Backstop or no backstop, Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement remains a bad deal

Backstop or not, our MPs must unequivocally maintain their opposition to Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement. It is worrying that some MPs are starting to think that a concession from the EU on the Irish border issue may make them vote the Agreement through. The Irish backstop has had the effect of a dense fog descending […]

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Backstop or not, our MPs must unequivocally maintain their opposition to Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement. It is worrying that some MPs are starting to think that a concession from the EU on the Irish border issue may make them vote the Agreement through.

The Irish backstop has had the effect of a dense fog descending on Westminster. It has obscured the obvious truth that should be there for all to see: that the Withdrawal Agreement is a bad deal and a betrayal of the Brexit that the people of this country voted for.

Many of our MPs’ memories – nor to mention their judgements – may have become clouded by this fog as they face another momentous week.

Even with a time-limited backstop, a backstop with a guaranteed escape clause or even one with pink and purple spots, the Withdrawal Agreement still leaves us under EU control and out in name only.

Its hundreds of  pages include provision for a transition period from our ‘departure’ on 29th March until 31st December 2020, which could in fact be extended to the end of 2022 – meaning we could be locked in as a vassal state for nearly four years! Some say best to accept this as it still means we leave and that we will be able to regain control in the years (probably decades, if ever) to come. This is not Brexit.

We will have to abide by all EU rules but will have lost membership of all of its institutions along with any say about damaging new rules and directives which we will have to follow to the letter under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. Rules which have done our country’s economy and SMEs so much harm in the past. How is this ‘taking back control’?

Oh, and we will need to hand over £39 billion, at least, for the privilege; with no cast iron guarantee about our future trading relationship.

Anything other than a clean Brexit will leave us unable to decide upon regulations and there will be no chance of us seeing British Standards revitalised and brought back, which our exporters will need to develop their trade on the international stage.

Succumbing to Theresa’s May Withdrawal Agreement, even without the awful backstop, will mean stumbling around for at least another couple of years as we try to pin down the EU on trade and our future relationship having already gifted away all of our bargaining power.

That means more uncertainty, more cost, more time wasted, more disastrous directives from Brussels and more division.

We’ve already suffered more than two years of dithering at the highest level, culminating in the ill-conceived Chequers Plan and the historic vote against Mrs May’s disastrous first Withdrawal Agreement.

Absolutely no-one wants to see a permanent hard border in Ireland or a return to the Troubles of the past; on that we all agree and ways can be found to avoid this.

The whole issue has been disgracefully weaponised by those behind Project Fear as leverage to sabotage Brexit in the most disingenuous way.

It is time for our MPs to quit scrambling around in the fog and start to see sense: it’s time to leave, and leave properly.

They ought to unite behind a default departure on WTO terms on 29th March as an independent nation with its destiny under its own control.

Planes won’t fall out of the sky, medicines will still be prescribed and goods will still cross the Channel.

Only with a clean Brexit can we seize the great prize that is there to be won and start striking our own free trade deals around the world – and talk to the EU about our future trading relationship from a position of strength, rather than prolonging the agony for many more years.

No Deal means a WTO deal on trade and hundreds of other deals to ensure cooperation in the interests of all. It will also be the basis for a good trade deal too.

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Interview: Francois insists that the ERG wants the backstop ditched altogether – not tweaked

“In my personal opinion, Olly Robbins should go to the Tower, in which case he should arrive by river.”

The Leave versus Remain battle is morphing into a struggle between the British people and the Establishment. So says Mark Francois, the pugnacious Eurosceptic who is Vice Chairman of the European Reform Group and MP for Rayleigh and Wickford.

In this interview, he expresses confidence that the people will get the Brexit they voted for, despite the best efforts of senior politicians and civil servants to thwart the process. Francois would like Ollie Robbins, the senior official conducting negotiations for Theresa May, to be conducted by river to the Tower of London.

Asked what concessions the ERG wants in order for its members to vote for May’s deal, Francois replied: “The Prime Minister would have to ask the European Union to ditch the entire backstop. Not tweak it, but ditch it.”

But Francois, who was wearing the tie of the Army Benevolent Fund, recognises that after Brexit, the two sides within the Conservative Party will have to come back together again: “And that’s partly why, after we had the No Confidence vote, I delivered a small case of fairly decent Margaux to the Whips’ Office, and put it on the Deputy Chief Whip’s desk with a little note that said ‘To the Office, with the compliments of Dad’s Army’.”

ConHome: “Why do you feel so strongly about Brexit?”

Francois: “When I was the Shadow Europe Minister, and I did the Lisbon Treaty for us [in 2008], William Hague was the Shadow Foreign Secretary…”

ConHome: “Up until then, what were your views?”

Francois: “I was quite sceptical about the EU and the direction it was taking. I made my maiden speech on 4th July 2001 against the Treaty of Nice.

William made that fantastic speech [on Lisbon] at Second Reading. I remember when he delivered it. Everybody was nearly crying [with laughter].  I think he got the Speccy Speech of the Year, quite rightly.

“We then came down to debating the hard detail of the treaty, all 300 pages, and that kind of was my job. And we spent 14 nights, it’s seared on my memory, debating the hard detail of the Lisbon Treaty.

“And it soon became apparent that we couldn’t change so much as a punctuation mark. Parliament had been completely neutered. And for me that was the epiphany.

“And after that whole process I thought, ‘We are no longer running our own country here. We have got to get out of this.’ Really, that was when, to mix metaphors, I crossed the Rubicon.”

ConHome: “How are you adjusting to fame?”

Francois: “I don’t think famous is the word. I’ve done more media in the last couple of months than in the rest of my 18 years put together.

“But if you had told me when I walked through Carriage Gates 18 years ago as a wide-eyed, fresh-faced newbie, delighted to have been elected as an MP, that I would one day be involved in a No Confidence motion against a Conservative Prime Minister, I would never have believed it.”

ConHome: “Will you always back the Prime Minister in a Vote of Confidence in the House, as everyone did the other day, regardless of what she does?”

Francois: “Well some people saw the intervention that I made on the Prime Minister, and Simon Hoare’s very funny quip. He is quick, Simon.

“And I said, you know, I’m a Conservative first and last, and I and my colleagues in the ERG were not going to do Jeremy Corbyn any favours.”

ConHome: “Even if she extended Article 50 or something like that?”

Francois: “Well we had said, all along, that if Labour tried a snap Vote of Confidence we would vote with the Prime Minister, and we kept our word.

“And I can’t see Corbyn doing this again in a hurry after getting the drubbing he got last time.”

ConHome: “Now what in fact is going to satisfy the ERG?”

