetic to ‘couldn’t care less’. The UK will breathe a huge sigh of relief and hope they never have to think about the EU again.

Those Remainers who want to fight on will have to rename themselves and become Rejoiners. And rejoining is a much harder task than remaining. The status quo is always powerful and the status quo will be out. Describing how wonderful it will be to hand over £9 billion (or more) each year to have more expensive food and to pay for a pointless parliament will not be easy. Nor will making the case for freedom of movement. And Rejoiners will have to set out where the EU will go. That means facing up to the claims about a federal Europe, the euro, an EU army and all of the other things that are deeply unpopular amongst the electorate.

As important, the EU is likely to be mired in its own problems for the next few years. The Eurozone economy is looking very fragile, populist parties are on the rise across the continent and the hole caused by the loss of the UK’s net contribution will need to be filled. The EU is unlikely to look a very attractive place to be part of, however hard Rejoiners try.

There will be therefore a breathing space for Leave MPs and supporters to regroup and recharge. Leavers have spent so much time and energy fighting on all fronts against all sorts of lies, disinformation, politically-motivated legal challenges and all the rest that there has been no time for the real arguments. Accepting May’s deal offers a chance to go back to the whole point of Brexit, rather than – at best – another year of the same old chaos.

Once the dust settles, it should then become apparent that the deal with the EU is largely something everyone in the UK can agree on: sensible rights for EU and UK citizens, ease of travel and flights, but the UK determining its own immigration policy, co-operation on security, crime, defence and terrorism. Most of us will want the UK to retain control over our fish and we will not want to pay over billions each year without some clear, defined benefit. Whether all of that can be achieved obviously depends on the EU, but also on how we negotiate.

That leaves the one area that will be contentious: the trade relationship. For most Leavers, (and many soft Remainers) the obvious stating point is to make an offer to the EU of a full and comprehensive free trade deal – Canada++ say, or something similar. That will put both the EU and those MPs who still demand a customs union in a difficult position. To say that it is not enough will be unconvincing: the differences between a proper FTA and a customs union are relatively small, and, crucially, smaller than between WTO terms and a customs union. More importantly, MPs and others will be able to approach the debate more sensibly. This will no longer be about Remain versus Leave, but about the benefits and costs of the different ways of trading with Europe.

Claims of economic disaster from going the FTA route will simply not be credible and the dense fog of Common Market 2.0, EFTA, Norway Plus and all the other options floated will have lifted. A clear choice can be presented: a deep and comprehensive FTA with no rule taking and our own trade policy or a customs union with rule-taking and no independent trade policy.

To back up that argument, the UK could show progress in negotiating FTAs with other countries. Conservative MPs, even those who today are fervent believers in a customs union, will struggle to turn down a coherent and liberal free trade policy and continue to claim that the customs union is vital to our prosperity.

Of course, this all presumes that the backstop does not drive the negotiations straight to a customs union. But that depends crucially on how the UK chooses to negotiate. We need to ditch our usual tactic of clichéd and pointless red lines. All that happens is that these get negotiated to within a whisker of being breached. Instead we must set a small number of clear goals that must be achieved. That makes the negotiation offensive rather than defensive.

Setting the two fundamental goals is crucial to the negotiating strategy: first, a comprehensive free trade agreement and second a non-trade based solution to the hard border issue. Crucially, these two objectives must be kept completely separate.

There is no doubt that will be very difficult. The EU – rightly – fears the UK becoming highly competitive outside its control. It will try and negotiate the two as a single issue to keep the UK in a customs union. But how could it refuse to negotiate an FTA with the world’s fifth biggest economy? Only by saying it doesn’t solve the border issue. That is why the border and the trade relationship must be considered separately from the outset. Have two teams, have two reporting lines, keep saying that trade and the border are different issues and, most importantly, that the two can conclude independently, at different times. In other words, the UK will sign an FTA even if it means going into the backstop for a while and putting the FTA on the shelf. Once we are out of the backstop, the FTA comes into force. Again, how could the EU refuse that approach?

This approach has numerous other benefits. It allows the trade deal to have a typical exit clause. It allows the UK to negotiate FTAs with other countries, knowing that we will have no restrictions once we solve the border problem. At the same time we can set out our tariff schedule and how we will help developing nations to trade with us. We can start to think about deregulation and tax and investment incentives, ready to implement what we want as soon as we can.

