Without a major rewrite – which she’s not demanding – Theresa May’s Brexit deal will remain unacceptable

Yet again, Brexit produced unprecedented scenes in Parliament yesterday. Using a little known provision of parliamentary procedure, the Government cancelled the planned MPs’ vote on the draft EU Withdrawal Agreement. This latest turn of events will leave many people outside the political bubble feeling bemused and worried about yet another twist in the Brexit saga. […]

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Yet again, Brexit produced unprecedented scenes in Parliament yesterday. Using a little known provision of parliamentary procedure, the Government cancelled the planned MPs’ vote on the draft EU Withdrawal Agreement.

This latest turn of events will leave many people outside the political bubble feeling bemused and worried about yet another twist in the Brexit saga.

Even more disappointing than the cancellation of the vote was the announcement on what the Government plans to do next.

I have been calling on the Prime Minister to seek better terms from the EU. But in her statement in Parliament, it became clear that Mrs May is not going to ask for the major rewrite of the withdrawal deal which is needed. It seems that all she will seek is ‘reassurance’ on the so-called ‘backstop’. What form that reassurance will take is not clear, but it seems unlikely that it would involve altering even one word of the 585 pages of the agreement.

The draft Withdrawal Agreement is not the national interest and does not respect the vote to Leave. Even if the Government is successful in achieving some kind of side letter or declaration on matters relating to the backstop, that is not enough to make the deal acceptable.

I recognise the need for compromise as we settle a new relationship with our European neighbours. I strongly believe we need to listen to views of people on all sides, whichever way they voted in the referendum. But right across the spectrum of views on Brexit, there are many who believe that this draft agreement is not the right one for our country.

A legal obligation to pay in the region of £38 billion to the EU without any certainty on our future trading relationship will significantly undermine our negotiating position. We would be giving up a key advantage in the negotiations for little in return.

The so-called ‘backstop’ would do even greater harm. It is not acceptable for the United Kingdom to become a satellite of EU, locked permanently into their regulatory and customs orbit, without a vote or a voice or even an exit door. Even the EU’s trade agreement with tiny Moldova has a break clause allowing them to make a unilateral decision to leave.

Northern Ireland would have an even greater proportion of its laws determined by institutions in which they have no say than would be the case in the rest of the UK. Even listing the titles of those laws takes over 60 pages of the draft agreement.

As the Attorney General’s legal advice confirmed, Northern Ireland would be required to treat Great Britain as a third country in relation to goods coming across the Irish Sea. According to Martin Howe QC, the backstop is arguably inconsistent with the 1800 Articles of the Acts of Union, a core part of our constitution. These state that:

“in all treaties with any foreign power, his Majesty’s subjects of Ireland shall have the same privileges and be on the same footing as his Majesty’s subjects of Great Britain”.

The Articles also stipulate that all prohibitions on the export of products from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, or vice versa, should cease from 1st January 1801.

Even if the backstop were to be entirely removed (and this is not something the Government has said it will ask for), there would still be unacceptable flaws in the draft agreement. In particular, the significant continuing role for the European Court of Justice would prevent us from restoring democratic control over making our laws. Yet when I appealed to the Prime Minister in Parliament yesterday to try to get the role of the ECJ scaled back, she declined to do so.

If Parliament ratifies this treaty, it will be legally binding and it will apply regardless of any warm words or declarations that might be secured from EU leaders over the next few days.

More people voted to Leave in June 2016 than have voted for anything else ever in the history of British democracy. This was a legitimate expression of the natural desire to be an independent self-governing democracy, the basis on which most countries around the world operate their systems of government.

EU membership means vesting supreme law-making power in people we do not elect and cannot remove, people who in this negotiation process have shown clearly that they do not have our best interests at heart and are prepared to try to inflict punishment on us for the democratic choice we have made.

Brexit is an issue which has divided the country. We need to try find a way to bridge the divisions which the referendum has exposed. But I do not believe that the draft Withdrawal Agreement is the right way forward for my constituency or my country.

I will continue to press the Government to seek changes from the EU to remedy the deal’s fundamental flaws. If the EU refuse. then we must be prepared to walk away without a deal and step up preparation for a clean break Brexit on 29th March on WTO terms.

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How to get Brexit back on track when the Withdrawal Agreement is rejected by MPs

The current political turmoil and constitutional crisis has so many twists and turns that it makes House of Cards look pedestrian. Of course the real issue comes down to what happens when – rather than if – the proposed deal is voted down on tomorrow, 11th December (or even dropped). Here there is a clear […]

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The current political turmoil and constitutional crisis has so many twists and turns that it makes House of Cards look pedestrian.

Of course the real issue comes down to what happens when – rather than if – the proposed deal is voted down on tomorrow, 11th December (or even dropped).

Here there is a clear gap opening up between media reports and hard legal reality – what the actual effects are of the political manoeuvring of Dominic Grieve, Sir Keir Starmer and their merry conniving bands. There have been desperate media reports that ‘no deal’ is off the table, when it is actually remains the ‘default position’ as Andrea Leadsom told Radio 4 just last week.

Let’s assume Conservative MPs think there is enough turkey on Christmas menus not to be part of the required two-thirds majority needed to vote for a General Election, and that the EU have indeed ruled out any major renegotiation.

The bottom line is that the various options being desperately pushed by those who want ‘anything but a true Brexit’ are just not viable. There is:

  • ‘Norway Plus’ – even worse that the slavish EEA, which adds back membership of the customs union, thereby killing all future UK trade deals, and with no control of immigration, no say over EU laws, and large payments;
  • A ‘Second Referendum’ – with its totally confused offer: ‘tell us if this final 2,000-page deal is better than staying in the EU when we’ve already left. Oh, and by the way you will have to join the euro and lose the rebate’. Pointless too in that Leave is predicted to win again; or 
  • Extending Article 50 to allow more muddle time – which will either mess up the EU by landing the Brexit issue right in the middle of European Parliament elections in May or mess up all the groups, chairmanships and procedures of the European Parliament in the farcical situation of British MEPs being elected for a few months.