Francois: “We have said consistently that because the Withdrawal Agreement is a draft international treaty, which if the House were to approve it and then ratify it in Parliament, would bind us forever in international law, the only thing that would satisfy us is amendments to the treaty text itself.

“The Prime Minister would have to ask the European Union to ditch the entire backstop. Not tweak it, but ditch it. And then in turn the EU would have to agree.

“Now even if they did that, there are other issues of concern, like the 39 billion for nothing, like the continuing role of the ECJ in some areas, like what’s called the Joint Committee, which is a very powerful committee that the Withdrawal Agreement establishes.

“But our principal ask is that the backstop must go and must be replaced by alternative language in favour of a comprehensive free trade agreement.”

ConHome: “You reckon that’s gettable if gone for in the right way?”

Francois: “Well what we’re asking for is a big ask. We recognise that…”

ConHome: “But is it an achievable ask in your judgment?”

Francois: “The EU saw the majority – the largest defeat of a government in history. So if they’re not prepared to bend, this Withdrawal Agreement is not going through the House of Commons.

“I think they now realise that. I’m told that result sent shock-waves through the Commission, because they’d been told by people like Olly Robbins it was only going to be 40 or 50.

“It was a bell that rang across Europe.”

ConHome: “But is there a danger of the ERG overplaying its hand?”

Francois: “Well The Times and The Daily Telegraph described the treaty as a surrender document, as it’s currently configured. The House of Commons has never surrendered in its history and it never will.”

ConHome: “So why do some Tory MPs think we should go along with this?”

Francois: “Well every colleague must look into their heart and decide what to do. But 118 Tories – even Diane Abbott knows that’s a big number – voted against it, because a lot of them have actually read it, and they know what’s in it.

ConHome: “How united is the ERG? Because there are presumably some who are more pugnacious – you give an impression of tremendous pugnacity – and there are some who are more conciliatory, and who think, well, the Tory Party’s got to be a broad church, we’ve got to stick together, half a loaf is better than no bread, and there’s a danger of losing Brexit if we hold out for a perfect deal.”

Francois: “Well the ERG is not a Stalinist organisation. And we’re not in the business of waterboarding our colleagues. But I think that result showed you that people feel very strongly on this.

“After all, this is the destiny of our country, and if you don’t feel strongly about that, what are you going to feel strongly about? All logic suggests that if they ask pretty much the same question they’ll get pretty much the same answer.

“And I’m sure that the Government realise that.”

ConHome: “The Remainers are making some sort of a fight-back against you. How do you deal with that?”

Francois: “Well my own impression is this thing is morphing from just Leave versus Remain to the People versus the Establishment.

“Because there are some Members of Parliament, there are certainly a number of senior civil servants, who have never accepted the result of the referendum, and maybe never will.

“And they have done whatever they can to undermine Brexit, and to try to stop it from happening.

“Now I don’t think the rest of the party will stand idly by and allow this to continue ad infinitum. And it’s not a secret that a number of MPs are in trouble with their constituency associations.

“And that’s nothing to do with me or the ERG. That’s their own troops basically beginning to hold them to account.

“And more fundamentally than that, I think the British people won’t put up with it. We saw the reaction on Question Time to Isabel Oakeshott’s comment.

“I think the British people, if they see MPs using parliamentary trickery to try and overturn the people’s decision in the referendum, I think there’ll be serious protests.

“We’re British, so I don’t think we’ll have people in yellow jackets trying to burn Oxford Street, although if you remember the poll tax riots in the 1980s they were quite violent.

“But I think you’ll get more British protests. You’ll get people inundating their MPs with letters and emails, you’ll get protests, I hope peaceful, outside people’s surgeries.

“You’ll basically get the British people saying ‘Up with this we will not put’. And I think in that climate it’ll be more and more difficult for ultra-Remain MPs to push forward this agenda, with Laura Kuennsberg explaining to the British people night after night what’s really going on.”

ConHome: “You said a number of MPs are in trouble with their constituency associations. What’s your own view about deselection?”

Francois: “Well for obvious reasons Members of Parliament as a breed don’t like to talk about deselection. The relationship between an MP and their association is a matter for those people.

“But every Tory was elected – I think with one or two exceptions, in fairness, Ken Clarke and Anna Soubry did qualify I think their election addresses…”

ConHome: “Grieve did point out that Tory MPs had absolutely no say in the manifesto.”

Francois: “The overwhelming bulk of Tory MPs were elected on a manifesto to honour Brexit. And if they then do exactly the opposite, I think they’ve got to explain to their local troops why they’re doing that.”

ConHome: “So you think you’re going to win?”

Francois: “At the end of the day…”

ConHome: “It could all go catastrophically wrong. The Establishment – the Establishment in your terms – could win.”

Francois: “Well the Establishment were going to win the referendum, weren’t they, and they didn’t.

“I trust at the end of the day the canny intuition of the British people. I don’t believe that at the end of the day, they will allow politicians to do them out of their decision to leave.

“And that is my sheet anchor.

“And we have civil servants like Ollie Robbins who are very pro-EU, who have never wanted us to leave, and have done everything in their power, including colluding with the European Union, to try and keep us in.

“That’s why they helped to negotiate a Withdrawal Agreement that effectively does that.

“Now at the end of all this, in my personal opinion, this is not necessarily the opinion of the ERG, Mr Robbins should go to the Tower, in which case he should arrive by river. Is that pugnacious enough for you?”

ConHome [pointing to a picture of an aeroplane over the fireplace in Francois’ office]: “Are those the Dambusters?”

Francois: “That’s a picture called Hopgood’s Courageous Run. He was the second Lancaster in and they were badly shot-up even when they began their attack run, but they pressed home the attack. Hopgood was Gibson’s best friend.

“The other thing I might mention is I was given the job by David Cameron when I was Shadow Europe Minister of leading us out of the EPP.

“We did it. That was two years of my life, and quite a bit of travel, finding new allies. The EPP tried very hard to stop us.

“But coming back to Lisbon, I think it was the way Lisbon was handled by the then Labour Government, and the fact that we didn’t have a referendum, which began to set the conditions…”

ConHome: “Almost everyone can see in retrospect that it would have been a much better issue, I mean from the point of view of the Remainers, to have a referendum on.”

Francois: “One of the reasons why we ended up in a situation where people voted to leave was because they had seen one treaty after another effectively imposed upon us without their consent.

“And Europe was something that was being done to us rather than done with us. And all those people who thought they were being frightfully clever getting away without a referendum, in the end they got their comeuppance, because within eight years of that being ratified, we voted to leave the EU.”

ConHome: “Jolly difficult job for Theresa May, keeping the Tory Party together. People like Matthew Parris want the party to split.”

Francois: “I don’t by any means always agree with Ken Clarke, and he called me a gilet jaune in the Chamber last week.”