Pushing the EU on both fronts separately makes sure it uses “reasonable endeavours” on both issues. It also ensures that the EU has to properly consider every option for the border rather than relying on the customs union as the solution. So how would the EU react? If it cannot refuse to negotiate an FTA with us, would it simply dump us in the backstop and forget about us? That will be hard to do.

The EU says the backstop is not meant to be used and can be avoided. The EU may say that because it views it as a nuclear weapon, the ultimate deterrent. But if it does, it has miscalculated, because nuclear weapons are not deterrents in anything but massive, global conflicts. The backstop is simply too dreadful to be used except in absolutely exceptional circumstances. Mervyn King pointed this out, predicting that the terms are so bad the UK would eventually be forced to abrogate the treaty.

Nobody in the UK will demand that we enter – let alone stay in – the backstop, provided we can show that we have a reasonable answer to the hard border issue. Whereas now saying we have no solution to the hard border can be used by Remainers as a stick to try and keep us in the EU, once we have left it would be a stick to force us into or keep us in the backstop. Who is going to make that argument, even if they see it as part of a long-term plan to get us to rejoin the EU?

There has already been movement on the Irish border problem as the EU worries about No Deal. Over the next two years, there will inevitably be further progress because the technology that could be used there is beneficial everywhere. The EU could not implement or allow technological solutions at other borders and deny they could be used in Ireland. Hopefully Ireland will come to its senses once we have left, and drop its inflammatory rhetoric. It can then make a rational choice between forcing the UK into an unnecessary and hated backstop or accepting an FTA and technological solutions. It is difficult to see Ireland’s advantage in pursuing the former course once we have left.

Crucially, saying we will sign an FTA without agreement on the border dares the EU to drop the bomb. And that will give it pause because the nuclear option is the EU’s only weapon. Would the other EU members see it as appropriate and proportionate when there is an FTA waiting to be used? I suspect not, because it sets a terrible precedent for them too.

And this is the other aspect of the deterrent Leavers and the EU have not properly considered. We can call the bluff because otherwise the UK might as well not bother turning up to the negotiations at all. We might as well just wait for the EU to send us the deal and sign it. Leavers are right to point this out but we are being too defeatist to say we can do nothing to stop it. We can. All we need to believe is that there will be solutions to the hard border issue, and that if we hold our nerve, the EU will have to admit that. Is the Withdrawal Agreement something the UK should agree? No, absolutely not. Is there a chance to make it into something acceptable? Yes, if we are smart.

The post How to turn the Withdrawal Agreement into Brexit appeared first on BrexitCentral.

If all goes well from my point of view, the United Kingdom will perhaps at some point soon leave the European Union, 46 years after it joined the institution – which was of course then known as the European Economic Community back in 1973. Having been happily re-adopted by the Lincoln constituency Conservatives recently as their Prospective Parliamentary Candidate, I was hoping for a run of good luck…

Whatever your view, it will be a momentous moment in our country’s political history, which will no doubt change the way the UK interacts with the rest of the world and the way others see us.  That can be a positive thing.

Some EU leaders have now made it excruciatingly clear (late in the day) that they do not want ‘no deal’, recognising to the outside world, what we all already knew, that it will negatively impact on their own countries. So it is now clear that they have never wanted it – which makes it so irreconcilable that some individual Remainers in senior political positions in the UK insisted on taking ‘no deal’ off the negotiating table and hugely reducing our bargaining position. One doubts they have the self-awareness to realise they have demonstrated to the public they aren’t good enough in the roles they currently hold.

The Prime Minister was maybe right in her address from Downing Street at the end of last month to finally bite back at the negative MPs who have been happily denigrating her personally, as well as her Government and the negotiations she and her colleagues have conducted. Maybe it could have been phrased and delivered in a better way, but considering the many MPs from all sides – aided and abetted by ‘players’ like the former Prime Minister Tony Blair continuing to undermine our Government and our country and the negotiation meetings, at every turn – one could see that eventually a day of reckoning was on the cards. These naysayer Remainers and their ilk, particularly Blair, were continuing to undermine the process by spinning that the UK would have another referendum at some point and would reverse its decision. Spoiler alert: that isn’t going to happen.

