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.
The post The backstop remains the reason for the parliamentary Brexit impasse and must be addressed appeared first on BrexitCentral.
Sentiment about a Brexit deal fluctuates wildly almost by the hour. Whatever the current state of speculation, we surely have to prepare ourselves for what happens if Chequers falls over.
I know this is anathema to many Brexiteers. But my personal view is that while No Deal would likely be fine in the long run, in the short term it would be an embarrassing economic fiasco. The consumer story from hell. It would be to Brexit what Gerald Ratner was to cut-price jewellery.
Instead of going down that risky route, I want to ask BrexitCentral readers to consider falling back on the UK’s membership of the European Economic Area. This is the so-called “Norway then Canada” or “Norway for Now” strategy advocated by myself, Nick Boles MP and others.
Please hear me out. It is quite possible that neither Chequers, nor “No Deal” nor trading on World Trade Organisation terms, nor a second referendum will pass in Parliament. In which case, the European Economic Area will be the only thing left on the table. Should we not seize it?
Far from reducing Britain to a “fax democracy”, where we have to pay huge sums into the EU and yet have no say over the rules and regulations passed in Brussels, the EEA is a commercial treaty between sovereign nations and could be a good resting point, outside the EU, the Common Agricultural Policy, the Common Fisheries Policy and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice – but with useful legal and economic options. We would effectively be members of the Single Market, but with sovereign protections.
George Yarrow, the Oxford professor who is the intellectual godfather of the strategy, also estimates that our payments to the EU – which would be limited to participating in relevant programmes – would fall from around £9.5bn to £1.5bn.
What is more, we are already contracting parties to the EEA. It is not true, as some have asserted, that we are leaving by virtue of having given notice under Article 50 to leave the EU. The EEA is a separate treaty, which we have signed on our own right, and has its own withdrawal arrangements. If we want to make the EEA treaty operative, all we have to do is to apply to the related European Free Trade Association (EFTA). This is the other “governance pillar” to the EEA.
There is not much the EU could do to stop us exercising our treaty rights without falling foul of a higher law, the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. Don’t take my word for it. Take the word of Sir Richard Aikens, a former appeal court judge, on the Briefings for Brexit website. If the EU cut up rough, we could take them to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
As for the infamous Irish backstop, the EEA would put in place the legal structure to make the technical border solution suggested by David Davis work. As we would be members of the Single Market, it would anyway be unnecessary.
On any measure, the EEA is also superior to the proposed transition arrangements. Inside the EEA we would have decision-shaping rights, and also the right to adapt and veto new legislation. We would, anyway, only be in the Single Market which accounts for just 28% of EU legislation.
If, while in the EEA, there was a dispute with the EU, it would be adjudicated by the EFTA Court, on which we would have two out of five judges. Contrary to myth, it is not bound by the ECJ. They do have to develop a homogenous area of law together but frequently the EFTA Court has disagreed with the ECJ.
Nor is it true that we would not be able to control freedom of movement. The EEA Treaty focuses in freedom of movement of workers and includes various measures to impose limits and restrictions, including an emergency break (as used by Liechtenstein). There is no common citizenship and British passports would be back.
Let’s be honest. It isn’t perfect. And it seems to me the biggest risk, which some Brexiteers have already pointed out, is we get stuck. Like Income Tax (introduced temporarily in 1798, it remains with us) the EEA might perpetuate itself. Some have called for a hard legislative commitment to leave before 2021.
However, I would contend that is a glass half empty way of looking at the EEA treaty. The exit mechanism, giving one year’s notice under Article 127, is much more permissive than the Article 50 process. Rather than put a hard stop on our departure date, which creates another cliff edge against UK interests and upsets the Norwegians, we should commit to a review and a break clause to be voted on by Parliament. If it did not work, we could leave to join a Canada-style free trade agreement. And in the meantime it might evolve into a congenial home for us.
The question to which the EEA is the answer is clear. So let me repeat it. What happens if Chequers falls over and the other options are blocked too? It is hard to see any other realistic, legally deliverable alternative. I urge Brexiteers not to rule it out.
The post The ‘Norway for now’ option is far from perfect, but Brexiteers should consider its merits appeared first on BrexitCentral.
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