ConHome: “He told you to go out and join the protesters.”

Francois: “Yes. But Ken has been utterly consistent for 40 years about his views on Europe.”

ConHome: “And would have become leader if he’d been prepared to temporise.”

Francois: “He utterly refused to compromise when he stood for the leadership, even though it might have been to his advantage to do so. At the other end of the spectrum, Bill Cash has been equally utterly consistent for just about as long.

“And yet these two men, for the best part of four decades, have managed to remain in the same political party. So if they can do it, the rest of us can do it.

“And at some point, when all of this is over, the party has to heal. And actually, I think the Whips’ Office are very conscious of that. I think a lot of us in the ERG are very conscious of that.

“And somehow, when we’ve resolved this issue, and when we’ve left and honoured the instruction the British people gave us, we then need to heal.

“And that’s partly why, after we had the No Confidence vote, I delivered a small case of fairly decent Margaux to the Whips’ Office, and put it on the Deputy Chief Whip’s desk with a little note that said ‘To the Office, with the compliments of Dad’s Army’.”

ConHome: “Has this been published?”

Francois: “I don’t think it has. I got some very nice texts back, and I’m told they’re saving it for some special occasion. Now what that will be I don’t know. That’s a decision for the Chief.

“But I just thought as a gesture, it’s trying to acknowledge that ultimately we’re all in the same party, and while we might have very strong and principled differences on this one issue, if you cut us all down the middle, you find that none of us wants a Marxist anti-Semite running the Government of this country.

“And Ken and Bill would both agree with that. So there is hope yet.”

Robert Halfon: Now is the time for Common Market 2.0, and an EFTA-type plan for Brexit

Plus: We must be the Party for social housing as well as home ownership. And: why don’t we trumpet our history of social reform?

Common Market 2.0 deliver can Brexit before 29 March

Whilst I can understand that there are different views about the future of Europe, and that some prefer No Deal, I am mystified why some regard Common Market 2.0 as a retreat from Brexit. This is far from the case.

 For years, many Eurosceptics would have been very happy to see Britain in an EFTA-style relationship with Europe rather than be a member of the EU. Such an arrangement, advocated by Brexiteers in the past, would gets Britain out of the CAP and CFP.

Common Market 2.0 also means an end to Britain being subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court, and brings us out of political union. All these things were what many Leavers felt was most objectionable about membership of the EU.

The plan also safeguards jobs and ensures stability for business and our economy through membership of the Single Market. But members have far more powers to derogate from it (Norway obtained derogations from 55 proposed Single Market laws and Iceland from 349 legal acts).

It would also mean that we continue to be a part of an alliance of democracies – it would strengthen EFTA – which is important for geo-politics and would help to build up a useful counterweight to the EU.

On freedom of movement, under Common Market 2.0, there are significant safeguarding measures that place us in a far stronger position of power to stop freedom of movement in the event of “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties of a sectoral or regional nature liable to persist”.

Financial contributions to Common Market 2.0 would also be significantly lower than under our payments to EU budgets – well south of £5 billion per annum. We would simply pay for what we participate in – membership, joint programmes, schemes and agencies and, on a “goodwill” basis, the EEA Voluntary Grants scheme.

All this means that we could take back control of our finances and can afford to invest in what matters most domestically – the NHS, policing, schools and community. 

Significantly, unlike the other proposals, Common Market 2.0 would enable us to deliver on Brexit by the end of March. We would scrap the Political Declaration, instead outlining Common Market 2.0 as the basis for the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

The transition period would give us the time we need to finalise and implement the agreement with the EU and EFTA states. This would means that the UK would leave the EU on the 29th March – with no extension of Article 50 necessary.

Common Market 2.0 is an agreement that delivers on the vote of the people, takes back control of our key institutions, ensures a good, free trading agreement with the rest of Europe. All this can be achieved without the need for the Northern Ireland backstop to be activated or weakening the Union.

Bleak House

We have a housing crisis in this country. Whilst I am passionately in favour of the Right to Buy and Help to Buy schemes, there is so much more we must do to help families on low incomes.

It’s worth remembering that one in four families have less than £95 in savings, and that the idea of affording a deposit is just for the birds. 682,000 households live in overcrowded accommodation and 1.2 million households are currently on the waiting list for social housing.

Millions more are struggling with extortionately priced private-rented accommodation, with one in five private renters cutting back on food to pay the rent. Many of these families simply cannot afford rent on their wages, costing the taxpayer £23 billion to cover the 27 per cent of private renters receiving housing benefits.

If we want to both ensure a good quality of life for millions of our fellow countrymen and women ,and save the taxpayer billions on the housing benefit bill, we need as much radical action on social and affordable housing as we do for those who want to buy their first home.

This is why the reforms set out by Jim O’Neill in Shelter’s new social housing commission is something that Secretaries of State, such as James Brokenshire, should be listening to. They propose 3.1 million more social homes, costing £10.7 billion a year, but which in reality, would be reduced to £3.8 billion with savings in benefits, and returns to the Government arising from the knock-on economic benefits across the economy.

The housing situation in our country is bleak. We must be the Party of home ownership but we must also be the Party for affordable and social housing. Whether these proposals are adopted or not, the Government has got to come up with a solution that solves our social housing crisis in our country.

The Party of social good

There is an umbilical cord between the British people and the NHS. It was extraordinary and wonderful to see two days of wall-to-wall coverage showing Government financial support for our NHS and its Long-Term Plan. It is an important tribute to Matt Hancock and Jeremy Hunt.

Even better, Hancock reminded the House in his statement that it was a Conservative, the Sir Henry Willink, who first put forward proposals for a NHS and, whilst built by a Labour Government, it is clearly the Conservatives who pioneered the idea of health care free at the point of access.

Matt’s mention of a Conservative creating major social justice reform is something that all Conservatives should be doing all the time. Why on earth do Conservatives not do more in Parliament, speeches, articles and conversations, to remind the public that, so often, in the history of our country, it has been  Conservatives at the forefront of groundbreaking social reform in our country? Whether that was  Wilberforce and slavery, Disraeli and the condition of working people, Macmillan and affordable housing, Thatcher and the Right to Buy, Osborne and the National Living Wage.

Labour mention their historic record on social justice time and time again. It’s time we did so.

Peter Bone: I helped move Cameron’s Government to deliver the referendum. And this deal doesn’t deliver on the result.

It is certainly not the Brexit that people voted for. As Bill Clinton might have said about the main issue: It’s the Sovereignty, Stupid!

Peter Bone is a member of the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union, and is MP for Wellingborough.

All my political life, I have been campaigning to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union superstate. Quite simply, I believe that the United Kingdom should be a sovereign nation making its own decisions.