Our country, some say, is teetering on the edge of a political crater of an EU volcano that may blow at any point. Some would point out that the EU is in the same quandary, and continually moving the goalposts as the EU is trying to do only makes the situation worse. Another example of the EU duplicity is demonstrated by DUP leader Arlene Foster who has referenced that the Irish Government is behaving childishly and aggressively in raising the border issue in the way they have. That’s as may be. The recent claims that actually there is a way for an invisible border to be maintained is quite the revelation, so why was it such a stumbling block for many months?

It is to the Irish Taoiseach and EU’s shame that their politicking around a non-issue – in their pursuit of a big enough spanner to throw in the ‘works’ of a deal – has been seen to be just that. That is, gaming the process and working outside the negotiations and using this very real but ‘fake’ Ireland issue to try and negate Brexit, or at best to permanently delay it. In doing so, they would be keeping the UK leashed at the very least as a supplicant in relation to the other 27 EU states, with no voting rights on all the important issues.

That is not leaving, and for democracy and politics to be fixed in the UK the powers-that-be ought to be aware that the voting public have had enough. They say so on the doorsteps as I and many activists are out knocking on doors and talking to people every weekend. They voted, in a majority, to leave, but whichever way they voted, they expected their will to be implemented.

To not understand that and to wilfully frustrate the original and recent People’s Vote of 2016, backed up by a general election when 85% backed the two main parties whose central policy plank was to implement the Leave result, leads us into a dark place.

Leaving the EU, even with no Withdrawal Agreement, does not mean we leave Europe, or that we will no longer trade with, or holiday in, Europe. It means we can carry on treating our nearest European countries as trading partners, on (friendly) WTO terms until further agreements are reached (yes, the Great British Public are going to love it when they realise that these Brexit negotiations are scheduled to go on for years and years, whatever happens with the Withdrawal Agreement). But whilst all this is happening with Europe, we will as a nation have our sovereign powers back to pass what laws we wish to, control immigration to our economic and social advantage and to reach out and engage in trade deals with the Commonwealth countries and all other countries around the world in the great global economy in which we are a proud and key player.

The post Wilfully frustrating the result of the People’s Vote of 2016 would lead us to a dark place appeared first on BrexitCentral.

In the recent Commons indicative votes on alternative Brexit options, the idea of remaining in the EU’s Customs Union emerged as the most popular future relationship with the EU even though, like every other option, it failed to get a majority. This is of course because it is Labour’s preferred option although Labour, fantastically, supports the idea only if the EU gives the UK a say in determining future EU trade policy (which it won’t).

Labour supporters of the Customs Union rarely say anything much in detail about why they support this option beyond a vague intention to preserve jobs, though what these jobs might be is rarely made clear. In fact, there is little evidence that a customs union would be a good idea for the UK.

The main arguments for a customs union are that it will guarantee tariff- and quota-free access for UK exports to EU markets and that it will avoid UK firms having to bear customs and ‘rules of origin’ costs that they would face in a free trade agreement (the latter involve the costs of ensuring product has enough ‘local’ content to qualify for zero tariffs). On top of this, it is claimed that a customs union solves the problem of the Irish border.

In our view, the purely economic arguments in favour of UK customs union membership with the EU are weak:

