A few honourable MPs aside, the Labour Party has now dumped its manifesto commitment on Brexit to respect the referendum result. It is now calling for Britain to stay in the EU’s customs union forever – which would effectively mean being locked into the EU forever while having no say at all over how it works.

Say what you like about Theresa May’s negotiating skills, her task would anyway have been nigh on impossible given the continual attempts at sabotage from politicians and others in Britain.

One example: when May went to Brussels last week, she was told by Donald Tusk that Jeremy Corbyn’s proposals for a permanent customs union represented “a promising way out” of the current impasse on Brexit.

Another form of sabotage is the constant exhortations from the establishment calling for the EU to give no ground to the Government.

Brexit is in danger. A clean Brexit is still the default position, leaving on 29th March to trade on WTO terms. Yet despite the defeat in parliament on 29th January of every binding amendment to block or delay Brexit – including Labour’s permanent customs union – Theresa May’s so-called Withdrawal Agreement is still on the table.

Even though MPs voted against it on 24th January, May still wants MPs to vote again on it, once again using No Deal as a threat not as an opportunity.

Her current deal with the EU is not a Withdrawal Agreement – it is a Remainer Agreement, in every clause on every one of its 585 pages. It is No Brexit. It would bind us forever into a United States of Europe.

It is meant to be permanent, inescapable. The Attorney General told the Cabinet that there was no legal escape route from the backstop Protocol and that it would “endure indefinitely”.

Her deal would give the EU tariff-free access to our market and control of our trade policy, force us to fund the EU’s defence programme, give EU fishing vessels free access to our waters, give the EU control of our farms, and allow free movement of labour through clauses about “mobility”.  In sum, it would bind us into the EU in perpetuity.

No surprise, then, that Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, boasted that the EU got “almost everything” it wanted with the deal.

MPs rejected May’s deal – almost the only thing they can agree on – then voted to tell her to go yet again to Brussels with her faithful lieutenant Oliver Robbins, to beg the EU to drop the Irish backstop.

But the EU will not give up the huge advantages they gain under the backstop. As Robbins observed, renegotiating the backstop with the EU is “for the birds”.

We do not need to beg the EU to change its position – that would be fruitless, as all experience from Harold Macmillan 50 years ago to David Cameron has proven. We do not need to beg the EU for a new deal, as Boris Johnson has suggested. We do not need to pay the EU £39 billion for the privilege of leaving, nor even the £20 billion that Johnson proposed.

We can and should just declare our policies on trade, fishing, the Irish border, immigration and everything else. We do not need to ask the EU’s permission. We declare our independence and then, if we wish, we can negotiate with the EU.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The legalities of an Article 50 extension

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What terms will be imposed on an Article 50 extension?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roll on 29th March!

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Ninety per cent of global economic growth will come from outside the EU in the years ahead and the EU now accounts for less than half of the UK’s overall trade. So our future trade deal with the EU must allow us to strike out and form fruitful relationships with these emerging powerhouses of the global economy.

Nevertheless, we have a strong established trading relationship with Europe and it makes sense for both sides for it to continue in as seamless a manner as possible. Our partners in Europe are our closest trading partners and we need to build a solid foundation for future trade and prosperity for the benefit of all UK and EU citizens.

Today, we are getting a glimpse of what the future economic partnership with the EU could look like. International trade policy experts, led by Shanker Singham, have drafted a proposed Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the UK and the EU. It promises to be the most advanced and liberalising FTA ever developed – and the first serious attempt to put the detailed future economic relationship between the EU and UK on paper.

The Withdrawal Agreement is just the first part of the Brexit negotiations. Once we leave the EU on 29th March, trade talks begin. So it’s important we start to show the public what a comprehensive, advanced FTA looks like – and what its benefits are.

As a businessman, I can only full engage with something when I can see what it is. The publication of a draft FTA today gives me, and every other business person, the opportunity to examine how it would impact on their business – and what changes, if anything, they’d like to see. This is a conversation that starts today.

We’re all so used to being within the EU’s Customs Union and Single Market arrangements that we’ve forgotten what having an independent trade and regulatory policy might look like in practice.

I often hear people bemoaning the fact that trade deals can take years to negotiate, but we’ve got to remember that the parties to this particular trade deal are in a unique position: the UK and EU start with zero tariffs and no quantitative restrictions, which eliminates the most contentious and time-consuming aspects of trade agreements.