But all such amendments to the motion are not legally binding anyway – they can only be advisory. They might bring political pressure, but they do not have legal effect. As the Commons Chief Clerk, Sir David Natzler, confirmed: whatever MPs vote on by way of motion “has no statutory significance”, as they do not constitute “a vote on whether to accept or reject no deal.” That requires new legislation. The actual law – in the EU Withdrawal Act – states clearly that we will leave on 29th March 2019.

Given that reality, and bearing in mind how rash it is to try to indicate a way forward in this maelstrom, this is what I propose now as the best next steps:

1) Assuming the vote fails on 11th December, or is put off, I believe the Government should make a statement immediately saying that preparations for a ‘no deal’ option – better called a ‘Clean Global Brexit’ or ‘World Trade Deal’ – will go into SuperDrive. Sorry, but defer Christmas!

Where there’s a will, there’s a way: in the Falklands War, the Ministry of Defence managed to put together a task force of 100 ships in just 48 hours. We can manage this process, and thousands of civil servants have been on the case for years. Like the Millennium Bug, claims of Armageddon and planes falling out the sky gave way to nothing happening on 1st January 2000.

2) The UK should then go back to Brussels, not to renegotiate this current draft Withdrawal Agreement, but to agree a pared-down, bare bones emergency series of bilateral agreements covering only the essential ‘must haves’: aviation, customs, citizens’ rights, medical products, European Investment Bank assets etc. The beauty of this is that if one agreement falls, then the others are not lost. The DUP’s Arlene Foster has proposed bilaterals. These bilaterals could be agreed by Westminster and the EU by March, and would any sane MP or MEP dare to seek to derail any such vital preparation in these circumstances? They should hold all further Westminster business, such as the Immigration and Trade bills, that may be hijacked.

3) The UK should also formally advise the EU that it wishes to accept the offer made not once but three times by the EU: that of a SuperCanada/CETA+++ Free Trade Agreement with 100% tariff- and quota-free access to the EU Single Market plus comprehensive services (first offered by Donald Tusk on 7th March), and which we could start negotiating from the day we become a ‘third country’ – 30th March next year.

We can build on the three pages on trade in the more appealing draft Political Declaration, but drop all notion of a ‘Single Customs Territory’ – the UK must firmly leave the EU’s Customs Union and Single Market. We are in a unique position to negotiate an FTA fast – as all our laws are convergent at present and we don’t have to spend years wrangling over which tariffs to keep or get rid of, as others do.

4) Having initiated moves to agree a SuperCanada FTA, the UK and EU can now jointly notify the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that in the light of working to agree a comprehensive FTA and future Political Declaration, we are invoking Article 24 of GATT (the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade).

This is important because Article 24 allows us to maintain the same tariff-free access to both our markets without breaching WTO discriminatory Most Favoured Nation (MFN) laws. Article 24 allows “an interim agreement leading to a formation of a free trade area” and allows “a reasonable length of time” – up to 10 years – to negotiate it.

So, we whilst we will need customs declarations under WTO, we will be able to maintain the same zero tariffs as now with the EU – the free trade area will remain. EU exporters to the UK would save £13 billion in tariffs (and our consumers too) and UK exporters £5 billion. We will also be free to lower tariffs for other trading partners as we wish – something specifically excluded in the Backstop. Nor should there be any Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) either under WTO agreements.

We can also enact the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement which recently came into force that obliges the EU27 to adopt measures like authorised economic operators (trusted traders), which are part of the solution for the Northern Ireland border issue along with electronic declarations and remote checks away from the border.

5) As a sign of Britain’s free trade intent, we can now immediately initiate full and unfettered negotiations with international trade partners such as the USA, China and India, without these deals being torpedoed by being tied into the EU Customs Union, Chequers or the Backstop. The picture would be clear at last, and not be delayed by unending years of transition. Similarly, we will seek to build on current work to ‘roll over’ the benefits and obligations of existing EU trade deals such as that with South Korea.

6) So, on 30th March the UK can be cleanly out of the European Union and back into the world, with an acceptable and managed World Trade Deal option in place, free of years more wrangling over transitional arrangements, cost demands, alternative models and heightened business uncertainty – and with negotiations underway for a closer SuperCanada trade deal. We can reallocate much of the £39 billion payment lost by the EU to compensate UK-based companies legally in terms of R&D, regional aid and transport infrastructure – helping to stimulate our economy.

Like an operation we know needs doing, let us get on with the surgery quickly and speed up the recovery process.

This is indeed a Clean Global Brexit. Brexit could be over in a few months, rather than drag on for years on end.

And, for all our sakes – both Remainer and Brexiteer – let’s just get it done.

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‘No deal’ merely means trading with the EU on WTO terms – and trade on WTO terms is the norm

The alternative to Theresa May’s deal is not no Brexit, but no deal. Britain could leave the EU on 29th March 2019 without a deal and trade with EU member countries on World Trade Organisation terms. These are the terms on which we trade with non-EU countries already, without falling off any cliff. No deal […]

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The alternative to Theresa May’s deal is not no Brexit, but no deal. Britain could leave the EU on 29th March 2019 without a deal and trade with EU member countries on World Trade Organisation terms. These are the terms on which we trade with non-EU countries already, without falling off any cliff. No deal is Brexit. Her deal is no Brexit.

‘No deal’ merely means trading on WTO terms. Trade on WTO terms is the norm. 90 per cent of world trade is done on WTO terms. 60 per cent and rising of our trade with other countries is done on WTO terms. Our exports to the countries we trade with on WTO terms have grown three times as fast as our exports to the EU’s Single Market. Our businesses trading with the USA trade on WTO terms and we run a trade surplus with the USA. Our businesses trading with the EU trade on its Single Market terms and we run a trade deficit with the EU. WTO rules give us full access to the EU’s Single Market. Access does not require membership. It would be illegal for the EU to restrict our access to the Single Market.

No deal is far better than the alternatives, like Canada Plus, the Norway option etc. With no deal, there is no punishing transition period and no £39 billion given away and Brexit would come two years earlier. The average tariff British exporters would pay is 4 per cent. But applying EU tariffs to our imports from EU countries would yield possibly £13 billion, which we could use to compensate any firm losing out.