  1. There is not much evidence that a customs union would be more beneficial for UK-EU trade than a standard free trade agreement (FTA). A large-scale academic study from 2006 finds no evidence that customs unions outperform FTAs, while a more recent study even suggests the EU customs union has a smaller trade creating effect than FTAs such as NAFTA (which covers North America).
  2. Rules of origin costs are often hugely overstated. Claims that rules of origin costs for UK businesses in case of a UK-EU FTA could be as high as 7-8% of trade values are far too high. A careful study by the WTO suggests such costs are less than 1% of trade values, and often negligible.
  3. Costs of customs processing are also massively exaggerated. Claims by HMRC last year that customs costs could total 1% of UK GDP or 6% of trade values are anything from five to twenty times too high; they are based on dubious calculations and are totally at odds with on-the-ground industry experience.
  4. A ‘new’ UK-EU customs union would not even remove customs-related costs. Formal customs checks within the EU customs union only ended in the early 1990s due to the Single Market Programme, and still exist in Turkey’s customs union with the EU. Moreover, the documentary requirements associated with trading in a customs union can actually be greater than for trading on WTO rules!
  5. The UK’s foreign trade structure is not suited to a customs union. Customs union arrangements have some logic where one economy does a very large share of its trade with another. But the EU now represents only around 45% of UK goods exports and this share has been dropping rapidly. Twenty years from now it is likely that the EU will take only around a third of UK goods exports.
  6. The UK would remain locked into the EU’s highly protectionist agricultural trade system. High EU tariffs on agricultural products represent a heavy ‘tax’ on UK consumers. UK consumers are denied the choice of cheap food from outside the EU and pushed towards consuming expensive products from within it. This cost is high at 0.5-1% of GDP.

Moreover, the strategic/political arguments in favour of a customs union are even less compelling:

  1. Entering a customs union would make meaningful trade deals with other economies impossible. There could be deals on trade facilitation or deals on services but their scope would be very limited. Why would India or the US be interested in a deal on services (potentially benefitting the UK) when the UK had nothing to offer on the goods side?
  2. The EU would be able to ‘sell’ access to UK markets with no reciprocal benefits for the UK. Britain would be in the same boat as Turkey: when the EU does trade deals with third parties, these countries gain tariff-free access to Turkish markets but Turkish exporters do not gain automatic reciprocal access to these third countries.
  3. Britain would have no voice at future WTO discussions about global tariffs. It would simply have to accept whatever the EU agreed.
  4. The EU would be able to damage UK business using anti-dumping actions. Under a new UK-EU customs union the EU would be in charge of the UK’s ‘trade defence’ measures such as ‘anti-dumping’ actions. The EU could force the UK to impose steep tariffs on goods from third countries, hurting UK businesses and consumers. Worse still, the EU might insist on being able to impose anti-dumping duties on the UK as well – as is the case with Turkey.
  5. A customs union would not simply cover tariffs and quotas. The EU would also require the UK to follow EU rules in a broad swathe of policy areas including competition policy, environmental policy and social and labour standards – without any say. This would not only be a huge loss of UK sovereignty but also dramatically narrow the UK government’s freedom of action in key economic policy areas.
  6. A customs union does not solve the Irish border ‘problem’. Customs checks only represent a small element of potential border checks at EU borders today. A bigger issue is product conformity and other single market rules. This is another reason why any customs union would require either effective UK single market membership or border checks between Britain and Northern Ireland and/or Britain and the rest of the EU.

In summary, a customs union arrangement whereby the UK contracted out huge areas of trade and economic policy-making to the EU would be totally unsuitable for an economy like Britain’s.

Customs union arrangements may work well for small economies that do an overwhelming share of their trade with a large neighbour. But the UK is the world’s fifth largest economy, with a diverse pattern of foreign trade and with business and consumer interests that will often diverge from those of the EU.

It is no accident that Canada and Mexico are not interested in joining a customs union with the US, despite their strong trade orientation towards the US. They know that the loss of economic independence involved would be far too great to justify a modest reduction in border frictions. The calculation should be the same for the UK.

Supporters of a customs union have suggested the UK could somehow retain some influence over decision making in such a new UK-EU arrangement. But this looks like a fantasy. It would be legally and politically difficult for the EU to grant any significant decision-making power to the UK. The best the UK could hope for would be some kind of observer status. But the arrangement would remain a thoroughly one-sided one where the UK would have no power either to veto potentially damaging agreements or to push for deals that benefited it.

Entering a new customs union with the EU would be a backward-looking step for the UK, with a massive loss of policy independence and flexibility while leaving businesses and consumers at risk of having damaging decisions imposed on them with no say in how those decisions were taken. It would also give the UK minimal additional policy freedom in the trade and economic policy area. Overall, it is hard to imagine a more sub-optimal policy.

The post A dozen reasons why a UK-EU Customs Union remains a terrible idea appeared first on BrexitCentral.

