Dublin rejects idea of alternative deal for Irish border post Brexit

Ireland’s deputy prime minister insists country is committed to Brexit withdrawal agreement in full.

Ireland Sunday rejected the idea of negotiating a bilateral agreement with the U.K. as an alternative to the so-called backstop mechanism for avoiding a hard border with Northern Ireland after Brexit.

“We remain united [and] focused on protecting Ireland,” Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney wrote on Twitter. “That includes continued support for the EU/UK agreed [Withdrawal Agreement] in full, including the Backstop as negotiated.”

The Sunday Times had reported that British Prime Minister Theresa May was planning to try to strike such a deal with Ireland to avoid border checks without relying on the backstop, which many within her Conservative party reject.

A No. 10 Downing Street official told POLITICO in response to the report that “it is not something we recognize.”

A spokesman for the Irish government told the Financial Times that “Ireland negotiates as part of the group of 27 European nations.”

Annabelle Dickson contributed reporting.


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WATCH: Fox won’t say whether he’d resign over a customs union

The International Trade Secretary says “we seem to be losing our focus” on “deliver[ing] on what the British people voted for”.

Iain Dale: It’s time for Cabinet members of both sexes to show some balls

Plus: People vote for me to shave off my beard. But the decision was only advisory. And did they have enough information…?

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.

Just because you keep chanting the mantra ‘Nothing Has Changed’ doesn’t mean it hasn’t. And after Tuesday’s massive defeat for the Prime Minister’s ‘Meaningful Vote’, it clearly has.

Well, it’s clear to everyone but her. Instead she keeps buggering on, pretending to herself that all is well and that she will eventually get her deal passed. She won’t. It is a dead parrot. It has ceased to be.

Even if she manages to drag the EU into giving her some concessions on the Northern Ireland backstop, I just don’t see how she can persuade 118 of her own party’s MPs to vote in a different way in any Groundhog Day re-vote. The DUP is in no mood to be conciliatory, as Sammy Wilson, the party’s Brexit spokesman, has made abundantly clear. He believes that the Theresa May has betrayed the DUP by crossing her own red lines and, from what he told me in an interview this week, trust has almost completely broken down.

Even worse, when the Prime Minister stood up to say that she would be consulting other parties about the way forward, people naturally assumed that would mean talks with the leaders of those parties. Apparently not. And she won’t be talking to anyone who believes in staying in a form of Customs Union. Okaaaaayyyyy….

– – – – – – – – – –

I haven’t a clue what the Prime Minister will say on Monday when she is obliged to return to the Commons to tell us how she plans to take things forward.

I wonder if her Cabinet even knows. She has apparently decided that it is so leaky that she won’t take its members into her confidence, because the one sure consequence is that the details will be on James Forsyth’s Twitter feed within five minutes of a Cabinet meeting ending.

Now is the time for the Cabinet to assert itself and tell her that she can’t persist with her form of ‘bunker’ government. ‘Trust no one’ might have worked for Mulder and Scully in the X Files, but it’s no way to run Number 10.

– – – – – – – – –

I did have a quiet snigger to myself when both Peter Mandelson and Norman Lamont on my show predicted the rebellion against the Prime Minister would be far smaller than people were predicting. Three minutes later, they were both having to eat their words.

For once in my life, I got the size of the majority against the deal almost bang on. Earlier in the day I had predicted between 180 and 220, but later revised it to above 220. My producer brought me back down to earth by reminding me that a monkey would get a prediction right every once in a while too.

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In any normal political environment, May would now be contemplating a happy retirement. And if there were any obvious alternative to her, maybe that could have happened now, too. But there isn’t.  Boris Johnson is a busted flush, and none of her cabinet ministers have given us any confidence that they would do any better than the current incumbent.

It is remarkable that the Prime Minister is still in post after this defeat, but there is scant talk of the men in grey suits paying her a visit. In the end, it ought to be the Cabinet that tells her that her position is untenable, but you have to own a pair of bollocks (and I’m talking about both sexes here) first.

– – – – – – – –

Bianca Nobilo, one of my CNN colleagues, made a very telling point on Tuesday night. She said that Machiavelli wrote that in order to be a successful politician you have to be either feared or loved.

She was bang on. By whom is Theresa May feared? Apart from her husband, who loves her? I respect her. I even like her – but does she instil fear? Does she inspire love in the same way that Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair did from their tribes?  No. Buggering on is an admirable quality but it may not prove to be enough.

– – – – – – – – –

I’ve spent more hours on College Green this week than is good for any human being. Mind you, LBC did provide a nice electric blanket on my chair for my three hour stints on Tuesday and Wednesday. It was like sitting on a car’s heated seat – always a rather perverted experience in my view. And vastly overrated.

David Davis came on to react to the defeat on Tuesday, and was rather shocked that I had grown a beard. By the time you read this, the beard will have been shaved off. Yesterday, I had to have photos taken for some new LBC publicity pictures. I couldn’t decide whether to shave it off or not although, after someone said I looked like Alan Yentob, I was solely tempted to whack it off immediately.

I then did a Twitter poll. More than 4,000 people voted, and it ended up 51-49 in favour of it being shaved off. I decided to implement the result of this vote – even though it had only ever been an advisory vote. The questions remains, though. Did I have enough information to decide whether to shave it off or not, and were people telling me lies when they said they liked it?