In 2011, I was behind the motion that we should have a referendum on whether Britain should remain in the European Union. This was opposed by David Cameron’s government and, winding up that debate, I suggested that MPs should put the country first and their Party second. The vote resulted in 81 Conservative MPs defying a strict three-line whip to support a referendum.

In 2015, with my colleagues and Parliamentary neighbours Philip Hollobone and Tom Pursglove, I held a ballot in North Northamptonshire to find out whether local people wanted to leave the EU. This was the biggest vote on the European issue since 1975, with 100,000 ballot papers distributed across Wellingborough, Kettering, Corby and East Northamptonshire. The result was that 81.1 per cent voted to leave.

In December of that year, along with Tom, I co-founded a non-party political Leave campaign – Grassroots Out. I travelled to every corner of the United Kingdom, speaking to people from all areas, ages and backgrounds. I held grassroots events in village halls and at street stalls. I addressed major rallies of thousands of people at venues in every part of our United Kingdom. I knocked on thousands of doors talking to people who were energised by this great democratic event.

On the 23rd of June 2016, the people of the United Kingdom voted by a substantial majority to leave the European Union.

Unfortunately, more than two years on from that great debate, the Prime Minister’s proposal does not deliver the Brexit that 17.4 million people voted for. Let us look at what people told me mattered to them.

First, they wanted an end to the free movement of people from the European Union. They thought it unfair that people from the EU could come to this country and enjoy the benefits of our public services when they had no connection with the United Kingdom, yet at the same time skilled workers, such as doctors, from outside the EU, couldn’t get in. They wanted to see a fair immigration policy based on merit not where you come from.

Theresa May claims that her deal ends free movement, but this is palpable nonsense. The Commons was promised an Immigration Bill more than a year ago. However, it was only last month that we got a White Paper on what might be in the Bill. If the government was planning to end free movement when we left the EU, we would have had such a Bill by now.

The non-binding political declaration, which is just a wish-list, talks about ending free movement, but of course we have no detail of our future trading relationship, and it is highly likely that the Government will trade off ending free movement for a trade deal. The one thing that is certain is the Prime Minister’s plan does not guarantee the ending of free movement.

Second, they wanted an end to billions and billions of pounds paid each and every year to the European Union by UK taxpayers. Last year, we gave the European Union a net £9 billion contribution.

Since we have been a part of the European project we have given a net subscription fee of over £210 billion. If that money had stayed in this country, we could have improved our public services, cut taxes and lowered national debt. This cost might not have been so bad if we had had a trading surplus with the European Union, but of course this is not the case: they sell £100 billion of goods more to us then we do them each year.

Under May’s plan we would pay a minimum amount of £39 billion to the EU for the transition. That equates to £60 million for each constituency in the country, just think what a difference that could make! However, the £39 billion is only the start. Her plans allow for a further extension of two years for the transition period which would cost a further £20 billion.

In addition, we don’t know how much we have to contribute each year in any future trading relationship. So, it is reasonable to expect that the Prime Minister’s plan will cost in excess of £60 billion. That is hardly stopping paying billions and billions of pounds each and every year to the European Union.

Third, they wanted us to make our own laws in our own country. Clearly, our citizens want to return control to Parliament. They want to elect their politicians to make laws which are in the interest of the people of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. They also want the power to be able to throw out those politicians through the ballot box. Simply, they want sovereignty returned to our country. They are fed up with laws and regulations made by European bureaucrats who are not subject to scrutiny or to election by the people.

May’s plan would sign up to accepting laws made by the EU, with no say in making them. The worst part of this being that we have no unilateral right to end this arrangement, and we could become a permanent rule-taker, not rule-maker.

Fourth, they wanted us to be judged by our own judges, not by a foreign court, as our judicial system is the envy of the world. Our judges are of the highest integrity and calibre, and they make their decisions based on the law of the land and never for political reasons. Yet at the moment our Supreme Court is subservient to the European Court of Justice whose judges are appointed for political reasons. They have a long record of producing dubious decisions which seem to be based more on politics than the law. What the British people want is a set of properly qualified judges, solely interpreting the law of our land and making their decisions purely based on the evidence they have put before them. That is what we have with our judicial system and that is not what we have with the ECJ.

Unfortunately, the Prime Minister’s plans would have us in a transition period for up to four years, during that period we will be subject to the rulings of the European Court of Justice. What is worse, is that we will not have any say in how the laws are drawn up, and we will have no presence in the ECJ. Even after the implementation period, if the Northern Ireland backstop kicks in, we will still be subject to European rulings on vast swathes of the law and regulation that affect us. So clearly the May’s proposals do not allow for our own judges to judge our own laws.

The Prime Minister’s proposal might be the worst deal ever for this country. It is certainly not the Brexit that people voted for. As Bill Clinton might have said about Brexit: It’s the Sovereignty, Stupid!

Owen Paterson: No Deal would put the people back in control.

Other options being floated – extending Article 50, a second referendum, or the subjugation of the Withdrawal Agreement – are designed to hold us in the EU’s orbit in the hope that we may be sucked back in

Owen Paterson is a former Environment Secretary and former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. He is MP for Shropshire North. He is Chairman of UK2020.

The EU question has always been about sovereignty.  It is about who governs the United Kingdom and how.  Parliament deliberately put the answer to this in the hands of the British people by passing the EU Referendum Act in 2015.  In 2016, the people gave their answer.  They wished, via democratically-elected Members of Parliament, to govern themselves.

The Withdrawal Agreement categorically fails to deliver that result.  Despite repeatedly ruling out membership of the Customs Union, the Prime Minister’s proposed “single customs territory” locks the UK into it in all but name.  The UK would be tied to EU rules on critical policy issues, with the European Court of Justice retaining the right to issue “binding rulings” on the interpretation of such rules and sanction the UK for non-compliance.

The Agreement is not even compatible with the EU (Withdrawal) Act passed earlier this year.  This Act repeals the European Communities Act 1972 (ECA) entirely from March 29 of this year.  Yet under the Prime Minister’s proposed Withdrawal Agreement, a version of the ECA will remain in place throughout the lengthy transition period.

The supine nature of the Withdrawals Agreement’s negotiation is fully revealed in its treatment of Northern Ireland.  The Backstop would keep Northern Ireland in the Customs Union and Single Market, creating a new political entity called “UK(NI)”.  Northern Ireland’s elected politicians would have no say over significant areas of this new entity’s policy (ironically, unlike those in Dublin); Northern Ireland’s constitutional status would be fundamentally altered in clear breach of the Belfast Agreement’s Principle of Consent, the requirement to consult the Northern Ireland Assembly and even the Acts of Union 1800.  With no unilateral right to end the arrangement, the UK could continue indefinitely as a permanent rule-taker, with no say as to how its rules are made – while paying £39 billion for the privilege.