The French authorities in Calais have no intention of imposing a go-slow on British vehicles, rightly calling it ‘economic suicide’. Deliberate delays would breach three treaties – the WTO treaty, the Trade Facilitation Agreement and the Lisbon Treaty, which requires the EU to behave in a neighbourly way towards adjacent states. Do pro-EU enthusiasts really think the EU would use illegal bullying to punish us? If so, how can they urge us to re-join this body?

The Government, pro-EU MPs and peers, the stock markets, most business leaders and much of the media have been waging an incessant and hugely costly campaign informing us that leaving with no deal will be a disaster. Typically, Good Morning Britain presenter Piers Morgan casually referred to the “financial Armageddon of no deal” just last week (27th November).

We all remember the non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq that the Blair Government and much of the media warned us about. The same people now warn us about the mass economic destruction that awaits us on 29th March 2019.

Robert Azevedo, the WTO’s Director General, said after our vote that Britain’s leaving the EU will be ‘relatively straightforward’ and ‘smooth’:

“The UK is a member of the WTO today, it will continue to be a member tomorrow. There will be no discontinuity in membership… Trade will not stop, it will continue, and members negotiate the legal basis under which that trade is going to happen. But it doesn’t mean that we’ll have a vacuum or a ‘disruption’ in terms of trade flows or anything of the kind.”

We demand the Brexit we voted for: Leave on 29th March, keep the country united, keep our £39 billion the EU wants and trade with its members on WTO terms, as we and others trade with the rest of the world.

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I export to 140 countries and say we should reject Theresa May’s deal and embrace a WTO Brexit

So the EU and the 27 have rubber stamped the deal and as our Prime Minister embarks on her nationwide tour to try and convince the public to lobby their MPs to back it, what does it means for us as a medium-sized business? With 130 employees, exports to more than 140 countries to date […]

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So the EU and the 27 have rubber stamped the deal and as our Prime Minister embarks on her nationwide tour to try and convince the public to lobby their MPs to back it, what does it means for us as a medium-sized business?

With 130 employees, exports to more than 140 countries to date in nearly a century of trading and multi-million pound investment plans, our future – and that of our people and their families – hinges on this deal and the outcome in Parliament on Tuesday 11th December.

And we think it is a con. The deceit behind the establishment’s efforts is plain to see. Our nation will not have taken back control and, as many have already said, this deal will leave us in a worse situation than had we actually remained in the EU.

Neither of these options – agreeing to Mrs May’s deal or officially remaining in the EU – is viable.

Mrs May wants us to lobby our MPs, and we should. We should tell them to vote against this terrible deal and to push for a totally clean break – the time has come for a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

And here is why – staying in or agreeing to Mrs May’s deal would:

  • Leave a business like ours under the control of EU regulation. Our business would be exactly as we were pre-referendum. We voted to Leave to be out of this trap. This deal damages our business, our staff and their families and many other UK companies.
  • Leave us unable to sign trade deals with the rest of the growing world where the UK makes a surplus in our trade on goods. Not only will this be damaging to our business, it will damage all of us.
  • Prevent us from being able to negotiate a future trading arrangement with the EU that is favourable to us. Already the French and Spanish are using the agreement to the Irish backstop to their advantage. This backstop is a threat to our United Kingdom and it allows others with different political agendas to use it as leverage against our country.

For the above we have the privilege of paying a £39 billion price.

Let us remember just what our membership of the EU has meant for us. Firstly, the payment of circa £10 billion (nett) a year in membership fees and the surrender of our sovereignty by allowing the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to reign supreme.

Membership has resulted in the demise of our manufacturing heartlands as multi-national companies exploit the system in their favour. Many jobs have been exported to other member states where labour is cheaper and regulations differ. Some businesses have even received EU backing to export British jobs overseas.

The never-ending burden of bad EU Directives and Regulations has held back business, and stifled competition and innovation. Meanwhile the free movement of people has helped to hold back productivity due to some employers taking advantage, making it less affordable and attractive for business to invest and boost output.

The uneven playing field that exists means that we are not able to trade fairly in the EU because of individual hurdles that are erected to keep us out and of course, the unfair competition that we face due to not everyone playing by the same rules.

Crucially, membership has led to the loss of our world-renowned British Standards (BS) and their replacement by Euro norms, despite them being probably the best in the world. REIDsteel has 150 structures in the Caribbean, all designed to British Standards. Every single one stood up to the category 5 hurricane that saw Chinese and American buildings blown away last year. The forced use of Euro norms increases costs by an average of 20%, making us less competitive in the real world.

So, unforgivably, Prime Minister May’s deal betrays what the people of this country voted for and locks us back into almost everything that the EU stands for; it is a capitulation.

Furthermore, if our politicians allow themselves to be bribed, coerced and pushed into agreeing the deal as it stands (even with the backstop removed) the insignificant gains of the arrangement will undoubtedly ebb away and we will be left like a sitting duck.

As Mrs May once said, no deal is better than a bad deal. The elite and the ultra-Remain camp promote catastrophe at the very thought of no deal, but this is absolute nonsense.

There will undoubtedly be some short-term disruption but it is worth remembering that Operation Stack at Dover has been in force more than 211 times without any reported catastrophes to the just-in-time delivery chain.

In any case, ‘no deal’ actually means a deal on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms which is infinitely better than what the Prime Minister and her Government are trying to sell us.

Those who prophesy the end of days in a no-deal scenario either don’t know what they are talking about or are deliberately spreading fear and lies to frustrate Brexit or bring it about in name only.

Most of the rest of the world can and does trade on WTO terms and countries like China, Australia and America seem to manage just fine; it is complete nonsense to suggest we can’t do the same.

We can and we should have a clean Brexit. So let’s get on with it. Write to our MPs and tell them to start believing in our country by supporting the rejection of this terrible deal and backing a clean and proper break.

Only then can we ever have a good meaningful relationship with our partners in Europe and across the world.

A no-deal outcome will be just fine: we will go on to prosper outside the EU’s protectionist bloc that has never protected our country and its people.

Without this we will never take back control.