The theme for Westminster this week has been a political trap. Remainer MPs seem to have finally ensnared the Prime Minister with the advent of ‘Indicative Votes’. Consequently, Mrs May seems to have trapped at least some of her eurosceptic rebels with the threat that the only alternative to her deal is no Brexit.

For Brussels and Dublin, however, as the DUP’s Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson has argued, it is like cats let out of bags over the Irish backstop.

The Irish border quickly became the thorn in the side of the Brexit negotiations. The backstop was designed by the EU, Ireland and – to its shame – the UK Government, in order to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland in the event no agreement is reached between the UK and the EU.

The backstop has now become the major problem with May’s Withdrawal Agreement. It is by no means the only problem with the AgreementGet Britain Out has documented at least 15 major failings here, and Britain would be preposterously shackled to EU institutions indefinitely unless a UK Government was prepared to conscience the unconscionable by allowing Northern Ireland to end up under EU jurisdiction.

Brexiteers have been consistent in upbraiding the outlandishness of the backstop because it blackmails the UK into remaining within the EU or risks the annexation of its territory. What’s more, it is wholly unnecessary. Firstly, the hard border was a phantom created to scare the UK. Both the UK and Irish governments have made it clear they would not erect a hard border which could therefore only come into effect if it were imposed and erected by the European Union.

Secondly, if the problem was willed by the EU, so too was the denial of its solution. Political will and goodwill are very different things. Both the EU’s Chief Brexit Negotiator, Michel Barnier, and Leo Varadkar, the Irish Taoiseach, have continually refused to consider intuitive technical solutions involving customs checks away from the border in the event of No Deal. These would ensure smooth cross-border trade as they do increasingly across the world.

Indeed, as recently as February, the suggestion technology would obviate a hard border, rendering the backstop unnecessary, was frustrating the Taoiseach. It has been fascinating to observe, then, how earlier this week this has become the position of both the Irish Government and the EU in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The EU has announced it is “working very closely with Irish authorities to try and perform controls away from border”. Varadkar is confident a special arrangement can keep the border in Ireland invisible in a no-deal scenario. He is right to be confident. He and the EU were wrong to deny the undeniable for so long.

With the political and moral EU-Irish justification of the backstop crumbling, the bad faith with which the EU has been conducting the negotiations is now abundantly clear. Yet the Withdrawal Agreement still stands, proof of the con played by the EU and Ireland to keep Britain as closely tied to the EU under highly restrictive terms.

It is one thing for the EU and Ireland to have made their bad faith and the unnecessary, draconian nature of their agreement so clear. It is quite another for the UK Government to have let this happen in the first place, and to have put itself in a position where it is both unprepared and unable to stand up for itself, tear up the Agreement, leave without one and negotiate a new trade deal from a position of strength.

This, and not May’s Deal, is the only realistic course left open for our withdrawal from the European Union and to save Brexit.

With this in mind, the DUP are right to refuse to be threatened by the Prime Minister into backing her deal. However, they must put the emphasis on the acceptance of a WTO No Deal on 12th April, rather than a long extension which Sammy Wilson is now suggesting. A long extension to the Withdrawal Agreement would give far too much time for the majority of Remainer MPs in Parliament to continue to agitate for a revocation of Article 50 or a second referendum.

Eurosceptics in the European Research Group – blackmailed by Mrs May’s threat of ‘my deal or no Brexit’ – may well vote for May’s Deal as the ‘least worst’ option. They must reconsider just how bad May’s Deal really is. 

To examine perhaps the important issue of our defence after Brexit (as Veterans for Britain have briefed here this week), under the wording of the Political Declaration attached to the Withdrawal Agreement, the UK is committed to EU defence architecture to the “full extent possible under EU law”. Therefore it is now drawn to our attention, the UK can either continue to submit itself to full EU defence authority, or we will be forced to remain in the backstop in perpetuity.

As if that false choice was not bad enough, it is the EU which gets to decide whether the UK’s defence commitments match those made in the Political Declaration. With all eyes on the Withdrawal Agreement, it is often forgotten just how problematic the Political Declaration is. This must serve as a timely reminder.

The ‘least worst’ choice is therefore still a very bad choice, which should not be voted for by anyone who wants to Get Britain Out of the European Union and ‘take back control’. The reasons for the backstop con and the subsequent Withdrawal Agreement may well have been illusory, but their dangers are not.