None of these failures arise under World Trade Organisation terms.  The WTO has already confirmed that “nothing in WTO rules . . . forces anyone to put up border posts”, so there would be no “hard border”.  The jurisdiction of the ECJ would end and we would save ourselves £39 billion. The UK would be free to make its own laws, to be interpreted in our own courts.  We would take our independent seat on the WTO to work for free trade with allies across the world.

Perhaps the real reason for the Establishment hysteria surrounding a No Deal Brexit under WTO rules is that we actually would be leaving.  The other options now being floated – extending Article 50, a second referendum, or the subjugation demanded by the Withdrawal Agreement – are designed to hold the UK in the EU’s orbit in the hope that it may be sucked back in.  These options would completely fail to honour the biggest democratic verdict ever delivered in British history.

The optimal Brexit outcome remains a wide-ranging, zero-tariff Free Trade Agreement as offered repeatedly by Donald Tusk.  Such a deal can still be negotiated, but not by the end of March.  Having wasted so much time on the Withdrawal Agreement, leaving on WTO terms is now the only way to break free fully and build a more prosperous, independent future.

This article is adapted from a new Economists for Free Trade report: ‘No Deal is the Best Deal for Britain

Don’t be fooled: this Brexit deal creates a triple lock to shackle the UK to Brussels forever

Just as we thought the orchestrated fog of confusion around the Withdrawal Agreement was about to lift, there were reports that Theresa May might even postpone the meaningful vote again while she seeks “reassurance” from the EU about the Northern Ireland backstop. Whatever fudge is cooked up in Brussels to try to bolster support for […]

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Just as we thought the orchestrated fog of confusion around the Withdrawal Agreement was about to lift, there were reports that Theresa May might even postpone the meaningful vote again while she seeks “reassurance” from the EU about the Northern Ireland backstop.

Whatever fudge is cooked up in Brussels to try to bolster support for her “deal”, it is very unlikely that the EU will delete the backstop. Why? Because it is a crucial element of the Withdrawal Agreement’s “triple lock” structure designed to stop Brexit. “Withdrawal Agreement” is an Orwellian misnomer, of course. This agreement keeps Britain in chains.

Voters may believe we need it in order to leave the EU. We do not. They could be fooled by the Prime Minister’s repeated claims that there might be “no Brexit” unless it is passed – when of course Brexit will happen by default without it under the terms of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act. Voters might also be forgiven for believing that the Withdrawal Agreement settles our future trade relationship with the EU. Not in the slightest. Future trade talks remain just that – in the future – while May’s “deal” keeps the UK legally shackled to a moribund EU economy which it must attempt to revive with vast sums of British taxpayers’ money for an indeterminate number of years.

Project Fear has been in overdrive since the Withdrawal Agreement was published, with spin, misrepresentation and blatant untruths deployed to sell it to a rightly suspicious nation. But once people open the Withdrawal Agreement tin, they seem more inclined to spit out its contents than swallow them whole. It’s rather like buying a can labelled “tomato soup” and finding it contains a concoction of deadly nightshade.

But credit where it’s due: EU officials (ably abetted by their British allies) have produced a devilishly clever draft treaty which, if passed, would end Brexit and get Britain ready to board the express train to a United States of Europe. The political takeover of the UK represented by the Withdrawal Agreement is an audacious attempt to reverse a damning popular vote of discontent with the European Project and provide fresh impetus for the federal superstate that is the EU’s raison d’être.

The EU’s triple lock guarantee is so constructed that never again will Brussels be troubled by an explosion of democracy in the United Kingdom. Parliament has one last chance to escape total eclipse – and it is now, by rejecting the Withdrawal Agreement in its entirety.

The first lock: the transition period
The first lock is the transition period, which lasts until at least 2021. We must hand over an estimated £39 billion for nothing, be bound by EU law and take orders from an unelected Joint Committee operating under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. Will the EU27 agree an equitable free trade agreement before the end of 2020? Unlikely, since all the goodies they want in the “future partnership” are set out in the Northern Ireland backstop, which kicks in automatically on 1st January 2021 unless superseded by a “partnership” agreement. Full ratification by all Member States is required before any such agreement can come into force. Achieving this in time to avoid entering the backstop would be nothing short of miraculous, even if the EU agrees to extend the transition period for one or two years. So it is more pay with no say and a likely doubling of the Brexit bill to £80 billion, to be paid with no reference to British MPs.

The second lock: the backstop
The backstop is intended to be inescapable. It prepares Britain for the final destination set out in the political declaration, as a permanent satellite state of the EU. By which time, of course, it is doubtless hoped that we will be so fed up with our vassalage that we decide to rejoin the EU as a full member – with greatly increased budget contributions and a whole swathe of new EU law to obey. The United States of Europe will have taken shape during our “wilderness years” using our money (“Britgeld” seems to be an appropriate term), but without our political input. No taxation without representation? What a joke.

Not only does the backstop carve out Northern Ireland as an EU province and set a border in the Irish Sea, it creates a partial “customs union” that requires us to implement EU trade tariffs and policy with no decision-making powers. Under highly restrictive “non-regression clauses”, the UK also agrees to implement all EU environmental, competition, state aid and tax harmonisation laws, with the unelected Joint Committee and the ECJ once again able to punish us for any perceived backsliding. British farmers will be locked into a subsidy regime well below support received by EU27 farmers, who nevertheless retain tariff-free access to the UK. British agriculture would be decimated. It means we could not support British businesses, give ourselves a competitive edge in new technologies where we excel, strike independent trade deals or diverge in key policy areas such as goods regulations and tax. Free EU access to UK fisheries is set down as a marker for negotiation in the future “deal”.

The third lock: the “future partnership”
Anyone expecting the EU27 to give up the immense advantages they gain under the backstop is delusional. Retaining tariff-free access to the UK market and effective control of UK trade and competition policy must be nirvana for them. To ensure they reap the full benefit, there is the third and final lock in the Withdrawal Agreement. Unless we agree to a “future partnership” as set out in the political declaration, the backstop will endure in perpetuity.

The Political Declaration replicates all the onerous “non-regression” clauses of the backstop and requires even more surrender of sovereignty via participation in and funding of the EU’s aerospace and defence programmes, free access to UK waters for EU fishermen, a full customs union and common trade policy, free movement by the backdoor under “mobility” clauses, EU control of UK agriculture via the state aid rules and in general full adherence to the acquis communautaire in all policy areas.

Thank you for your triple lock guarantee, M. Barnier. The Withdrawal Agreement cage conforms to the highest EU safety standards.

But could I have my Sovereign Tomato Soup now, please?