Simon Allison: Parliament is deadlocked. Only the British people can now deliver a final say on May’s deal.

It would be swift, fair and democratic solution to this sorry saga, allowing us to get back to meeting the challenges that helped fuelled the Brexit vote in the first place.

Simon Allison is founding member of Right to Vote, author of Brexit – a Betrayal of Conservatism? and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.

Right to Vote, a new grouping of Conservative MPs and grassroots activists who are calling for the voters to be given a Final Say over the Brexit process, was launched this week. We’ve called it Right to Vote because we think that voting on the final outcome of the EU talks is the right thing for people to do and indeed, something that they should – and must – have a right to do.

There’s no question that people are bored to tears with hearing about Brexit, and sick and tired of politicians on all sides telling them half-truths about it – and in some cases, blatant untruths. To make matters worse, the people paid to solve the country’s problems, our MPs, have managed to get themselves into a state of total gridlock, in many cases just scoring political points while time ticks away on saving our future.

What people actually want is for our MPs to set out a clear way forward for the country. That means telling them the truth, however unpalatable and difficult that may be. In fact, if you look at the times when the Conservative Party has defied the odds to win elections, in 1979, 1992 and 2015, our success has been based on levelling with the people of the United Kingdom.

So: let’s face facts. The Prime Minister’s Brexit deal is dead. She is calling on MPs to unite around a new solution, but there’s no Commons majority for any form of Brexit – not for the Prime Minister’s deal, not for ‘no deal’ and not for a Norway-style arrangement. While many moderate Conservative MPs like the idea of a compromise based around some form of Customs Union or EEA/EFTA solution, they miss the fact that the reasons why the public didn’t swing behind Mrs May’s deal are the same reasons that they wouldn’t back that kind of compromise.

It would still leave us as a rule-taker not a rule-maker, leavs us paying £39 million without any guarantees about the final deal and we’d have to go on bended knee to persuade such global powerhouses as Norway and Liechtenstein to let us in. The whole thing would frankly be a humiliation for a world power like the UK. From a Party perspective, it opens up the prospect of internal war without end around the contents of a final trade deal, almost certainly dominating this Parliament and most probably ensuring a crushing defeat – even to Jeremy Corbyn – in 2022.

Instead, giving people a Final Say is a swift, fair and democratic solution to this sorry saga, allowing us to get back to meeting the challenges that in part fuelled the Brexit vote in the first place.

If you believe some on the Party’s far right, this makes us traitors and saboteurs, unrepresentative of true conservatism; many of the Conservative MPs supporting a Final Say are receiving threats of deselection by their constituency associations. But we must not confuse the anguish of hardened activists with the underlying views of the voters. Indeed, across all the seats that elected Conservative MPs at the last election, new research suggests that an average of 55.8 per cent of voters support a new public vote.

Indeed, if the Conservative Party is going to return to its election-winning positioning as the party of common sense, there are two key facts which it must recognise. First, that the Brexit side of this discussion, after nearly three years, can’t decide what Brexit means, making it somewhat difficult to implement and, second, that as of today Remain leads Leave by 12 per cent in the polls.

Against that background, to deny the electorate a say and, instead, delivering a Brexit that does not command their support would be a betrayal of the United Kingdom and a suicide mission for the Conservative Party. The right path for our country also happens to be right path for our Party.  We, as Conservatives, ought to lead the way in trusting the people with this – not to be forced in to doing so because there is nowhere else to turn.

The Right to Vote campaign has one clear aim: to secure a Final Say vote. This is about breaking the deadlock in Parliament. This is about securing consent for the next chapter in our great country. It is time to trust the people and let them really take back control.

Brexit presents an opportunity to reinvigorate relations with the Anglosphere and the Commonwealth

The British people were told during the EU referendum that a vote to Leave would be a move towards isolationism, that the EU was Britain’s gateway to prosperity and that we should not turn our backs on the rest of the world. Given Britain’s proud history as a seafaring nation and commitment to global trade prior to the […]

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The British people were told during the EU referendum that a vote to Leave would be a move towards isolationism, that the EU was Britain’s gateway to prosperity and that we should not turn our backs on the rest of the world. Given Britain’s proud history as a seafaring nation and commitment to global trade prior to the establishment of any European Community or Union, this argument fell on deaf ears.

In fact, it was joining the European Union that closed Britain off from the world in many respects and cut ties with allies around the world. With a renewed independence and freed from the shackles of one of the largest bureaucracies on Earth, Britain can embrace the wider world.

The Commonwealth of Nations

Advocates of closer ties with Commonwealth countries are often disregarded as nostalgic for the British Empire. Whilst it is true that the vast majority of member countries were former colonies or dominions of the Empire, the Commonwealth today is a modern and flexible gathering of 53 countries with significant cultural, diplomatic and historic bonds. This community of nations now represent a third of the world’s entire population, with some of the fastest-growing economies in the world.

Where the Commonwealth differs significantly from the European Union is that, despite the impression that having a monarch at the head of the organisation may give, there is nothing authoritarian about the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth lacks the rigid structures of the EU and instead is valued by members because membership invites – and does not force – closer ties.