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We must decouple the Irish border issue from UK/EU trading relationship

In my last BrexitCentral article, I posed the rather obvious question to the EU: “Would you rather have a no-deal-style Irish border with or without £39 billion?” That choice, which Brussels seems not to have understood, has now come into sharp focus and it seems now that the answer is likely to be presented to them […]

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In my last BrexitCentral article, I posed the rather obvious question to the EU: “Would you rather have a no-deal-style Irish border with or without £39 billion?” That choice, which Brussels seems not to have understood, has now come into sharp focus and it seems now that the answer is likely to be presented to them as a fait accompli.

Aside from the niceties, the fundamental objection to Theresa May’s proposed deal is the potentially perpetual lock-in to a customs union. The “joint committee” means of course that it will be for the EU to decide when or whether we can leave. It is unheard of, and utterly unacceptable, for anyone (and certainly any country) to be potentially bound in perpetuity by an arrangement that they have no ability to terminate.

In the political declaration – i.e. informally – the EU says that the Irish backstop, separating Northern Ireland from the UK by remaining in the customs union and adhering to the EU rule book, might be avoidable by either a technological solution or an appropriate trade deal. But it’s quite clear that the only trade deal that will satisfy them with respect to keeping the Irish border open is one that keeps the whole of the UK in the customs union. As a result, the UK would not be able to enter into global Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). That is precisely their desired outcome, so they are unlikely to show any enthusiasm for a MaxFac solution. At the same time, with £39 billion committed unconditionally, the UK will have absolutely no leverage.

We have no need to wait for proof of that. At the recent EU summit, Emmanuel Macron warned that if, in future talks, the UK is unwilling to make compromises over fishing, the negotiations for a wider trade deal could be slowed down, which could lead to the last-resort backstop plan coming into force.

So it follows, as night follows day, that we could be – if not forever then at least for many long years – in either a temporary or permanent customs union with the European Union. To avoid the Damocles sword of the backstop from destroying our negotiating position, we must decouple the Irish border issue from the trade negotiations. How to achieve that is by using no deal as the bridge to the arm’s length negotiation of the new relationship.

Parliament now seems very likely to reject the proposed deal. So in the absence of new legislation, therefore, we will leave on 29th March 2019 with no deal (as explained by Stewart Jackson on BrexitCentral here)So what are the implications of that?

EU short-term trade: We would have to trade with the EU on WTO terms until a free trade deal can be agreed with them. This is undesirable but not catastrophic. 39.3% of UK imports and 33.1% of exports are conducted under WTO rules with non-EU countries. Most countries in the world (111 out of 195) trade with the EU under WTO rules, including China, India, Russia, the United States and Singapore. Despite tariff and non-tariff barriers, Britain’s trade with non-EU countries is in surplus and growing, while our trade with the EU is in deficit and shrinking.

If the EU imposes a 10% tariff on our exports and we tax their imports into the UK at 10%, prices go up to the extent that not offset by significantly lower world prices than EU prices for food and commodities. 10% tariff provides a revenue boost to HMRC, to be spent to our benefit. Exports are harder but offset by a fall in sterling that boosts exports while making imports more costly – no bad thing to help rectify our appalling adverse EU balance of trade.

Meantime, domestically, the UK can think about diverging from some EU regulations. Clearly, businesses exporting to the EU will have to comply with EU product standards and trading terms but the burden of those standards need not necessarily be imposed in the 94% of businesses, representing 88% of GDP, that trade only domestically or with non-EU countries. (CETA clearly does not require Canada to impose all 100,000 pages of EU rules and regulations upon every Canadian business.)

EU long-term trade: Michel Barnier himself said, in his speech announcing the deal, that agreeing a free trade deal with the UK should be much quicker and easier than FTAs with other countries as we start from a position of complete alignment. And we have in CETA, the EU/Canada FTA, a ready-made template for the trade agreement between the EU and the UK. That is not to say that the negotiations will be easy if, for example, the EU’s demands include full access to UK fisheries, which is why it is so vital that we can back up a tough stance with a £39 billion carrot.

Friction: Queues at Dover would be bad news but friction can be minimised, for example, by trusted-trader status for regular just-in-time supply-chain consignments and number-plate recognition that opens barriers automatically on designated trusted trader lanes etc. There are four months to take steps to increase capacity (a job that should have been started two years ago), for example by establishing an inland port and protected route to the seaport.

The recent paper published by Global Britain and the European Research Group, Fact – NOT Friction: Exploding the myths of leaving the Customs Unionshows that “fears are driven by a series of myths about how customs procedures work”.

Global trade with EU partners: Much capital is made of the fact that we currently benefit from EU FTAs that allow us to trade freely with more than 40 non-EU countries. This is true but they include places like Guernsey, Guadeloupe, San Marino, Büsingen am Hochrhein, the Falklands and South Georgia. The EU has trade agreements with only three of the UK’s principal trading partners – Switzerland, South Korea and Canada. People love to proclaim the fact that “a single trade deal can take years or decades to agree” with the clear implication that that is bad news. It is not. On the contrary, for countries with whom the EU has existing FTAs, it is fantastically good news. It stands to reason that, save to the extent that the parties wish to change anything, all that is needed is to copy the current FTA between the EU and that country, change the name of the contracting party and sign it.

New global FTAs: We would be able to negotiate and enter into global FTAs at the earliest opportunity. Very many countries have expressed a desire to do so – Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China… and I’m only up to the Cs.

Global trade before new FTAs: Meanwhile we will no longer have to impose the EU Common External Tariff on imports from the rest of the world: 15.7% on animal products, 35.4% on dairy products, 10.5% on fruit, vegetables and plants, 12.8% on cereals and preparations, 23.6% on sugars and confectionery. 19.6% on beverages and tobacco.

Non-trade issues: Many non-trade issues are addressed, directly or indirectly, by the 585-page draft Withdrawal Agreement: citizens’ rights, EU access to the City, defence and international affairs, aviation, Horizon 2020 etc etc. If the EU became obstructive over many of these, it could present severe problems. As the issues have, presumably, been agreed because they are to mutual advantage, it is hard to see why the EU would consider it to be to its benefit to behave aggressively (other than to prevent the UK from leaving).

The Irish border: As Andrew Lilico pointed out on BrexitCentral, the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic has some 275 crossing points. The border separates regulatory, tax and legal regimes that are very different and is controlled via a combination of administrative cooperation, whistle-blowing, auditing, site raids by customs, tax and regulatory enforcement officials. There are – currently – occasional random spot-checks on roads leading up to and at the border, as well as cameras and other physical infrastructure at the border.