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Kieron O’Hara: No more referendums, please – they don’t work. A second would be no better than the first.

Indeed, it would be best to pause Brexit altogether until the parties have worked out what they want – and put it to voters in a general election.

Kieron O’Hara is an associate professor and senior research fellow in electronics and computer science at the University of Southampton. He has also written extensively on conservatism and the Conservative Party.

We are in a bit of a mess. It’s what comes of trying to carry out a major piece of constitutional surgery with a blunt knife in double quick time.

The reason for the Brexit fiasco is the referendum, in which the mendacious Project Fear competed with mendacious claims advertised on buses. Mendacity certainly won, but mendacity lost too – so the poor campaign isn’t the problem. Rather, it is because a referendum is no way to make complex decisions.

As I argued here last year, we cannot claim that the referendum provided a mandate for anything. The decision to leave was pretty clear, but fatally provided no mechanism for telling us what leaving meant, nor by whom the decision was to be implemented. The end was willed without the means.

The most galling of the many galling statements made during and after the campaign was a slogan of Nigel Farage’s: “This is democracy!” as if direct democracy is democracy and Parliamentary, or representative, democracy isn’t. Amen to Jonathan Clark’s recent thoughtful piece on this site, calling for more attention to the constitution, But only two cheers for his conclusion that “the present challenge is to accommodate that new arrival in the political arena, the referendum, and to turn it into a clearly specified, moderate, and constructive institution, as it is in Switzerland”.

It works in Switzerland because the Swiss have honed its use, painfully, over two centuries; as a lethal alien import it dropped a bomb on British politics. Had the 2014 referendum gone the other way, the crisis would have come earlier, with a disorderly breakup of the United Kingdom. We avoided that, fortunately, only for David Cameron to persuade himself that these referendum things are a doddle. And now we are where we are.

So the biggest imperative is to avoid a second referendum, absurdly dubbed the ‘People’s Vote’ (who took part in 201: badgers?). Months of Government time would be taken up with both sides trying to craft the question to make sure they would win, and if the 2016 decision were reversed, it is hard to exaggerate the bad blood that would be created. After all, the first one went so well.

Parliament is the place for decisions to be made and implemented, and general elections are the sources of mandates, telling us not only the ‘what’, but also the ‘how’ and the ‘by whom’. Elections confer legitimacy; referendums do not. That is not to say that the latter don’t produce great moral authority, but if you think moral authority translates easily into legitimacy, tell me why we are where we are.

Hang on, we had a general election, didn’t we, in 2017? Why didn’t that help? Because the Prime Minister had no policy on Brexit (other than that it meant Brexit), and the opposition had less than that. We were only beginning to work out what is now known as ‘the deal’, so, as well as wasting time, pointlessly destroying the Government’s majority and elevating Jeremy Corbyn’s status from ‘clown’ to ‘dangerous’, it failed to provide the mandate necessary. It couldn’t tell us ‘how’, and it didn’t even tell us ‘by whom’.

Thanks to the wretched Nick Clegg’s wretched Fixed-Term Parliaments Act (please repeal it, someone), the next election, barring accidents, will be in 2022. Three and a half years – that is a decent period of time to work out the complexities of disentangling ourselves from an intricate set of arrangements that have built up over practically half a century (the choice in the farcical referendum of 1975 was far simpler). Can we get from here to there? The recent decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union that the UK can unilaterally halt Brexit is, paradoxically, the way forward. We should – but only temporarily.

The outcome of pressing the pause button would be two or three years in which each party could work out exactly what its interpretation of Brexit was. For the Conservatives, the mechanism for this would be simple. May’s term of office has been an unqualified disaster (I was very supportive at the beginning, but really …). Let’s have the Parliamentary vote on the deal asap; presumably it will be voted down, and she should then resign. A vigorous leadership contest, not carried out in the shadow of impending Brexit, would set the direction for the serious thinking that still has not been done.

The second advantage of pressing the pause button would be that it would force Labour to come off the fence and say what it wants. May has absolutely failed to flush Labour out. At some point, the Corbyn leadership must be made to decide whether to alienate its working class base, or its Momentum wing – not just carp from the sidelines and wave its meaningless tests about.

Then we would have the election, based on clear manifesto commitments. After the annus horribilis we have just been through, no-one can say that they don’t know where the difficulties and pressure points will be. Presumably the Tories would advocate a harder Brexit than Labour; Labour might go for a customs union sort of arrangement. Some parties would advocate scrapping Brexit altogether.

We would then have a result, and that result, unlike 2016 and 2017, would be definitive. That Government, whoever would form it, would have a mandate, and should therefore be the one to trigger Article 50 at a time of its choosing. Maybe no side would get a majority – but at least we, and the rest of the EU, would be dealing with known quantities and the extent of consensus and dispute would be known. Parliament would be on its mettle to work it out and deliver.

What did for us earlier, when, on the back of an insufficiently informative referendum, Article 50 was triggered way too soon, was the cry that Brexit delayed would be Brexit denied. Brexiteers need to curb their impatience; this needs to be done properly. Further delay is necessary because we have already gone off half-cocked.

Do I think this will happen? No – I realise it is pie in the sky. A second referendum looks more probable by the day. Like the Irish in 2008-9, we have to vote and vote again until we get it ‘right’. I can think of nothing worse.

Rob Wilson: It is still possible for May to revive her dead parrot of a deal – but it won’t be easy

There are four steps she must take, successfully and in short order, to be in with any chance of seeing it fly.

Rob Wilson is a former Minister for Civil Society, and was MP for Reading East from 2005 – 2017.

Theresa May must feel like the pet shop keeper in the famous Monty Python sketch, where the irate customer tries to return his dead Norwegian Blue parrot. May wasn’t selling a dead bird to MPs, but you don’t have to go far within the corridors of power at Westminster for someone to tell you that her “Withdrawal Deal is dead”. Selling someone a dead parrot – let alone “a dead deal” – takes a remarkable salesperson and a high degree of ruthlessness.

It’s still hard to imagine how anyone within Number 10 could have believed the Withdrawal Deal was ever going to fly in its original state, as it was an agreement that fell off its perch well before it got out of the shop. But how dead is it? Is it merely resting (for those of you who know the sketch), pining for the Norwegian fjords, stunned, or actually bang-it-hard-on-the-counter dead? If you listen to all the commentators, experts and politicians, it deceased, expired, dead.

As things stand today, the deal is dead – but could it be resuscitated?  What would it take to make it attractive enough to break through the Westminster logjam?