Commonwealth countries are respected as autonomous; sovereign nations voluntarily agree to work together on various areas of policy. These policies are discussed at the annual Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which have thus far focused on shared goals on climate change, human rights and the promotion of peace and democracy.

Britain’s membership of the EU has overshadowed its commitment to collaborating with Commonwealth nations. With such a strong emphasis placed on diplomatic relations with the European Union in recent decades, many young Britons are unaware of the UK’s leading role in the modern Commonwealth.

Trade with Australia, CANZUK and the Commonwealth

Before joining the European Economic Community in 1973, Britain enjoyed a close trading relationship with Commonwealth countries, as natural allies and partners. When the news reached Australia that Britain was turning its back on the Commonwealth in favour of the EEC, there was a strong backlash and sentiment of betrayal. In the decades since, both of our countries have changed. Britain has become eurocentric in its thinking and trade – and has allowed the European Union to take decisions on her behalf. Australia has turned to Asia, with over 66% of its exports going to the region. Given that so much has changed for both of our countries, can Brexit restore the friendship that once was? Can Britain now re-engage with Australia, and with the wider Commonwealth The answer, I hope, is yes.

The UK is right to prioritise trade negotiations with the EU at this early stage, but once that arrangement is settled, there will be a huge opportunity for Britain to pursue free trade agreements with countries with whom Brussels has failed to negotiate a deal. Trade negotiations don’t need to take as long as EU talks traditionally do, because most agreements don’t require the approval of 27 nation states. In fact, the US-Australia FTA, for example, was concluded in less than two years.

A free trade agreement with Australia isn’t just a possibility, but something that our governments are working towards. On a visit in London, former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop declared that both the British and Australian governments “stand ready to agree a free trade agreement as soon as circumstances allow.”

Other Commonwealth countries such as Canada and New Zealand have also expressed an interest in a Free Trade Agreement with the United Kingdom, and there have been proposals for a free trade area or zone between the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Unlike a customs union, a free trade area between CANZUK countries would remove trade barriers internally without binding the four nations into a collective external tariff or customs policy. Britain would still be allowed to negotiate its own trade deals with other countries, whilst improving trade relations with its closest allies.

Whilst negotiating deals with Australia, Canada and New Zealand would be the obvious starting point, because of the political goodwill shared between nations, there are also longer term opportunities for agreements to be made with other Commonwealth countries with fast-growing economies, such as India and Singapore. Although many of these countries are at a distance geographically, some researchers have noted a ‘Commonwealth Effect’, which is a phenomenon describing the uniquely strong trading relationship that exists between member countries. A report by the Royal Commonwealth Society concluded that:

“The value of trade is likely to be a third to a half more between Commonwealth member states compared to pairs of countries where one or both are not Commonwealth members. This effect can be seen even after controlling for a range of other factors that might also explain trade patterns.”

It’s important to point out that advocating a closer trading relationship with Commonwealth countries doesn’t imply that these trade agreements would act as a replacement for Britain’s important trading relationship with Europe. Britain can and should aim to continue a close trading relationship with the EU, whilst also seeking opportunities elsewhere. In the long term it must be considered that growth forecasts for EU economies are in many cases quite dire, whereas the majority of Commonwealth countries are set to see their GDP ranking rise.

It’s also crucial to recognise that these opportunities are only possible if Britain leaves the EU’s Customs Union. An ideal arrangement would be a Canada plus model, whereby the UK Government leaves the EU with a similar Free Trade Agreement to the Canada-EU FTA, but maintains Britain’s independence from the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union.

Uniting the Anglosphere to fight terrorism

It is often forgotten, and somewhat ignored by history lessons in Britain (which now prefer a more European centric version of events), that in two World Wars Commonwealth soldiers – including thousands from my home country of Australia – crossed the seas to come to Britain’s defence. The established peace in Europe rests on the shoulders of many of those soldiers, whose stories have been left out of the European Union’s propaganda about being the sole custodians of the peace in Europe.

The European Union, which was formed many years after this peace was secured, did have a role to play in establishing a good trading relationship between countries on the continent. But it was not a trading arrangement that defeated the Nazis. For a period of time Britain and her Commonwealth allies stood alone to face down Germany, with the help of the United States and Russia. When the threat of the Soviet Union seized the continent, it was the United States, Canada, and individual Western European nations that established the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation – not the European Union.

Those who attempt to position the EU as the sole defender of peace in Europe are disingenuous historical revisionists. In fact, there is an argument to be made that moves towards federalisation and the encouragement of mass immigration has fuelled divisions within European countries. There is a growing dissatisfaction and anger amongst citizens on the continent, and increasing civil unrest, in response to the EU’s handling of the migrant crisis and on the further centralisation of democratic powers. Far-right parties are gaining traction in countries such as Hungary, Germany, Sweden, Poland and Italy.

Mainstream political parties are losing the faith of voters because they are invariably pro-EU and refusing to address concerns about immigration. These mainstream politicians can’t advocate EU membership without a recognition that there is nothing a national government can do to change its immigration policy, which is fuelling the popularity of extreme far-right political parties. The EU parades as the saviour of Europe but contributed nothing to peace settlements or NATO, and is in fact fostering divisions and tensions in member countries by asserting dominance over national governments.