Importantly, this FTA builds on the EU’s original offer of a comprehensive FTA with the entirety of the United Kingdom. It reduces trade and regulatory barriers, including behind the border barriers, minimises disruption to businesses and consumers across Europe and the UK and, just as importantly, preserves the UK’s ability to strike trade deals around the world and to make changes to domestic regulation.

It will allow us to negotiate a UK-US FTA, to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a new international trade grouping of 11 countries, including the major economies of Japan and Canada.

This FTA is based in large part on agreements the EU has already concluded with third countries including, for example, CETA (between Canada and the EU); the Japan-EU Trade Agreement; the EU-New Zealand Meat Products Agreement; and the US-EU Insurance Covered Agreement – as well as EU commitments in the WTO, OECD and other international organisations.

The Free Trade Agreement between the UK and the EU promises to be the most comprehensive in scope and depth ever developed, making it a firm foundation for the future economic relationship with our nearest neighbours. My hope is that business engages positively in this important debate about our future prosperity.

The post The UK-EU free trade agreement could be the most advanced and liberalising such deal ever appeared first on BrexitCentral.

I read the news with increasing incredulity. After Michel Barnier’s spokesman told us that in the event of no deal there would have to be a hard border (How? 275 manned border posts? Expecting people to accept the blocking off of all but a few crossing points?), Barnier himself was forced to admit: “We will have to find an operational way of carrying out checks and controls without putting back in place a border”.

Later, speaking at an event in Brussels, Barnier’s deputy, Sabine Weyand, said that other options for the Irish border had been extensively discussed, the EU side were agreed that a time-limit to the Irish backstop defeated the purpose of having one and that “there is a very high risk of a crash-out, not by design, but by accident…”

So Barnier and Weyland have acknowledged that the EU’s insistence on including in the Withdrawal Agreement a temporary backstop – that will only be lifted by entering into a permanent trade agreement on the same terms because soft border controls will never be acceptable – will have the consequence that the Agreement will be rejected, leading to soft border controls being applied immediately.

The only possible explanation for such blatant perversion of logic is that the EU (Germany, France, the European Commission) are not interested in pragmatism, fairness or negotiation to mutual advantage but only in the exercise of power (‘winning’) – whether it be over the UK or over its own member states such as Greece, Hungary and Italy – regardless of the adverse consequences to their populace.

Weyand has kindly explained her justification for insisting on the temporary backstop (and presumably similar terms of any trade deal that will supersede it):
“We looked at every border on this earth, and every border the EU has with a third country – there’s simply no way you can do away with checks and controls,” she said (referring presumably to a hard border since checks and controls of some kind are, of course, essential).

This, then, is the EU’s irrefutable justification for saying that soft border controls are impossible: anything that has not been done before is, by definition, impossible. It is precisely this stifling, rigid, rule-driven madness and resistance to innovation that we must escape in order to be able to prosper on the world stage.

Meanwhile, we have to listen to the ludicrous predictions of Armageddon that will arise from “no deal” (i.e. leaving without the Withdrawal Agreement and transition period) Most famously recently we’ve had the Border Force’s prediction of an 87% fall in throughput through Calais (which even the Border Force described as the ‘reasonable worst case’). It’s impossible for us to know how they have arrived at that bizarre conclusion because no-one has seen their report. The story emanates from Sky News which stated that they hadn’t seen any leaked Border Force report but only “a slide from an internal government presentation marked ‘Official-Sensitive’ and titled ‘Freight Traffic Contingency Assumptions’” which purported to be “a recent internal assessment much of which was omitted from public no-deal documentation”.

It is upon that prediction, of an 87% fall in throughput through Calais, that the chief executives of Sainsbury’s, Asda, M&S, Co-Op, Lidl, McDonald’s, KFC and others have based their dire warnings of severe food shortages and higher prices; and now we have Imperial College predicting an additional 12,000 deaths in Britain caused by increases in the cost of fruit and vegetables leading to people being unable to afford to eat enough of them. Quite why the costs of such foods should increase so substantially when we move outside the trade barrier wall erected to protect French farmers isn’t mentioned, let alone explained.