The post The Irish backstop alone provides reason enough to oppose Theresa May’s deal appeared first on BrexitCentral.

As we approach either 12th April or 22nd May 2019, it is worth recalling the chain of events which has led to where we are now.

The 2016 referendum produced a 52% to 48% majority in favour of Leave which the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech in January 2017 proposed should be implemented by the UK leaving the EU’s Single Market and the Customs Union and negotiating a free trade deal along the lines of the CETA negotiations between Canada and the EU.

With over two years to go between January 2017 and March 2019 and a model agreement between the EU and Canada on which to draw, a starting point of 100% alignment and indications from the EU that they thought that this was a viable way forward, the omens for a reasonable outcome being achieved looked relatively promising. The result of the 2017 general election, however, fatally undermined this relatively benign potential outcome.

This election was called by the Prime Minister with the intention of strengthening her majority in the House of Commons, to achieve the best chance of a smooth passage through the House of the necessary legislation to implement her Lancaster House proposals. Unfortunately, from her point of view, the outcome was the opposite to what she planned. The Conservative majority in Parliament disappeared, leaving the Tory Party dependent on DUP votes to provide it with a working majority.

Although all the Labour and Conservative Members of Parliament elected in 2017– over 80% of the total numbers of MPs returned – had stood on manifesto promises that they would implement the referendum result, there was a large majority – between 75% and 80% of MPs elected – who were of a Remain persuasion. They were not prepared to contemplate proposals along the Lancaster House lines. They were determined to keep the UK much more closely involved with the EU. Specifically, they wanted to remain at least partly in both the Single Market and the Customs Union.

It was trying to maintain free movement of goods within the Single Market framework and attempting to stay within the Customs Union, particularly to avoid a border problem between Northern and Southern Ireland, which led to the Withdrawal Agreement which Parliament rejected in January and again early in March. The EU were always uncomfortable with the UK being partial members of the Single Market and the Customs Union for understandable reasons. Maintaining the four freedoms – the movement of goods, services, capital and people – was a prime EU objective.

Understandably, the new UK aspirations were regarded by the EU as a serious threat to their security and integrity. The situation was further muddied by the UK agreeing to discuss citizenship, the Irish border and money before trade. This led to the Government getting desperate by late 2017 to get the trade negotiations going, leading to the UK conceding the Irish backstop arrangements in December 2017 which eventually got into the Withdrawal Agreement. The overall result was an Agreement so unsatisfactory to the UK that when a vote was held on it in January 2019, it was voted down by an unprecedented majority of 230, with a lesser but still large majority of 149 against it in early March 2019.

The problem is that rejection of the Withdrawal Agreement has left the House of Commons with no majority for any of the various possible ways ahead – as we saw confirmed last night – and a very short amount of time to get anything settled. Support for the so-called Norwegian option – with the UK in the EEA and EFTA – seems to have melted away. No majority in Parliament exists for a second referendum, which has recently been voted down by a majority of 249. A large majority exists for avoiding “No Deal”, but this eventuality can only be stopped if there is some concrete alternative in place, and it is far from clear what this might be.

It is obviously far from an ideal outcome for the UK to be drifting towards “No Deal” – the default outcome if nothing else is agreed before 12th April 2019 – with far too little preparation for it having been arranged and with no longer-term plans for this type of outcome as a favoured option having been made. Much then turns on a realistic assessment as to how disruptive and difficult “No Deal” would be.

Among some people – including evidently a substantial number of MPs – there appears to be an assumption that “No Deal” would be so damaging that it is not worth even trying to make a detailed assessment as to how difficult the situation might be and whether “No Deal” might be better as an outcome than the Withdrawal Agreement. There is little doubt that there would be disruption at least for a while, with some sectors of the economy much more adversely affected than others. Overall, however, especially if mitigated by a significant number of mini-deals on such key issues as flows of traffic at Dover and Calais, aircraft rights of movement, supplies of medicines etc, it seems likely that the challenges to the economy would be manageable.