Lilico also noted some UK press discussion suggesting that the EU would impose stop-and-check controls at the border, like those between the EU and Turkey. Such an attempt is certainly possible, but seems highly unlikely because of the scale of the task (275 crossing points, more than all other land crossing points into the rest of the EU from other countries); and because the Irish Government claims that the EU has given undertakings that no such controls would be introduced; and because Ireland seems unlikely to allow them to be imposed, even if the EU so desired.

There has been much talk of technological solutions that will take years to develop but the European Research Group’s paper, The Border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland post-Brexit demonstrates how each of the issues can be addressed without the need for technology not yet invented. The Irish Government and others dismissed the paper immediately as “pure fantasy”, apparently because of concerns about ability, without either a hard border or ‘new technology’ (what kind of new technology?) to prevent smuggling or the import of non-compliant goods into the EU. At present, the Republic of Ireland physically inspects only 1% of imports, so 99% of contraband and non-compliant goods are already getting through!

Some 33% of Northern Ireland’s goods exports (all sales outside the UK) went to the Republic of Ireland in 2016 and were worth around £2.7 billion (€3.1 billion). The EU’s imports from the rest of the world amount to around €172 billion and the EU’s GDP was about $17,300 billion (€15,200 billion) in 2017. In the unlikely event that 25% of all goods transported across the Irish border was undetectable contraband or non-compliant goods (pretty unlikely that), this would represent 0.5% of all imports into the EU and 0.005% of EU GDP. But it wouldn’t be 25%, would it? Who is being fantastical here?

As the ERG paper says, “no border is 100% secure against smuggling. Smuggling takes place across EU borders in Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. Moreover, it occurs at present across the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Drugs, fuel, tobacco, cigarettes and other illegal goods have been smuggled across the Irish border since the 1920s but cross-border co-operation is already used to combat criminals. The PSNI, the Garda Síochána, customs authorities and law-enforcement agencies co-operate to counter this trade. Law-enforcement agencies on both sides of the border co-operate to suppress smuggling without anyone suggesting that border posts and checks would make their efforts more effective.” And there are better ways to identify non-compliant goods than by random 1% or 3% checks at the border.

The latest ERG paper, Your Right To Know – the case against the Government’s Brexit dealextols the virtues of ‘A better alternative – a “Super Canada” Free Trade Deal’, but misses the point. Yes, Canada-plus would be a million times better than the Chequers plan and the currently proposed Withdrawal Agreement but it does not address the Irish border issue. Although Canada-plus has been offered several times by the EU, they offered it only in combination with the backstop of Northern Ireland being separated from the rest of the UK.

I would therefore say that the two things – the Irish border issue and UK/EU trade relationship – need to be decoupled. We should leave with no deal and confront the EU with the Irish border problem in March 2019.

Thereafter there will still be issues over the nature of the trade deal – whether it will be close to Canada-plus or will have to be more limiting because of the EU’s unwillingness to contemplate anything that might allow the UK to become competitive. We would need to weigh up the benefit of a UK/EU FTA based on a customs union and common rule book against the known drawbacks – EU regulations imposed on the 94% of UK businesses, representing 88% of GDP, that trade only domestically or with non-EU countries; no say in determining future regulations or trading standards; no ability to innovate; no ability to negotiate trading standards as part of FTAs; and maybe, if remaining in the customs union, no ability to enter into global FTAs at all.

By decoupling Irish border issue from UK/EU trade relationship, the Irish border will no longer be the overriding, determining factor. It will be for the UK to decide what is in its best interests, like the other 40 countries, large and small, that have entered into widely varying trade arrangements with the European Union

And £39 billion retained will, without doubt, focus the minds of those on the other side of the negotiating table – but the £20 billion or so of net contributions that they would have received during the two-year transition period will have been irrevocably lost.

We now learn that the Treasury predicts that the country will suffer £150bn in lost output over 15 years under no deal, with Theresa May’s plan costing in the region of £40bn.

This latest manifestation of Project Fear has to be the ultimate insult to the nation’s intelligence.

With or without Mrs May’s Withdrawal Agreement, we will have the ability, within 2 years or more, to conclude a free trade deal with the EU – without a shadow of doubt a far more favourable one if we are able to negotiate while holding out a £39 billion carrot and without the Damocles sword of the Northern Ireland backstop suspected over our heads. And, dependent on how closely we decide to tie ourselves to EU standards, the ability to conclude FTAs with other countries.

The only counteracting drawback of no-deal is the short-term damage (and, conceivably, any irrecoverable long-term damage) to UK/EU trade as a result of the short-term disruption arising from the loss of the transition period. But we’d start with a saving of £20 billion or more from net contributions to the EU over two or more years. And benefit from earlier freedom to deal with our fisheries and agriculture (and, and… need I go on?)

No doubt the Treasury will, as usual, refuse to disclose its ridiculously biased assumptions.

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A riposte to the Project Fear narrative promoted by The Economist

Theresa May has achieved the remarkable feat of uniting the nation. Leavers and Remainers of all stripes have come together to condemn the Withdrawal Agreement she has negotiated with the EU. This should not really be a surprise: she has committed the country to a semi-permanent colonial state in which we stay in the Customs […]

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Theresa May has achieved the remarkable feat of uniting the nation. Leavers and Remainers of all stripes have come together to condemn the Withdrawal Agreement she has negotiated with the EU. This should not really be a surprise: she has committed the country to a semi-permanent colonial state in which we stay in the Customs Union and Single Market but without having a say in the rules. There is a way out but only if the EU agrees, something they are unlikely to do unless any future trading relationship works to their advantage.

Far from taking back control, the Prime Minister has agreed to the UK being a rule-taker from the EU for the foreseeable future, under the supervision of the European Court of Justice. And the icing on the cake is that, in return for these ‘privileges’, she has also agreed to hand over £39bn of taxpayers’ money to the EU with absolutely no guarantee of any long term agreement on trade. Even the right to take decisions over fishing in our water has been left up for grabs.