UK food exports to the EU will be damaged by the imposition of the Common External Tariff that the EU imposes on all third counties. Reuters reports that France is hiring an additional 700 customs staff to be ready to deal with imports from the UK in event of a no-deal Brexit because “merchandise coming from Britain could face up to four separate customs procedures under a post-Brexit regime against only one currently. That could translate into an extra two minutes per truck going through border controls, which could potentially lead to long queues gridlock in ports,” according to French minister Gerald Darmanin. However, it’s puzzling to me as to why extra procedures will be required since all EU regulations are to be incorporated into UK law on exit, so nothing will have changed in terms of standards when we leave. And any departures from those standards (probably not imminent) will not be clandestine but by well publicised statute or statutory instrument.

Whether or not UK food exports will be hit by extra customs controls as well as tariffs, there’s an apparently obvious solution in that, if there’s a reduction in the flow of food from EU farmers supported by our CAP contributions, there’ll be more space on our shelves for us to buy and consume home produce. True, that will not be sufficient to help us as consumers because, as the British Retail Consortium tells us, “in March, the situation becomes more acute as UK produce is out of season [so] at that time of year, 90% of lettuces, 80% of tomatoes and 70% of soft fruit sold in the UK is grown in the EU”.

Of course, the potential starvation and deaths to which the food retailers and Imperial College refer relates not to the processing by Calais of imports into the EU from the UK, as discussed above, but to the processing through Calais of EU food exports to the UK and I’m puzzled as to why French customs are interested in produce leaving France and what they might need to do differently post-Brexit. In any event, it would be very surprising indeed if the EU didn’t do its utmost to ensure the continued smooth delivery of agricultural produce to its biggest customer. Where does all this nonsense come from?

But back to the Irish border, and Sabine Weyand’s description of the EU’s stance – captured on film here – is of great assistance and significance. She makes statements that, on the face of it, don’t seem to be capable of being reconciled.

On the one hand she says [at 11:44] that “there are ways out by alternative arrangements” but then a few seconds later [at 12:00] says, referring to the Brady amendment, that “they don’t exist”.

She says [at 10:15] that “technological solutions are not enough to do away with the border” but [at 12:30] opines that during the transition period they will discuss “what additional facilitative measures will be needed on the Irish border in order to do away with a hard border”.

It seems to me that all Theresa May has to do in her negotiations is to draw attention to that last statement and emphasise that that is all that we are asking for – namely that there is no need for the backstop because it is agreed that the border will be policed by soft border controls using such facilitative measures as are deemed necessary.

The Irish say the backstop is essential because they think that, without it, there will need to be a hard border. But there doesn’t need to be – as Michel Barnier has now admitted.

What are the EU afraid of? Soft border controls are in use now at the Irish border – a combination of administrative cooperation, whistle-blowing, auditing and site raids by customs, tax and regulatory enforcement officials, all supplemented by occasional random spot-checks on roads leading up to and cameras at the border.

The thoroughness of such controls is a matter of degree. No border is fool-proof as only a very small proportion of cross-border consignments is ever physically checked, even at hard borders. By the end of the transition period, the Irish border could be controlled by the system of checks by then developed and, if either party considers that more robust controls are required, the nature and timing of such further improvements could be settled by agreement or arbitration. A no-deal scenario would remove that head start, but the same evolution process would apply.

It is only the nature of the goods and produce crossing that border that can be of relevance. Other aspects of the Free Trade Agreement, such as access to fisheries, have no relevance whatsoever to agreeing appropriate controls on movements across for the Irish border.

Currently the UK is in full alignment with EU standards. Any future divergence will require monitoring. If, say, chlorine-washed chicken is permitted in the UK but not in the EU, that fact will be known to and respected by reputable suppliers. If considered necessary, regular supply chains can be monitored at the origin or destination.

Whether the backstop has been invoked is of no relevance to the ability to combat smuggling. Smuggling can be detected and deterred, as at a hard border, only by intelligence and random checks, methods that are already employed at the Irish border, for example, to inhibit VAT evasion.

Rejection of a legally binding agreement that the border will be policed by soft border controls will demonstrate beyond doubt that Parliament was right to reject Mrs May’s Withdrawal Agreement but, furthermore, that even without the backstop, we cannot proceed with negotiations in a situation where the Irish border question remains open – since it will only be closed by a long-term arrangement that replicates the backstop. The only solution is to close the issue now by presenting the EU with a fait accompli on 29th March.

The EU’s position is so ludicrously irrational that it can have only one of two explanations. The first is that they are unbelievably stupid. The alternative is that they regard it as totally impossible that the UK will leave the EU without a deal (and thus the currently offered deal) – but that is despite saying, publicly, that they now see no deal as becoming an increasing possibility.