There are also a number of significant upsides to “No Deal”. We would not be committed to paying the EU £39bn with no clarity as to what we would receive in return. The Irish border problem would have to be resolved by allowing trade to take place electronically for large companies and with exemptions for small ones, assuming that no-one wants a physical border. There would be no restrictions on the UK negotiating free trade deals. The huge trade deficit we have with the EU should put us in a reasonably strong position to negotiate a free trade deal with the EU on satisfactory terms. At the moment, however, Parliament has voted by a large majority against “No Deal” as an option that it is prepared to accept, although it remains the default outcome if nothing else is agreed. Whether it was wise to relinquish at this stage such a vital negotiating card with the EU remains to be seen.

If there is not going to be a “No Deal” exit from the EU by the UK on 12th April 2019, a further extension of Article 50 now seems inevitable. Unlike repealing Article 50, which could be done unilaterally by the UK, extensions require the unanimous assent of all 27 EU Member States and the European Parliament, whose last sitting date before its forthcoming elections is 18th April 2019. If there is any kind of deal agreed before 12th April 2019, a short extension would be necessary to provide time for passing the necessary legislation to make the deal effective. If the Withdrawal Agreement is not agreed, however, the EU is likely to insist on a much longer extension, possibly for as long as two years or more. They are also likely to try to make any such a delay conditional on the UK either holding a general election or a second referendum, although it is difficult to see how Parliament could be bound to follow through on any such undertakings if it was minded not to do so. During this period, the UK would remain in the EU and we would very probably be obliged to take part in the European Elections taking place in May 2019.

Postponement of any final decision on the UK’s fundamental relationship with the EU for a period of years would deal with the immediate problems faced by companies trading between the UK and the EU. It would maintain the status quo on the wide range of arrangements we have in place with our European neighbours, but it would also have heavy downsides.

It would inevitably prolong the uncertainty hanging over our relationships with the EU. A further long period of potentially acrimonious negotiations would be in prospect, providing a continuing major distraction from other pressing priorities. It is not clear that a general election would produce a parliament any less split than the one we have already, and therefore in a better position to negotiate a deal more generally acceptable than the one enshrined in the Withdrawal Agreement.

Another referendum would also be fraught with all the problems which caused it to be voted down as a way ahead in March 2019. Apart from concerns about its democratic legitimacy, it looks like being foisted on a government which would not want a referendum, with all the difficulties that this would entail in terms of getting the necessary primary legislation onto the statute book. There are also obvious problems around delay, uncertainty, cost, what the choices to be put to the electorate would be, let alone the impact on the country which a highly contentious referendum would entail – and with no certainty about what the result might be.

Faced with all these difficulties, what should the country – and particularly the Labour Party do? There are essentially four options ahead of us, whatever processes and procedures we may have to go through to get there. We either:

  • accept the Withdrawal Agreement or some close variant to it
  • rescind Article 50 and remain in the EU
  • leave the EU without an agreed way ahead
  • accept a much longer extension to provide time for a new approach

The vast majority of Labour MPs would undoubtedly like to see the second of these options as the eventual outcome. So would most Labour Party members. Traditional Labour voters, however, would be much more evenly split and a lot of these people live in marginal seats in Wales, the Midlands and the North.

Few Labour MPs, party members or voters are happy with the Withdrawal Agreement. While the electorate as a whole now seems much more inclined to go for “No Deal” than they did before, this is not an outcome favoured by either the Labour Party leadership or by the majority of Labour MPs.

What do Labour sceptics grouped round Labour Leave think should be done? We think that accepting the Withdrawal Agreement is an even worse option than staying in the EU and that there is less to fear from “No Deal” than most people in Parliament seem to think. At the very least, therefore, we think that “No Deal” is an option which should be kept in play. We still believe, however, as we always have done, that as comprehensive as possible a Canada+++-style free-trade deal between the UK and the EU, with the UK out of the Single Market and the Customs Union and the Common Agricultural and Common Fisheries Policies, would be the best outcome. This is why we think that extending Article 50 to give us time to negotiate a comprehensive free-trade deal is now the best long-term way ahead, providing both Leavers and Remainers enough of what they want to lead to an acceptable and permanent settlement.

The post Keep No Deal in play, but a Canada-style trade deal with the EU remains the best option appeared first on BrexitCentral.

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