However, the greater concern to Britain is the establishment of a European Defence Force. Britain has signed up to several agreements with the EU which would obligate the UK to pool defence resources with EU countries after Brexit and, even if withdrawn from these agreements, it is still of great concern to the Anglosphere that the EU are persisting with a defence union that would duplicate, and essentially undermine, NATO.

It appears that in response to the United States urging European countries to meet their NATO spending requirements, the EU has decided instead to divert funds into a defence union excluding America. Britain must be resolved to separate itself from this vanity project, and encourage the EU to instead call on member countries to meet NATO spending requirements.

Of course, Britain’s closest and longest lasting security partnerships have been with Commonwealth and Anglosphere nations. The Five Eyes Alliance – one of the most comprehensive alliances of its kind – is an intelligence sharing network bringing together security agencies from the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, who together represent over 40% of global defence spending.

This high level of trust and co-operation on intelligence matters is reliant on an incredibly close cultural bond and commitment to a set of shared values. At a speaking engagement in London on the future of the Five Eyes Alliance, Former Prime Minister of Australia John Howard said:

“It’s hard for me to think of five countries in the world that comfortably relate to each other, when it comes to fundamental democratic values… There is something about the intimacy of the relationship and it rests on the fact that when the chips are down, the Five Eyes participants trust each other on a political and cultural level. Beyond the level of trust that is found with other countries.”

Leaving the EU is an opportunity to strengthen this important partnership without interference from European partners. The former head of the CIA, General Michael Hayden, noted in 2016 that the EU often ‘gets in the way’ and, and the UK must be mindful that any commitment or obligation to collaborate on intelligence or with the European Defence Force could jeopardise the exclusive and restricted nature of the Five Eyes relationship.

When it comes to tackling extremism, the Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings have discussed further collaboration; the 2018 April CHOGM Communique encouraged member countries to “actively share expertise and best practice” in countering violent extremism, which is certainly a welcome start. But with Brexit bringing into focus Britain’s role as a global power and leading voice in the Commonwealth, these annual meetings could be an opportunity to set clearer and more ambitious goals for defence and security co-operation.

Conclusion

The vote to leave the EU wasn’t about turning inwards, but a decision taken about who is in charge of Britain’s destiny. Outside the EU’s Customs Union, it will be up to elected British politicians to decide which countries to pursue free trade agreements with, and provided the UK is not tied to the new European Defence Force, it will be Britain – not the European Union – that decides which allies to collaborate with on matters of defence and security. These opportunities are within reach, if only those who believe in an empowered Commonwealth and an empowered Anglosphere continue to advocate them.

This article is an extract from Clean Break, Bright Future: Leaving the EU, Rejoining the World, published by the Freedom Association’s Better Off Out campaign

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Stewart Jackson: Don’t pivot to the Customs Union, Prime Minister – it could destroy the Conservative Party

Breaking her promise in such a way would enrage many voters, divide her Party, and cost the nation dearly in lost Brexit opportunities.

Stewart Jackson was MP for Peterborough 2005-17 and Chief of Staff to David Davis 2017-18.

As expected, Jeremy Corbyn’s No Confidence motion tabled yesterday served to unify and focus the Conservative Party on the existential danger, not just to our party but to the whole country, of a red in tooth and claw Labour government. In that sense, it rather backfired.

Perversely, it has ramped up the pressure on Corbyn to enunciate a clearer position in response to the defeat of the Prime Minister’s unlamented Withdrawal Agreement, between the Europhile majority of his party pressing for extension or revocation of Article 50, a Norway model soft Brexit, or a second referendum, and the millions of Labour voters who supported Brexit. I cannot see that Corbyn will move much, because he still commands the trust and support of the Labour membership and influential figures like Len McCluskey and because he believes that the EU is a plutocratic capitalist cartel dedicated to neoliberalism and doing the bidding of rapacious multinationals – a view he’s held since about 1983.

Labour’s introspection has bought the Prime Minister some breathing space. Although as a result of John Bercow’s decision to disregard Commons precedent and rip up the rule book to allow the Remain ultras like Dominic Grieve to circumscribe the Government’s room for manoeuvre in last week’s business motion, she has only four more days to outline what her Plan B might be.

My own view is that her tenure is strictly time limited, but my instinct is that she probably has one more pivotal Commons vote left before the pressure from the 1922 Committee and the Cabinet for her to step aside and let another leader take over will become insurmountable.

She’s been lucky, too, this week with her Remain opponents. Remain true believers are as fractious and impatient as anyone else – witness the spat between Nick Boles and Grieve over which (wrecking) Bill to present in the Commons – Boles’s quirky EU Referendum (No2) Bill or Grieve’s second referendum Bill? It’s a microcosm of the fight between the Norway crowd and the ‘Peoples’ Vote’ (sic) supporters. Neither has or likely will have a majority in the House of Commons, and Boles’s effort seems to have blown up on the tarmac via a big raspberry from the Liaison Committee. Nevertheless, the aim of most of their advocates is to delay and then kill Brexit.