The Government understands it will take a large dollop of desperation for some form of its deal to be accepted. Desperation from Ministers, MPs and the EU to find some form of accommodation to avoid a No Deal Brexit. The Prime Minister is currently able to sit back and watch the chaos as Norway plus, Canada plus plus, a second referendum and Labour’s promised model all fight like ferrets in a sack. Meanwhile, the only negotiated deal on the table is hers as the tick-tock to the deadline grows louder. If you peer through the fog of war this does look and feel like a tactic, and one that the EU has probably agreed.

However, both the Prime Minister and the EU know that allowing the clock to tick down close to midnight without certainty is high risk. Labour and opposition parties could hold firm and many Tories hate the deal and like the idea of No Deal enough to simply leave without agreement and trade on WTO terms. Hence the Prime Minister is forced to negotiate again, even though the EU appears not to be playing ball. My firm belief is that the EU will give ground in January – but will it give enough?

Here’s the four things I believe the Prime Minister needs to do to have a chance with the Withdrawal Treaty.

First, and most important, the dreaded backstop arrangement will need to change. The UK must be able to leave it without what is an effective EU veto. This is the issue that most vexes those who believe in UK independence and sovereignty.  The Prime Minister knows this and she has moved her position significantly due to the no confidence vote, promising MPs she would deliver legally binding terms that deliver certainty as opposed to best endeavours or assurances. She now has to deliver a legally enforceable agreement with the EU that either sets an end date to the backstop or, for example, give Parliament a vote as to when the backstop ends. I understand several ideas around how the trade deal might be used to stop the trigger of a backstop are now being considered. The key issue is that the UK must have power to decide to end any customs union-style arrangements within a time limited period.

Second, there needs to be clarity around when the UK can enter into its own free trade deals. The obvious answer would be at the end of the transition in December 2020, but with the EU able to extend a backstop indefinitely no date can currently be set for the beginning of new trading relationships. Whilst we can negotiate during the transition and backstop periods, we cannot implement trade deals. The trade benefits of an outward-looking UK are essential to delivering the benefits of Brexit, so the Prime Minister has to have certainty about when they can begin to smooth the way for her Treaty.

Third – and particularly important for the DUP and other Unionists – is the question of whether Northern Ireland will be subject to different rules and regulations from the rest of the UK now and in the future. Of course the plan currently on the table means that it will. Separating Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK on regulation of goods or customs arrangements is simply not going to be acceptable due to the political ramifications in Northern Ireland.  The Prime Minister must therefore deliver a UK-wide temporary transition arrangement, that concludes for Northern Ireland at the same time as the rest of the UK. If she doesn’t, Scotland will certainly ask for the same special customs arrangements with the EU, putting pressure on the Union of the UK. Treating all parts of the UK the same is a key test of success.

Fourth, sovereignty is the golden thread that runs through Brexit for many people. Those who voted for Brexit do not want to be ruled by foreign courts like the ECJ, so the question of whether its jurisdiction continues is an important one. The Prime Minister will have to provide evidence that its days of interfering in UK law are time-limited and that UK law has supremacy. In the same vein, sovereignty over our seas is part of what is known as “taking back control”. Scottish Tory MPs in particular want it absolutely clear that Parliament will decide who fishes in our rich and fertile waters. As we saw at the last EU summit, the French President wished to use letting the UK exit the backstop as a bargaining chip to get what he wanted for French fishermen.

Getting the EU to agree to what largely amounts to the Prime Minister’s own red lines is no easy task. With a Conservative Party that does not want Theresa May leading it into another General Election and over a third of her Parliamentary Party having no confidence in her as their leader, her room for manoeuvre is severely limited. She simply has to get concessions for her deal to go through. Despite the failure of the no confidence vote, the EU will know that if the ‘meaningful vote’ fails in January, the Prime Minister could be toppled and chaos will reign and there will be no way of stopping it. The implications for the EU, when it has so many of its own problems, are unthinkable.

One might think ‘nothing has changed’, as everything is still in one almighty logjam In Parliament and with the EU. But of course things have changed after Conservative MPs’ no confidence vote, and the EU knows it. They know the person they have painstakingly negotiated with over the past two years will be toppled if they do not compromise – and they will not be able to control what follows. An avoidable political, constitutional and possibly an economic crisis will leave the EU badly scarred.  So the EU will make concessions, so now is the time for the Prime Minister to prepare for No Deal as never before and hang tough with the EU for the things she needs conceded.

If she does, and it’s still a substantial if, her Norwegian Blue of a dead deal might just surprise everybody, take wing and fly.

After voting Leave, we didn’t reckon on the relentless antics of the Remain-obsessed establishment

Back in 2015, Parliament voted by 544 to 53 to give the people a referendum on our membership of the European Union that was supposed to resolve the issue for a generation. A simple majority was required and the choice of the people would be delivered (they said). It was made clear by the Prime […]

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Back in 2015, Parliament voted by 544 to 53 to give the people a referendum on our membership of the European Union that was supposed to resolve the issue for a generation.

A simple majority was required and the choice of the people would be delivered (they said). It was made clear by the Prime Minister of the day, the Remain campaign and most of the establishment that Leaving meant a whole heap of doom and gloom and exiting the Single Market and Customs Union. Taking back control.

It was a hard-fought battle. Each side threw the kitchen sink at it – it was once-in-a-generation after all. The public turned out to vote at the highest rate in a generation and decided to Leave the EU.

People then laid down their arms. The campaigning was over. It was now back to the politicians and civil servants to implement our collective decision.

The problem? A festering swamp of the political elite, high echelons of the Civil Service, big business and the wider establishment were bubbling in hatred at the result. How dare the people go against what we, ‘the very clever experts’, think?

Of course, they had only ever gone along with giving people the choice because they arrogantly thought they were certain to win. The result completely shocked them.

Initially, they were resigned to the fact that they had lost. The people had kicked back against their globalist agenda. This short-term resignation quickly changed into a well-organised and relentless campaign by those who benefit from the status quo to frustrate or stop Brexit at every turn.

Over the last couple of months, over £150,000 has been spent on Facebook ads by the sore loser brigade and ironically named “People’s Vote” campaign who wish to reverse the referendum result. A group of bitter MSPs, MPs and MEPs recently petitioned the European Court of Justice which miraculously sped up their normally glacially-paced judicial process to tell us, just before the scheduled meaningful vote, that the UK could unilaterally revoke Article 50.

It is because we never drained that festering swamp that we are where we are with Brexit today. The issues driving the vote were a mix between traditional ‘right’ and ‘left’ and much more than immigration. It confused the establishment. We needed serious civil service reform and political vision to create the high-performing team to reshape the country to address these concerns and deliver the referendum result. That never happened. We just plodded on as we always had done.

No serious planning for ‘no deal’ was done, Article 50 was triggered before we had got our act together and we agreed to the EU’s timetable and ordering for the negotiations which gave them the upper hand from the start. Then we had the recent shambolic episode about the meaningful vote being 100% on and then 100% off.