Since this makes no sense whatsoever, I am confident that, as David Davis told the Exiting the EU Select Committee back in October 2017:

“It’s no secret that the way the union makes its decision tends to be at the 59th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day and so on, and that is precisely what I would expect to happen… If there is a time limit on a negotiation the union stops the clock, it assumes that it’s still at 11:59 until it is concluded, sometimes over the course of 24, 36, 72 hours thereafter and that’s what I imagine it will be.”

The post The European Commission’s messaging about the Irish border is both illogical and contradictory appeared first on BrexitCentral.

I fear the British people are about to experience the worst betrayal in political history.

I use the word betrayal as I did in my letter (published in last weekend’s Sunday Telegraph) to the Conservative Party Chairman, Brandon Lewis, just after the recent No Confidence vote in the House of Commons. I hope others in the Party will join me in uniting against this heinous act committed against the will of the 17.4 million brave people who voted to Leave in the 2016 referendum.

The British people voted to leave despite “Project Fear” doom-mongers telling us that if we left the European Union the country would be plunged into our darkest economic period since the 1920s. All the so called ‘economic experts’, including the Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, predicted mass unemployment, that the pound would plummet and how we would be outcasts in the wider world. It simply has not happened. May I remind you that these are the same ‘experts’ that predicted all of the same back in 1999 if we didn’t join the euro, which is now failing.

Across the eurozone, we are witnessing fear and discontent amongst the people, the once mighty economy of Germany is struggling, the French people are rising up against Macron’s economic reforms and the further confederation of the EU superstate. The average European citizen is witnessing a decline in the individual economic growth of member states, resulting in the decline of countries such as Italy, Portugal, Spain and Greece.

Who on earth would want to be part of a club in such decline? Immigration across Europe is surging, largely due to the wealthy and permissive societies of Europe becoming more and more attractive to those who seek a better life.

This failing economic and political experiment will undoubtedly bring about the demise of the great European integration master plan.

The ballots had barely been counted for the Brexit vote before the plotters began their plan to reverse the will of the people and attempt, by hook or by crook, to lock us into the failing and corrupt European Union. Shamefully, the architects of this betrayal sit in Parliament itself. Parliamentarians have decided in their infinite wisdom that we, the voters, have made a huge error of judgement and to act in our best interests they must take control of the Brexit process, because they know best.

I made it perfectly clear in my earlier letter that the British people will never forgive the Government for its utter dereliction of its duty if it fails to carry out the will of the people. We are now being told that if parliamentarians don’t get behind the Prime Minister’s plan, which would tie to us the EU forever, we risk the delay of Article 50, a second referendum or worse still “no Brexit”. The British people will not tolerate it.

The time has come to send a very clear message to those parliamentarians and remind them that the referendum result was clear. The will of the people must be implemented in its entirety. Conservative MPs and the Government must stop seeking to deny us the Brexit we voted for and unite behind leaving under WTO rules if the EU refuses to make amendments to the Withdrawal Agreement.

If democracy is to survive in the United Kingdom, our elected officials must stand and deliver.

The Government has just over sixty days to save Brexit and regain the faith of the British people. Failure to do so would consign the Conservative Party to the history books as the public would hold us responsible – and who could blame them?

Back in 2017, when the misguided snap election was called, Tory activists turned out in their droves to campaign for the party. Regrettably, because of the Government’s badly-managed handling of Brexit, in Hornchurch and Upminster the long-standing party faithful are not renewing their membership. Our strong group of activists who would turn up week after week, no matter the weather, for local campaigning no longer bother to turn up. These are the people whose efforts have paved the way for MPs and councillors like me to get elected. Without them, the party is doomed. If the people are betrayed, what is the incentive for local activists to come out and campaign?

I personally would find it extremely difficult to remain a member of a party that was hell bent on reversing the will of the people and if someone like me feels that way, who has dedicated all of my adult life to the party, what hope can we expect from the electorate?

I urge the Prime Minister, the Government and all Conservative MPs to think carefully about the damage the anti-Brexit, anti-democracy stance has had on our Party. The British people did not vote for a deal, they voted to Leave and that must be delivered. Make no mistake – failure to do so will send the party to oblivion.

The post Failure to deliver Brexit would consign the Conservative Party to the history books appeared first on BrexitCentral.

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