For all that, Theresa May would be wise to avoid jumping out of the frying pan of a calamitous Commons defeat into the fire of a full-blown Tory civil war. The lack of a clear policy position after Tuesday’s vote appears to have emboldened some of the Cabinet to disregard even further collective responsibility. They now argue – both in code (“reaching out to other parties”) and explicitly – for a deal with Labour, involving reneging on our explicit 2017 General Election manifesto commitment to leave the Customs Union. Indeed, to the contrary, some ministers are wholeheartedly embracing the idea of one. This was always the position of people like Greg Clark and Philip Hammond, but they now feel they have license to sell this unappetising prospect in plain sight.

‘Pivoting’ towards the Customs Union would be a very bad idea for a number of reasons. Labour have no coherent Brexit policy and the customs union demand is only the least worst part of an incredible smorgasbord of opportunistic waffle. The Opposition really isn’t interested in anything but precipitating division and open warfare in our party, and certainly not in developing a coherent and pluralistic policy which can pass the Commons. Secondly, a customs union as a discrete policy is a terrible idea, as consistently and eloquently argued by Greg Hands – primarily because it would undermine a key rationale by Leave voters for supporting Brexit, the aim of allowing the UK to strike new, lucrative global trade deals after our exit from the EU.

Most acutely, Conservative MPs should understand the peril of shredding a policy which the Prime Minister has publicly endorsed over 30 times, when faced with a Party membership and wider electorate warming to No Deal/WTO and still irked by the debacle of Chequers and the Withdrawal Agreement. A Party faithful willing to believe that we can still strike a Canada Plus style deal with the EU. And why wouldn’t they? This week David Davis, Dominic Raab, Arlene Foster and Peter Lilley launched A Better Deal, which offers a reasonable alternative strategy for the Prime Minister when she returns to Brussels in a few days’ time. Together with enhanced No Deal planning, it is at least as good as any other course of action, not least because it was the basis of the Prime Minister’s policy outlined at Lancaster House, Florence and Mansion House and at last year’s General Election.

Fully conceding on the Customs Union would be such an egregious capitulation that it would endanger our local government candidates in May, and were we foolish enough to extend Article 50 to necessitate by Treaty obligation participation in the EU Parliament elections (as Boles’s bill demands), it would invite a populist upsurge of unprecedented severity.

Conservative Associations are much less deferential, more activist, and frankly more Eurosceptic now, and they’d scarcely wear such a retreat from our solemn promises. MPs who supported it would struggle to justify their decision. Remember, recent polling shows that people’s attachment to getting Brexit comfortably outstrips their attachment to even the best and most diligent local MP, and to political parties generally.

Finally, it’s as well to consider Scotland as a terrifying morality tale. In 2010, Labour polled 42 per cent there and took 41 seats – most of them won very handily. Just five years later, motivated by bitter disappointment in the wake of a fractious and unpleasant referendum campaign and a feeling that “the Establishment” had cheated them of their dreams of self-government and independence, a significant bulk of their hitherto most loyal voters turned on their own party, leaving that party with just one seat and less than a quarter of the votes.

Couldn’t happen again? Don’t bet on it.

If May takes the path of least resistance by adopting the Customs Union post-Brexit to get any deal through the Commons, she risks not just a terrible party schism but electoral Armageddon.

Garvan Walshe: The defeat of May’s deal was a consequence of half a decade of negotiation failure

Why should the EU offer any more to an inconstant departing member, which can’t be relied on to deliver ratification of any agreement?

Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the British Conservative Party. He runs TRD Policy.

Dominic Cummings imagines politics to be a branch of physics. There’s one respect in which he’s right, which goes by the unpleasant jargon-word entropy.

The word is ugly and so are its consequences. Entropy is a deeply depressing concept. It’s like a transaction tax applied by the universe on every conversion of energy. It’s why your car gets hot and your fridge makes noise. All that energy from petrol or electric power is dissipated into heat and sound waves. Once it has been so dissipated, it can’t be marshalled back into a useful form. It’s been spent.

The battle over Brexit has been a giant exercise in the production of entropy, the conversion of political energy and ideas into a disorganised and ineffective stalemate.

It is the result of a gross miscalculation of the amount of power available to the British Government. Unable to admit to itself the scarcity of available means, no leader or faction has been able to apply them to achieve any useful result. The result was a defeat for the Prime Minister’s deal so heavy that had it been a cricket score her team would have been forced to follow on.

From David Cameron’s Bloomberg speech in 2013 to the Prime Minister’s inept selling of her Brexit withdrawal agreement, through the ERG’s misfiring leadership plot, and Jeremy Corbyn’s failed attempt to bring the Government down, nothing – least of all May’s disastrous 2017 election – has worked. Political energy has been wasted. Political capital squandered.

Cameron imagined that British membership of the organisation was so important to the rest of the EU that they would grant an exemption from freedom of movement to keep the UK in. Instead they saw it as one opt-out too far. What he was offering was tantamount, from their perspective, to leaving the EU; this rendered Cameron’s threat to leave if he didn’t get what he want moot. If you don’t let me leave, I’ll go isn’t a strong negotiating position.

The Brexit negotiations themselves suffered what might be politely called a clash of negotiating cultures — a flexible British (and Irish) style, where everything is pinned down at the last minute; and a systematic Germanic one, where you work things through issue by issue.

In this May, at least, understood some limits. Ending free movement entailed leaving the Single Market. Remaining in good standing in international law meant continuing to pay bills already agreed. She failed only on the border in Ireland, where the EU acted to defend the interest of its member, the Republic of Ireland, at the expense of the country that was leaving.