From the moment the verdict was delivered, the establishment has treated Brexit as a risk to mitigate rather than an opportunity for our country to forge a new path. At every turn, they overlook the risks of remaining tied into the EU system on its trajectory to more centralised control and a federal state.

To go against the status quo and all those who benefit from it always requires vision, strong will and leadership.

Sadly, we have suffered from an epic failure of leadership, decision-making and political aptitude. With that lack of a clear direction, chaos has reigned.

Now, in a last-ditch attempt, the Prime Minister is dashing around EU capitals in the hopes of warm – but likely meaningless – words, while the cobwebs have been blown off the Remain campaign’s Project Fear torture machine in an attempt to terrify us into ‘making the right choice’ once again. The problem for the Government is that unless there are real and legally-binding changes to the Withdrawal Agreement text, they are simply delaying their inevitable defeat in the Commons.

If the establishment continues to fight against the will of the people, they may awaken our very own ‘gilets jaunes’, which they would live to regret.

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It almost works

Were it not for the backstop, May’s deal would get over the line – with support from an overwhelming majority of Conservatives, including us.

Imagine for a moment that, at some point before Christmas or in the New Year, the backstop was radically amended – that a unilateral exit mechanism were to be slapped on to it.  Then go on to picture the following events.  The revised deal passes through Parliament, and there is no early general election.  And at the end of transition in 2020, a decision is taken about whether or not to extend it. Let’s presume that at this point it is indeed lengthened for, say, six months.  At this point, the backstop duly kicks in.  Then, at the beginning of 2022, the Government leaves the backstop, just in time for the general election of later that year.

During this sequence of events, the first substantial objection to the backstop – that we aren’t free to leave it – would have fallen away this very winter.  The second complaint – that the backstop places a regulatory border in the Irish sea and, given the presence of a backstop within a backstop in the text of the Withdrawal Agreement, a potential customs border too – would last for a mere sixth months or so.  Then the division that it causes within the United Kingdom would end.

From that point, the Government would have the freedom to leave the continuing customs union, and negotiate, sign and effect meaningful trade deals.  For example, the way would be open for it to pursue one with the United States, if it wished: the American Government has made it clear that any such arrangement will be restricted if the backstop is in place.  More broadly, the gains for Britain from May’s deal would at this point no longer be outweighed by the losses.

Let us remind ourselves what these wins would be.  As we wrote in our analysis of the deal after it was agreed, we would regain control of our borders, under its proposed terms, after the end of the transition period, extended or unextended.  Free movement would be no more.  We would also regain control of money.  We would almost certainly want to pay up for participation in specific European programmes.  But automatic payments into the EU budget would come to an end.  A Prime Minister Johnson would be able to tip the entire sum down the gaping maw of the NHS if Parliament so agreed.

There would be a role for the European Court of Justice in relation to EU nationals for eight years.  An arbitration panel would refer points of EU law to the Court, and there is a good case for saying that the panel would then be bound by its rulings.  But it is important not to confuse disputes about the meaning of EU law with those between the UK and the EU more broadly.  These would be resolved by a dispute resolution process.  Meanwhile, the Withdrawal Agreement’s legal underpinning for the backstop would become otiose when the backstop ended.

In short, 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 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.

There is another, big, structural gain from her deal.  Under its terms, we would be tied to developing EU acquis on state aid and competition.  However, we would not be so bound elsewhere – for example, in social or environmental matters.  Some EU27 countries are worried that British governments will be able to undercut their social model in future.  So under the deal’s terms, we will gain freedom of movement for goods – up to a point – without conceding freedom of movement for peoples.  The four freedoms have been prised apart.

Now, there are powerful objections to this rosy scenario.  Frictionless entry to EU for British goods will doubtless be bargained off against permissive entry to the UK for EU citizens, and to British waters for EU fishermen.  Guarantees in the Political Declaration rather than the Withdrawal Agreement lack legal bite.  Even were a unilateral exit to be negotiated from the backstop, we would still have agreed to pay the £39 billion or more agreed under the terms of the agreement – thus reducing our bargaining power during trade negotiations.  Essentially, the EU wants a high-alignment, high-access settlement, and so does our Treasury-led Government.

And the strongest case against our imaginary dropping of a permanent backstop is that it simply isn’t on the table: that the EU will not shaft a remaining member, Ireland, for the sake of a departing one, the UK, as this morning’s news confirms.  We concede the point at once.  Were Leo Varadkar not determined to take a high-risk gamble that the UK/Ireland land border will end up no harder than now – and had the Government rumbled him earlier and treated Ireland more attentively – matters might not have reached this pass.  Still, we are where we are.  This Prime Minister is most unlikely to win any worthwhile backstop concession in the New Year.

Why sketch out this scenario at all, then, if it almost certainly won’t happen?  The answer is: to make a point well worth making – namely, that only a single obstacle prevents May from winning the backing of her Party for her deal.  Most of the hostility to it would collapse were there a uniteral exit mechanism.  The list of objectors would then shrink from the 71 we clocked to a much smaller number: fewer than 20, at a guess.  Most would swallow a limited role for the ECJ, and reject the other objections that we have listed.

Sure, they would say, the EU will seek to gain entry for their citizens and fishermen.  But it would have no automatic right to either – and that’s what the referendum was all about, wasn’t it? – taking back control.  Yes, we would have lose some bargaining power by agreeing to part with £39 billion.  None the less, we would retain some too, because of our power to refuse access to our country and waters.  All in all, a reformed backstop would be allow the Conservatives and Labour to square off against each other on EU policy in future elections.

For were the UK free of the backstop come 2022, the Tory election manifesto would reflect its Eurosceptic centre of gravity, by proposing a Canada-type policy for future trade talks.  Labour’s, meanwhile, would be more Norwegian in flavour.  These two visions would then compete at the polls – at least to the degree that both parties, and voters, wanted to fix their attention on the future of Brexit.

As we say, this won’t happen – at least under this Prime Minister.  Her deal and the backstop march together in step.  And admittedly, even with a right to unilateral exit, this Government would be likely to exercise it if no deal waited on the other side of the door.

None the less, that exit would be there – which, ultimately, is what matters.  We’ve said before that Brexit isn’t a still photo, but a moving film – or should be.  Where Britain will be on day one isn’t where we will be in year ten.  The backstop freezes that film and prevents it from playing.  Provide a sure means of escape from it, and the film begins to roll.  And May’s deal thus becomes acceptable.

Unfortunately, there is vanishingly little prospect of that.  The backstop lies between her and success like a hollow in the path of a runner.  It is so narrow as almost to be leapable. But it plunges many, many miles deep.