The Agreement is so demonstrably bad that barely any MPs outside of the Government payroll have come out in its support. Rather than accepting that the Agreement is unlikely to be passed by the House of Commons, Number 10 seem to be focusing their strategy on making the alternative, namely leaving without a trade deal, sound as terrifying as possible. The hope is that, if MPs and the public are sufficiently unnerved by the prospect of ‘no deal’, they will come round to reluctant support of the flawed Withdrawal Agreement.

The scary predictions made by the Treasury and others during their campaign of Project Fear during the referendum proved to be an embarrassing failure of almost legendary proportions. So the decision to embark on Project Fear Mark II is, should we say, brave. But this does not appear to holding anyone in the Establishment back.

Last week, that once-respected periodical The Economist published a leader going all out to support the Prime Minister’s line of attack. We are warned that no deal could lead to “food rationing”, “medicine shortages”, “the demise of farming” and the “collapse” of manufacturing. The planes will all be grounded of course but (Hallelujah) the leader writer thinks that the EU might graciously allow us to operate a few flights to “carry stranded citizens home”. The Economist seems to have gone ‘full Project Fear’ and as Robert Downey Jr might have said in Tropic Thunder, ‘you should never go full Project Fear’!

To some extent, such emotive nonsense deserves only ridicule. But despite The Economist’s recent reputation as being the lapdog of the Remain establishment, its influence cannot be underestimated and it is important to engage with its arguments about the risks of no deal, so let’s consider a few of its claims:

1. “Reneging on the £39bn in obligations to the EU would devastate Britain’s international credibility”

Even under no-deal, the UK will of course honour its obligations under international law. However, it is clear that our strict liabilities are very significantly lower than £39bn and, if there is no Withdrawal Agreement, we will be under no obligation to fork out such a sum as even the Remain-dominated House of Lords EU Financial Affairs Committee concluded. The exact amount due could end up being decided by independent arbitration, something that would take a number of years. In practice, the UK may well be willing to make a generous settlement once a reasonable trading relationship with the EU has been agreed. The EU desperately needs the UK cash to avoid a huge hole in its budget. So, far from ruining our relationship, leaving with no deal and no payment will help to focus EU minds. They will certainly have every incentive to avoid creating more difficulties for the UK than necessary. From the UK’s point of view, savings on the £39bn bill can be put to good use in the months leading up to and immediately after Brexit with the aim of minimising the short run disruption that may occur as we re-work our systems to cope with new arrangements.

2. “Britain has slipped to be one of the slowest growing members of G7”

Surely The Economist could at least have got basic statistics like this correct? It does not take much to look up the latest OECD data which reveal that the UK is the third fastest growing G7 economy this year, ahead of all the major EU economies. At the same time our employment rate continues to be at a record high, wages are growing again, and in a good sign for future growth, foreign direct investment into the UK in 2018 has been by far the highest of any European country. This is all a far cry from the doomsday scenarios predicted by the Treasury in the first round of Project Fear. There is a great deal of confidence in the long term prospects for the UK economy, irrespective of whether we strike a formal trade deal with the EU.

3. “No deal would swap membership of the EU’s single market for the most bare-bones trading relationship possible”

World Trade Organisation rules are certainly not “bare bones”. They are designed to facilitate trade and they already provide the basis for about half of UK exports and imports. Further, leaving without a deal would allow us to embark straight away on independent trade deals with some of the fastest-growing countries in the world. Remember that we operate a trade surplus with the EU of close to £100bn per year. Once we have left the EU on 29th March, the EU will face heavy pressure from member states such as Germany and the Republic of Ireland to ensure that they strike a trade deal with the newly-independent UK as soon as possible. There is no reason why, like other countries such as Switzerland, Norway and Canada, the UK should not end up trading freely and tariff-free both with the EU and with other countries around the world.

4. “WTO rules require the enforcement of a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland”

The Economist is being particularly irresponsible in perpetuating this myth. WTO rules do not require border checks on goods – that is a matter for each country to decide. Currently, ‘intelligence led’ inspections by the UK affect only 4% of non-EU goods shipments, Ireland only 1%. The remainder are cleared immediately by computer-based procedures. There is no WTO requirement for these checks to involve physical infrastructure at a border and they can be carried out away from the border. Time and time again in Select Committee hearings, Jon Thompson, Chief Executive of HMRC, has told MPs that there is absolutely no need for the UK to erect a hard border under any scenario, including leaving without a deal. Either The Economist is ignorant of this or, even worse, they know the truth but refuse to report it.

Responding to Project Fear arguments is a bit like playing whack-a-mole: no sooner has one claim been demolished than another – equally implausible and twice as bizarre – surfaces. The Economist leader is no different in this respect and it is impossible to respond to every point in just one article.

The key point is that virtually all Brexiteers would prefer to leave the EU with a trade deal in place and most are willing to agree to a transition period to help achieve this. However, no-one can force the EU into a deal and if they are unwilling to countenance a sensible withdrawal arrangement then we must implement the result of the referendum without one. Doing so will certainly not be the economic disaster suggested by Philip Hammond and The Economist.

The trouble with the EU negotiations is that Theresa May never really believed her mantra that “no deal is better than a bad deal”. The deal she wants us to sign up to is a very bad deal indeed so leaving with no deal is looking increasingly like the best option available. The UK should embrace the economic opportunities it will bring, even if that means doing so without Theresa May at the helm.

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Former MI6 chief accuses Theresa May of ‘surrendering British national security’ to the EU

The Sun carries a story today covering a letter written by a clutch of well-known figures, expressing deep concerns that Theresa May’s Brexit deal “surrenders British national security” and compromises UK Intelligence capabilities. The signatories – including Sir Richard Dearlove, former Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service – call on the Prime Minister to instead seek a […]

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The Sun carries a story today covering a letter written by a clutch of well-known figures, expressing deep concerns that Theresa May’s Brexit deal “surrenders British national security” and compromises UK Intelligence capabilities.

The signatories – including Sir Richard Dearlove, former Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service – call on the Prime Minister to instead seek a departure from the EU on WTO terms on the basis that “no risks are greater than the Withdrawal Agreement’s terms of surrender”.

I have obtained a copy of the full text of the letter which I reproduce below.  

What is being presented to British citizens as “the best deal available” is the exact opposite of the people’s instruction to take back control. For the first time in its history, Parliament is being asked to suspend its own sovereignty: it has no constitutional or moral right to do this. Any legislator that votes for it will not be forgiven.

The ‘deal’ surrenders British national security by subordinating UK defence forces to Military EU control and compromising UK Intelligence capabilities. It puts at risk the fundamental Anglosphere alliances, specifically the vital Five Eyes Alliance and thereby threatens western security.

This surrender is to an undemocratic organisation, the European Commission. The last two years have demonstrated how untrustworthy and hostile towards the UK the EC is, notably its use of the Irish border as a weapon.

The EC offers subordination, not partnership. The only way to leave the EU is by declaration that from 29th March 2019 Great Britain will deal fairly with the EU as it does with the rest of the world. No ransom should be paid.

Mrs May has completely failed to understand that this vote was on an issue of principle: sovereignty.

To leave on WTO terms is now the only viable way to leave the EU and we urge British people to ignore the hysterical demonisation of this course of action by the current Project Fear, just as they ignored its scare-mongering predecessor in 2016. No risks are greater than the Withdrawal Agreement’s terms of surrender. The people voted to take back control of our sovereignty, not for a colonial status.

Mrs May has broken trust with the British people as she has lost the trust of so many of her Ministers.

Sir Richard Dearlove (former Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service)
Sir Rocco Forte (Chairman, Rocco Forte Hotels)
Martin Howe QC (Chairman, Lawyers for Britain)
Lord Lawson (Former Chancellor of the Exchequer)
Sir Paul Marshall (Chairman of Marshall Wace Asset Management and Co-Chairman of Prosperity UK)
Major General Julian Thompson (Chairman, Veterans for Britain)
Lord Trimble (Former First Minister of Northern Ireland and Nobel Peace Prize winner)

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Don’t be taken in by the Rampant Remainers’ campaign of fear

It’s tempting for an ex-MP like me to claim that things wouldn’t be in such a mess if I was still there. Sadly it’s also daft. Though I might have been in the Shadow Cabinet for at least a week, for backbenchers impotence is a way of life. So like those other pundits, our new […]

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It’s tempting for an ex-MP like me to claim that things wouldn’t be in such a mess if I was still there. Sadly it’s also daft. Though I might have been in the Shadow Cabinet for at least a week, for backbenchers impotence is a way of life. So like those other pundits, our new ruling elite of little Sir (and Lady) echoes who see Brexit as a peasants’ revolt against their superior wisdom, I have the right to treat prejudice as eternal truth. So here’s mine.

It’s pretty daft to change horses in midstream by getting rid of Theresa. Yet it is sensible to reject the half-baked deal she’s cooked up on the advice of her posse of Sir Humphreys. That would send us naked into the conference chamber to become a permanent Brer Rabbit to the EU tar baby.

Rejection means there’s no soft option of a People’s vote against the People’s decision because there’s no treaty to vote on. It sends Britain back into negotiation with or without Theresa, puts some lead in our pencil, allows us to withhold the £39 billion Euro-geld as a negotiating counter and forces the EU to extend the two year deadline.

If they treat us as if they’ve got us over a self-built barrel and refuse to extend, then we face an exit with no deal. That’s is why the rampant Remainers have embarked on a massive campaign of fear about the horrors of departure.

For them it’s “jumping off a cliff”, suicide, an end to pills and prescriptions, an open door for terrorism and bubonic plague, economic Armageddon, death for the car industry, disaster for those ailing regions which were stupid enough to vote for Brexit, and for all the babies who can’t get EU nannies. It’s an unimaginable horror. Worse than George Osborne.

It’s all designed to produce national panic. It’s also nonsense. It’s inconceivable that an EU which loves us so much, will suddenly seek to destroy us. It’s silly to assume that our capitalism is so feeble it has no regenerative energy, or that other EU ports won’t welcome British business if the French block Calais.

Most of all it’s insane to argue that we can’t trade on WTO terms. The rest of the world does. We do so in markets outside the EU where we still trade with a surplus, unlike our horrendous deficit with the EU. Those markets are growing while the EU stagnates. We’d have cheaper food instead having to protect France’s expensive agriculture. Even the car industry, which would face 10% duties, can overcome them. The pound will fall in value (as it must anyway with our deficit) boosting exports, taxing imports.

What’s to fear from all that? There would be transient problems of adjustment but capitalism has strong regenerative power, particularly if it’s helped to develop domestic supply chains by state aid, an industrial policy and the boost of Keynesian spending, instead of being held back by austerity.

Most appealing for a Yorkshire man, WTO tariffs on EU goods would produce over £10 billion for the Exchequer and avoid the folly of handing over £39 billion for nowt.

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Labour MPs in Leave-backing seats should not be tempted into backing May’s deal

Now is a moment of truth for Labour MPs. Theresa May’s decision to go back on her manifesto promises and agree a deal which would tie the UK to EU rules indefinitely but without us having a say in setting those rules has presented them with an open goal. All the signs are that the […]

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Now is a moment of truth for Labour MPs. Theresa May’s decision to go back on her manifesto promises and agree a deal which would tie the UK to EU rules indefinitely but without us having a say in setting those rules has presented them with an open goal. All the signs are that the Labour front bench will oppose the deal. But the stance of the many Labour MPs in Leave-backing constituencies is open to question.

Some, such as Gareth Snell and Caroline Flint, have indicated that they might support the deal. Their argument is simple: they want to honour the referendum but believe that voting down the deal would mean leaving without any deal at all – something they worry will threaten economic growth and jobs.

Such worries are understandable given the constant barrage of warnings about “no deal” being put out by the Treasury. It would be ironic, however, if Labour MPs were to vote in favour of tying ourselves in perpetuity to the EU, an organisation with a sorry track record of creating mass unemployment across large swathes of southern Europe.

In fact, MPs on all sides may be worrying unduly about the economic effects of a no-deal Brexit on their constituents. ‘No deal’ may involve some short-run disruption, but it also brings the potential for very significant economic benefits. 