British commentators usually considered informed (most recently Mujtaba Rahman of the Eurasia Group), have continually misunderstood the EU’s position. They simply haven’t adjusted to what it means to be outside the European tent. Considered on its own, it might indeed be in the economic interests of some powerful member states to push Ireland around. But considered as part of the EU system itself it would be very dangerous. The EU is not an intergovernmental organisation of sovereign states. It was created in order to restrain the rivalry of the big countries which had destroyed Europe twice in the early 20th century. Brexiteers find that a reason to leave, which is fair enough. What’s not reasonable is to pretend the organisation they want to leave for those reasons doesn’t behave as if it’s motivated by them.

This does not mean that big member states don’t have more power: they do. But they have less than size would suggest, and in exchange for giving it up they gain stability. In practical terms it means the small states gang together, and the Commission sets itself up as their protector. Were Ireland’s interests to be overridden today, what about Latvia’s tomorrow, or Portugal’s in five year’s time?

Faced with this, the confidence and supply deal with the Democratic Unionist Party was a huge mistake. Embedded in the DUP’s soul is fear that Britain will sell them out. The normal tricks of parliamentary management available to soothe the egos of Tory MPs (the Rt Hon Sir Edward Leigh, anyone?) — knighthoods, special envoy positions, the prospect of ministerial promotion — don’t work. A convoluted diplomatic text, produced by urbane Whitehall officials and their equally urbane counterparts at Dublin’s Iveagh House, is not seen by the DUP as an elegant compromise, but a plot at their expense. It is perhaps tragic that they attach themselves to an Albion they know is perfidious, as though an abusive relationship with Great Britain is the only one they know; and because leaving the UK cannot, by definition, be an option. Thus their tradition of obduracy is well justified, because it’s all they have.

It is fatal, however, that the only way to obtain a Brexit that meets the DUP’s requirement to avoid economic differentiation between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and the EU’s requirement (and also British government policy) of avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland, is to keep the UK in the Single Market. And while concerns about rule-taking have some weight, it is May’s insistence on ending freedom of movement, words she had inserted into the political declaration, that makes such an arrangement impossible.

There is still hope in Westminster that the EU will come back with some more concessions,or at least more time. What is not appreciated is that the all-UK customs union offered in the Withdrawal Agreement is such a concession. Why should they offer any more to someone who can’t deliver? And more time could even be counterproductive. Britain needs the pressure of a deadline. Given a can on a road, it will not be able to resist the temptation to give it a hefty kick.

Yet if it is a principle of physics that some energy must always be wasted, dissipated into heat and noise, it is a principle of conservatism that decisions and actions have consequences. The decisions — to demand an exemption from free movement; to leave the EU; to have a confidence and supply deal with the DUP; to both require and forbid a hard border in Ireland and to base a negotiation strategy on the hope that the EU would put leaving Britain’s interests ahead of those of its own member state — have been made. It’s now time to take the consequences whatever they turn out to be.

Almost good enough isn’t good enough

Strangely but truly, the best way of helping the Prime Minister is to send her back to Brussels to win concessions on the backstop.

ConservativeHome’s first rule of Commons votes is that the Speaker will do everything he can to spite the Government.  He is therefore unlikely to smile on any eleventh-hour manuscript amendment designed to reduce the scale of Theresa May’s loss this evening.  None of the Conservative amendments that would aid the Government are expected to pass – Andrew Murrison’s, Hugo Swire’s, Edward Leigh’s.  Labour will whip against them and ERG-aligned MPs will vote against them.  They take the same view of these as they do of yesterday’s letter from Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker to the Prime Minister: that they carry no legal weight of any significance.

The amendment that would most spare the Prime Minister’s blushes is Hillary Benn’s, which is both anti-her deal and anti-No Deal.  It is thought likely to be carried, thereby obviating her main motion – but by a smaller margin than she would otherwise lose by.  Some Tory MPs have therefore been discreetly lobbied by Whips to back this amendment that opposes her deal.  Since Benn’s anti-deal amendment is thus helpful to May (we hope you’re still with us), it follows that he may withdraw it: indeed, it is reported this morning that he has now done so.

When unclear about procedural malarkey, it’s usually best to turn to MPs’ motives.  It will do for our purposes today to look at the Conservatives only.  They fall roughly into five groups: loyalists, Remainers, Soft Brexiteers – and then two types of harder Brexiteers.  The loyalists will of course vote for the Prime Minister’s motion, assuming it is reached, as will those Conservative MPs convinced of the merits of her deal.  Remainers, such as Dominic Grieve, will largely vote against.  Soft Brexiteers, such as our columnist Nicky Morgan, will mostly vote for.  They will then cluster around Nick Boles’ Norway Plus scheme, or some variant of EEA membership.

The harder Brexiteers divide into two main tendencies.  First, there are those set against May’s deal at any price.  Let’s call them the diehards, adapting the use of the term by James Forsyth.  They actively hunger for No Deal and the WTO minimum.  The second are those who believe, as Jacob Rees-Mogg puts it in our Moggcast this morning, that “most of the poison is in the backstop”.  Again borrowing from Forsyth, let’s refer to them as the Ditchers.  Were the UK to have a unilateral escape clause from it, or were it to have a clear end-date, most of this band of MPs would drop their opposition to the deal and move to support it.  It just might then be able to pass.

It follows that it is therefore in the interest of this second group as well as the first to vote against the deal today – since, by doing so, they would send a message to Brussels that it will only clear Parliament if concessions are made on the backstop.  But not so fast.  Some of the Ditchers are brooding over the numbers.  They calculate that if the Prime Minister loses by a big margin tonight, the EU may give up on the deal together.  And that if she does so by a small one, it will offer no further concessions.  But if she loses by a margin somewhere in between the two, concessions of real value will be forthcoming.

They may be right.  As March 29 approaches, we are hearing rather less about how the deal represents “the last word” of the EU, that “rule-based organisation”, which “won’t budge”.  And more and more about how it may blink after all.  None the less, we hope that Ditcher MPs aren’t drawn into playing clever-clever games this evening, tailoring their votes according to what they believe May’s likely majority may be, and trying to game the result so that she loses by, say, 50 votes or so in order to squeeze those concessions out of the EU.  Such wheezes are not unknown among “the most sophisticated electorate in the world”.

The simple truth is that none are in a position to second-guess the mass of individual decisions that their colleagues may take.  And that, in such circumstances, the most straighforward course is nearly always the best.  Which is this case is: to judge the Prime Minister’s deal on its merits and demerits.  What are these?  In our view, Brexit is a film, not a photo.  In other words, where Britain is on March 29 is not necessarily where we will be in ten years’ time.  For example, it would be acceptable to stay in a customs union for a transition period.  Indeed, it is inevitable, since the systems are not yet ready to escape it.

What is not acceptable is for that film to be “Groundhog Day” – in short, for a backstop from which we have no guarantee of escape lock the whole UK in a customs union, with Northern Ireland none the less divided from Great Britain.  The proposed regulatory border in the Irish sea would separate the province further from the rest of the country.  That has implications not only for Northern Ireland but for Scotland, and thus for the unity of the UK.  The deal sets up an institutional tension between Eurosceptism and unionism, since Great Britain could move further, under its terms, from Single Market and Customs Union rules, but Northern Ireland could not.

For this reason, we hope that Conservative MPs vote against May’s deal this evening.  As we’ve said before, it almost works.  Theresa May won on borders and money in the negotiation, and minimised the ECJ’s scope on laws, which could reasonably be scored as a points win.  She gained the bespoke deal that her critics said would be impossible.  She has won almost no credit for this achievement, first, because she has no media allies or strong public backing, but faces formidable opposition from both second referendum Remainers and UKIP-type Leavers; second, because U-turns and broken pledges elsewhere have bust her credibility and third, of course, because of the backstop.

But almost good enough is not good enough.  Strangely but truly, Tory MPs can best help their leader by voting her deal down today, sending her back to Brussels, and gaining those backstop concessions.  This is far from being a guaranteed outcome but it is not at all an impossible one.  The EU doesn’t want a messy Brexit on its north-west frontier if it can be avoided, especially with the possibility of recession coming to the Eurozone.  Either way, the Commons should honour the referendum result.  May’s deal ultimately falls short of doing so – and guarantees losing the DUP, together with her majority.

Juncker and Tusk’s letter to Theresa May changes nothing: we must vote down the draft Withdrawal Agreement

The letter sent from Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk to Theresa May in the last 24 hours shows more clearly than anything else possibly could why the draft Withdrawal Agreement is fundamentally flawed: not only the lack of substance in the letter, which adds nothing new to the sum of human knowledge, but also the […]

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The letter sent from Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk to Theresa May in the last 24 hours shows more clearly than anything else possibly could why the draft Withdrawal Agreement is fundamentally flawed: not only the lack of substance in the letter, which adds nothing new to the sum of human knowledge, but also the lack of any form of collegiate kindness or helpfulness to the Prime Minister.

When the Prime Minister addressed the 1922 Committee on 12th December, she assured colleagues that she would secure legally-binding wording to address concerns over the Northern Ireland backstop. Now we learn there will be no end date to the backstop or unilateral exit mechanism for the UK. So, yet again, the EU have let the Prime Minister down.

The lesson is clear: we need to vote down the Withdrawal Agreement by as large a majority as possible. Only then can we move on and either negotiate a new agreement (as David Davis argued at the weekend) or Leave without a deal on World Trade Organisation terms with a view to later negotiating a new relationship.

The Government and the Conservative Party must remain committed to delivering the result of the referendum, as repeated in our 2017 manifesto, which pledged to leave the Customs Union and the Single Market, accompanied by the declaration that No Deal was better than a Bad Deal. Otherwise, the credibility of our democracy will be thrown into chaos.

The draft Withdrawal Agreement does not respect the result of the referendum. The Government should be seeking to unlock the negotiations by returning to the Canada-style option offered by President Tusk, using the tried and trusted techniques and procedures so that rules of origin and customs checks are conducted away from the Northern Ireland border, to make unnecessary the hard border that everyone agrees must be avoided.