In the first place, we would no longer be forced to erect huge barriers to trade with non-EU countries, something which forces up the prices of food and clothing for hard-pressed consumers. We would be free to strike trade deals with fast-growing economies around the world and, crucially, we would be able to control economic policy for the benefit of our own workers, consumers and businesses, rather than having to do what works for the EU Commission – why should we wait until 2022 before the UK is given gracious permission by the EU to abolish VAT on female sanitary products?

Astoundingly, the UK seems to have agreed to hand over about £40 billion to the EU (far in excess of our liability under international law) in return for nothing – the EU have made no commitment at all to a future trade deal. This should be fatal for the deal on its own and it is surprising that Labour MPs have not been keener to hold Mrs May’s feet to the fire over this issue. Perhaps voters in Stoke and Doncaster could be asked their opinion on whether they are happy to send that money to the EU or if they would prefer it to be spent on the NHS, schools, infrastructure and sorting out Universal Credit.

There is another problem with Theresa May’s deal and one which is easy to overlook: far from ending uncertainty for business, the lack of agreement over a future trading relationship would actually create uncertainty for years to come. UK industry is adaptable and will find a way of coping, whatever trading arrangements we end up with. But uncertainty rarely provides a good environment for investment. Since the referendum, investment into the UK has outpaced the rest of Europe, not ‘despite Brexit’ but because of the long-term opportunities which Brexit opens up (also, of course, because of the inherent advantages of doing business in the UK). A clean break on 29th March 2019 would end uncertainty about how Brexit will work much more quickly than would be the case under a long transition period. As a result, inward investment should get another boost.

So leaving with no formal deal is nothing to be afraid of. Indeed, poorer voters in Labour heartlands have the most to gain. But voting down Theresa May’s proposals does not automatically mean no deal. It’s always been the case that, paradoxically, preparing seriously for no deal makes no deal much less likely. No-one disputes that a UK-EU Canada+ type trade deal would be good for both sides. Once the EU realise the UK is serious about implementing the referendum result and will not put up with the faux-Brexit Theresa May is proposing, a sensible deal becomes more likely, right up to 29th March and beyond. Indeed, it is likely that a UK-EU trade deal will be much easier to achieve after we leave and once some of the overblown political rhetoric has been left behind.

Labour MPs have been presented with a wonderful opportunity to push the Government towards a Brexit which both respects the will of voters in the referendum and ensures that the long term economic benefits of Brexit are achieved for the poorest in society. There are certainly electoral rewards for the taking. More importantly though, the UK economy is just waiting for lift-off, freed from the shackles of the job-destroying EU. Let’s see how many Labour MPs are willing to help start the countdown.

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As humiliations go, accepting this Brexit deal would be complete and unendurable

After the end, the beginning. The long months of talks in Brussels have brought forth a draft withdrawal agreement to leave the European Union – all 585 pages of it. Amid the drama, the essential themes are clear. There will be a backstop agreement to the deal without an end date and with no ability for […]

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After the end, the beginning. The long months of talks in Brussels have brought forth a draft withdrawal agreement to leave the European Union – all 585 pages of it. Amid the drama, the essential themes are clear. There will be a backstop agreement to the deal without an end date and with no ability for the UK to extricate ourselves without the consent of a third party. And there will be a grave threat to the Union.

Northern Ireland will find itself in a different regulatory regime to the rest of our country – to use the analogy that is being deployed about the “backstop within a backstop”, it will be in the deep end of the swimming pool while the rest of us are only paddling up to our knees. This represents gold dust for the Scottish Nationalists, who will seize on a different arrangement for one part of the country to demand a separate arrangement for Scotland.

We will be asked to sign up to all this, and hand over £39 thousand million, in exchange for a flimsy 15-page “political declaration” about the hoped-for trade relationship that would lie beyond this, should we ever be able to escape. That political declaration will be drafted to mean all things to all men, but will lead inexorably to the ultra-high alignment agreed at Chequers in July rather than the Canada-style free trade deal we should be aiming for. There will be so-called “non-regression clauses” to ensure the UK cannot out-compete the EU. This would scupper our hopes of being a global trading titan and bind us into EU manufacturing rules in perpetuity. As humiliations go, this would be complete and unendurable. The Prime Minister will have unerringly delivered a deal that delivers none of the benefits of leaving the EU and none of the benefits of remaining.

85 years ago, Churchill warned: 

“All down the centuries, one peculiarity of the English people has cost them dear. We have always thrown away after a victory the greater part of the advantages we have gained in the struggle. The worst difficulties from which we suffer do not come from without. They come from within… from the mood of unwarrantable self-abasement into which we have been cast by a powerful section of our own intellectuals. They come from the acceptance of defeatist doctrines by a large proportion of our politicians… Nothing can save England if she will not save herself. If we lose faith in ourselves, in our capacity to guide and govern, if we lose our will to live, then indeed our story is told.” 

Such will be the legacy of Brexit if this deal goes through. The brave decision of the British people to leave the European Union, taken in the largest democratic vote in our history, will have been reduced in two years to a shameful and squalid surrender. This must be resisted at all costs, and I have little doubt that the House of Commons will indeed defeat the deal should matters go that far.

The burning question will then arise: what next?

A deal may still be salvageable, based around the broad and generous offer made by European Council President Donald Tusk in March. This would be an advanced free trade agreement, encompassing services and covering all sectors with zero tariffs and no quantitative limitations. Alongside this the UK would offer deep security cooperation and mutual recognition of practical issues from aviation regulations to driving licences. The EU’s offer, of course, was made to Great Britain and not the whole of the UK. The EU was not prepared to extend its offer to Northern Ireland – hence so much of the tortuous negotiation that has ensued.

But there is a way to deliver such an agreement, in the form of a free-standing treaty on trade facilitation between the UK and Ireland to be negotiated in parallel to the wider negotiations, as it surely could be. Such a treaty would deliver an invisible border that would satisfy WTO rules and could be referenced in the wider UK-EU free trade agreement. There would be no hard border and no need for a backstop beyond this.

This seems to me to represent a deal that could secure sufficient votes to satisfy Brussels and pass the House of Commons. In tandem with this, an immense national effort must be set in motion so that the UK Government and businesses prepare themselves day and night between now and 29th March next year for a no-deal scenario. Every moment that passes without such an effort is a moment wasted, and weakens our hand in securing the good Brexit deal that our country expects and deserves.

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