The backstop means we will be trapped under the thumb of the EU with no date to escape – and unable to strike trade deals. It means we would be trapped indefinitely as a satellite of the EU, obeying its laws without a say, unless the EU and its Member States gave permission for us to leave. The UK will be paying £39 billion – equivalent to £1,443 per household, or £60 million per constituency – and getting nothing in return. We will not take back control of our money, laws and trade. Remaining in the Customs Union is a breach of the 2017 Conservative Manifesto on which I and all my colleagues stood.

The backstop drives a regulatory barrier down the Irish Sea, severely damaging the Union and moving Great Britain and Northern Ireland further apart. This deal keeps the supremacy of the European Court over our own law and sells out the UK fishing industry, excluding them from any trade deal, and envisaging a deal where the Prime Minister trades away our fish in return for market access.

We remain effectively in the EU for an extendable ‘transition’ period, paying and accepting new laws over which we will have had no say. Unrestricted immigration of EU nationals will still be continuing for years after we leave. This commitment comes with no guarantee of a future trade agreement. Worryingly, this deal will deny the UK an independent trade policy while potentially keeping us out of existing EU trade policy. We would be cut off from the world with our trade and economy regulated from Brussels without any say.

So, let us be honest: the Withdrawal Agreement is a terrible deal – worse than Chequers, less popular than the Poll Tax and only one in five voters think it honours the referendum result. The only way to get a better deal for the UK is for Parliament to reject it and force the Government to renegotiate with the EU.

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Time for UK parliament to step up to preserve Britain’s reputation

UK business secretary, writing from a trip to Berlin, says companies need a Brexit deal to restore confidence in Britain.

BERLIN — Since the U.K.’s EU referendum it has been my job as business secretary to work with companies and investors to convince them to keep faith with Britain. In doing so, I always make two main arguments.

The first is that Britain’s fundamental attractions are strong and getting stronger. We are an entrepreneurial economy, with world-beating creative and scientific talent and flexible, competitive markets. Through our modern industrial strategy we are building on those strengths — for example with the biggest increase in R&D that Britain has ever had in our history, and a national focus on the technological grand challenges that are sweeping the world and in which Britain enjoys a commanding position.

The second is that we are, and always will be, the pragmatic, open, pro-enterprise and dependable nation that the world has always considered us to be. That means, of course, that the U.K. government would always want to secure a cordial relationship with the EU that continues our ability to trade free of tariffs and unnecessary impediments.

On the whole, these arguments have proved reassuring. For example, of the five big competitive automotive investments up for grabs since the referendum, we have secured every one. Last month the global life sciences sector committed more than £1 billion of new investment in Britain on the back of our industrial strategy.

But no one should assume that investors have been relaxed about Brexit. In every case, in meetings and conversations from the United States to the Far East, I have constantly had to deploy both arguments.

In recent weeks, confidence from investors has been shaken. Debates in the U.K. parliament are monitored closely, and with mounting alarm, in boardrooms around the world. The dire prospect that we could tolerate trading with our largest and closest market on WTO terms — the most rudimentary that exist between any nations on earth — is bewildering to them. And when hundreds of millions of pounds are having to be diverted by companies from productive investments into defending themselves against the risk of a no-deal exit from the European Union — through piling up stocks, renting warehouses and planning shutdowns of production — investors have every right to object.

Most worrying to investors is the signal that Britain, after 40 years of being a reliable and confident place in which to do business, may be embarking on a previously unimagined era in which some are prepared to contemplate policies that would harm our economy and the businesses that have made us their home, whether those policies are to crash out of the EU without agreement or to follow the hard-left program put forward by the Labour Party.

We can’t go on like this. January 2019 must be the month in which parliament — for so long a source of strength for our international reputation — resolves how we will act together as a nation and give confidence to business.

Business has been supportive of the agreement the prime minister has negotiated because it reflects what job creators say is needed. A deal, rather than no deal. A transitional period to a new relationship, rather than a cliff edge. And the prospect of continuing a close trading relationship that avoids friction at the border that would be so damaging to just-in-time processes. Much has been made of the backstop, but it does carry the big advantage that Britain could never in future be forced onto WTO terms of trade whether by the EU or by being timed out, as the ticking clock of Article 50 entails.

That is why I strongly believe parliament should support the deal. MPs must act not simply as critics, but as responsible participants in making the most important decision that they may ever take. I believe parliament should move quickly and act responsibly to establish what will, and will not, command support.

Parliament can establish that it wants a no-deal Brexit to be ruled out. Most MPs, across the House, including many in government, would not countenance leaving on March 29 with no agreement.

Once that was clearly demonstrated, then parliament could make a clearer choice of how to proceed. It is not sufficient to record a disapproval of no deal — a further step would need to be taken to prevent it happening by default. This is a time for parliament to come together and work intensively to establish an agreement that can command majority support, recognizing that the deal that has been negotiated, if its terms had been considered dispassionately at almost any time before or after the referendum, would be regarded as clearly leaving the European Union while maintaining the close relationship with our nearest neighbors on which our prosperity depends.

Business has been quite clear that it prefers the certainty of a good deal to an extended debate about the terms of Brexit. It wants the deal to pass. From my dealings with businesses — small and large, British and international — I know that most place as the greatest priority preventing an unintended and deeply damaging rupture in just under 80 days’ time.

In that, the needs of the economy, the livelihoods of millions and the views of most MPs are aligned. Now is the time for parliament to act on it.

Greg Clark is the U.K. secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy.