Famous five or fatuous five?

May won’t yield to their demand for renegotiation unless she believes that at least some of them will quit. And on the basis of last week, why would she?

Each politician has his or her own ideals, ambitions, strengths, weaknesses, hopes, fears.  It follows that the more MPs there are involved in a scheme, the more likely these qualities are to clash and collide, like particles in an experiment.  The discipline of party or government is usually required to keep politicians marching in step – and that includes Cabinet Ministers.

Which brings us to the five who want Theresa May to renegotiate aspects of her draft deal.  One might assume that Ministers as senior as Liam Fox, Michael Gove, Chris Grayling, Andrea Leadsom and Penny Mordaunt, when banded together, carry the authority of the Government with them.  But in this case, they do not.  It rests with Theresa May.  She is Prime Minister.  The Cabinet is her Cabinet.  She controls its agenda.  She shapes the minutes.

This is why she was able to see off last week’s Cabinet push to get her to renegotiate the deal.  There are no votes round the Cabinet table, as Esther McVey discovered.  There is no loyal Opposition.  Cabinet decisions may not be unanimous but they are, to use a word that May deployed herself, collective.  If a Cabinet Minister is opposed to one to the point where he cannot live with it, his only course is to resign – as McVey and Dominic Raab duly did in the meeting’s wake.

Only when a Prime Minister has lost her power do Cabinet Ministers gain more of it than she has.  This, notoriously, was the case when Margaret Thatcher was forced out.  She had beaten off a leadership challenge, but not by enough to maintain her command.  Her successor could be in a situation similar, or worse, by the end of the coming week.  But she is not there yet, if she ever will be.  While she would be foolish to sack any of the five – her powers are not limitless – her grip is for the moment tenuous, but real.

She will also have a shrewd grasp of the position of each of the five.  She won’t read Liam Fox as a resigner.  Nor Chris Grayling.  Michael Gove backed her plan very reluctantly in Cabinet, has tried to persuade her to change it, pondered resignation…but not resigned.  It would be difficult for him now to go.  That leaves Andrea Leadsom and Penny Mordaunt, perhaps the most likely of the five to walk (though one never knows).  But that tangle of motives may divide them, which opens the door to divide and rule.

In short, the threat of resignation is ultimately the only device likely to make May yield to their push.  And she will surely be thinking that if none of them quit last week, then why would any of them do so this week?  It may be that other Cabinet Ministers will now join them.  It is even possible that the Prime Minister will give way.  But if they aren’t prepared to walk away, they will probably get an outcome they won’t like.  Where else have we heard that recently?

From an analysis of the Withdrawal Agreement text: May’s broken promises on the ECJ, the backstop, customs – and dividing the UK

Article 20 says that the backstop will only ‘cease to apply’ if ‘the Union and United Kingdom decide jointly’ that it should end – no sovereign right for the UK to leave.

Customs checks in Irish Sea

  • Article 9 of the backstop states that ‘the [VAT and excise] provisions of Union law listed in Annex 6 to this Protocol concerning goods shall apply to and in the United Kingdom in respect of Northern Ireland’.

  • Annex 2 of the backstop allows certain charges and costs recovered to take place when goods travel from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

  • The EU is making no secret of the fact that Northern Ireland will be treated differently: ‘the EU’s Customs Code will also continue to apply in Northern Ireland… Under the backstop and in order to avoid a hard border, Northern Ireland businesses can place products on the EU’s internal market without restriction. Placing goods on the internal market that come from outside of Northern Ireland requires that the processes provided for in the Union Customs Code will have to be applied’ (European Commission, November 2018, link)

  • This is despite the Prime Minister saying on 9 July: ‘First, there is what is provided for in the European Council’s guidelines from March this year. This amounts to a standard free trade agreement for Great Britain, with Northern Ireland carved off in the EU’s customs union and parts of the single market, separated through a border in the Irish sea from the UK’s own internal market. No Prime Minister of our United Kingdom could ever accept this; it would be a profound betrayal of our precious Union.’

Regulatory checks in the Irish Sea

  • Article 7 of the backstop says that ‘nothing in this Protocol shall prevent the United Kingdom from ensuring unfettered market access for goods moving from Northern Ireland to the rest of the United Kingdom’s internal market’. This does not apply for goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

  • Article 7 of the backstop says that there could be ‘controls at the ports and airports of Northern Ireland’

  • The UK in respect of Northern Ireland will remain aligned to a limited set of rules that are related to the EU’s Single Market and indispensable for avoiding a hard border: legislation on goods, sanitary rules for veterinary controls (“SPS rules”), rules on agricultural production/marketing, VAT and excise in respect of goods, and state aid rules

  • Article 8 of the backstop provides for goods from Northern Ireland to be indicated as ‘UK(NI)’ – a clear separation of Northern Ireland from the UK.

  • Article 10 of the backstop says that ‘the [Agriculture and environment] provisions of Union law listed in Annex 5 to this Protocol shall apply, under the conditions set out therein, to and in the United Kingdom in respect of Northern Ireland’.

  • The EU has said that that ‘in order to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, and to ensure that Northern Irish businesses can place products on the EU’s Single Market without restriction, it will be necessary for the UK in respect of Northern Ireland to maintain specific regulatory alignment with the EU’ (European Commission, November).

  • The EU has been clear that a regulatory barrier will be introduced for goods coming in from Great Britain: ‘There… [will be] some compliance checks with EU standards, consistent with risk, to protect consumers, economic traders and businesses in the Single Market. The EU and the UK have agreed to carry out these checks in the least intrusive way possible. The scale and frequency of the checks could be further reduced through future agreements between the EU and the UK. For industrial goods, checks are based on risk assessment, and can mostly take place in the market or at traders’ premises by the relevant authorities. Such checks will always be carried out by UK authorities. As for agricultural products, already existing checks at ports and airports will need to continue, but will be increased in scale in order to protect the EU’s Single Market, its consumers and animal health’ (European Commission, November 2018, link).

  • This is despite May saying on 9 October 2017:

Paul Girvan (South Antrim) (DUP): “I want to give comfort to the people in Northern Ireland on this matter of not having a soft or hard border down the middle of the Irish sea. I want that assurance because the people of Ulster feel that they are being set on the sidelines.

Prime Minister: “I am very happy to give that assurance. We do not want to see a border down the Irish sea either. We want to maintain the integrity of the internal market of the United Kingdom.”

The whole UK will stay in a customs union

  • Article 6 of the Backstop says that: ‘a single customs territory between the Union and the United Kingdom shall be established (“the single customs territory”). There is no possibility of the UK being able to do its own trade deals under this. This is made clear in Article 3 of Annex 2 of the Backstop:  ‘Under no circumstances may the United Kingdom: (a) apply to its customs territory a customs tariff which is lower than the Common Customs Tariff for any good or import from any third country… apply or grant in its customs territory tariff preferences to any good on the basis of rules of origin that are different from those governing the granting of such preferences to the same good by the Union in its customs territory’.

  • This looks set to become permanent. The text in the Withdrawal Agreement states that there is a ‘common objective of a close future relationship, which will establish ambitious customs arrangements that build on the single customs territory provided for in this protocol’ (p.303).

  • This is despite the Conservative Party Manifesto 2017 pledging that –

“As we leave the European Union, we will no longer be members of the single market or the customs union.”

Possibility of the extension of the transition period

  • Article 132 (p122): Provides for a one-off extension of the transition period (potentially up to 2099). This is despite the Prime Minister promising –

“An implementation period ‘of around two years’.

The backstop can only end with EU permission

  • Article 1 of the backstop says that ‘the provisions of this Protocol shall apply unless and until they are superseded, in whole or in part, by a subsequent agreement’.
  • Article 20 of the backstop: says that the backstop will only ‘cease to apply’ if ‘the Union and United Kingdom decide jointly’ that it should end. I.e. no unilateral exit clause and no sovereign right for the UK to leave

This is despite multiple promises from Cabinet Ministers that the UK would have a unilateral right to leave.

EU control of our laws / level playing field

  • Article 12 of the Backstop says that ‘the [State Aid] provisions of Union law listed in Annex 8 to this Protocol shall apply to the United Kingdom’ (p.317). The same Article also treats Northern Ireland differently. Article 12(3) makes clear that the European Commission has the power to investigate ‘a measure by the United Kingdom authorities that may constitute unlawful aid’.

  • The EU also says that states that ‘The aim of the Protocol is to ensure that EU law, in the areas stipulated in Protocol 3 to Cyprus’s Act of Accession, will continue to apply in the Sovereign Base Areas’.

  • Article 174 says that matters could be referred to the ECJ. The EU even makes this clear in a chart on their website (see below).

 

  • Article 87 says that ‘if the European Commission considers that the United Kingdom has failed to fulfil an obligation under the Treaties or under part…. of the agreement before the end of the transition period, the European Commission may, within four years after the end of the transition period, bring the matter before the Court of Justice’.

  • Again this is a clear breach of multiple promises by the Prime Minister – for example, that –

“We are not leaving only to return to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. That’s not going to happen’.

David Davies: I voted and campaigned for Leave. But here’s why I’m supporting May’s Brexit plan.

Opposing this proposal serves only to help those who wish to undermin eour desire to respect the referendum result. It is only by being united that we can fight them off.

David Davies is Chair of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee, and is MP for Monmouth.

Ever since I entered Parliament in 2005, I have passionately and sincerely campaigned for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. Back in 2011, long before it became policy, I joined the Parliamentary rebellion to support a referendum on the issue.

Immediately after the referendum was announced, I began my daily campaign for Leave, both in my constituency and across the UK. I have knocked on countless doors and addressed many meetings in aid of this cause. So I do not think anyone can say I have not done my bit for Brexit.

It is precisely because of my longstanding support for Brexit that I will be backing the deal proposed by Theresa May.  It is not perfect, and there are many things I would like to have seen done differently in the negotiations. The Government should have begun planning earlier for no deal ,and made clear our willingness to follow this path if necessary. This would undoubtedly have increased our leverage in the negotiations.

And, there are areas where I will seek further reassurance. Not least, that no deal planning continues so that we maintain our ability to walk away if we have to.  But all of us have to deal with where we are now – with the circumstances in front of us.

This deal will take us out of the EU on 29th March 2019, as planned. Not as far out as I or many of my colleagues would like, but out nonetheless. And once we are out, there is no returning.

Franklin D Roosevelt famously asked people to ‘judge him by the enemies he made’. The Prime Minister would do well to ask the Conservative Party to do the same when it comes to this deal.

It is telling that some of the most vehement opponents of the deal are longstanding Remainers, who are explicit about their desire to overturn the referendum result. And, of course, the entire Labour frontbench, which smells an opportunity to try and remove the Conservative Government from office and usher in a Marxist one.

If this was truly as bad a Brexit as many claim, it is hard to see why those groups are working so hard to defeat it. Ultimately, their aim is for Brexit to fail. The reason they are working so hard to stop this deal is because they know that, if it is passed and we do leave in March next year, there is no going back.

After working and campaigning so hard for Brexit, I cannot understand why my colleagues would rather walk through the lobbies with those who have spent the past years trying to thwart them. Surely they can see doing as much would only play into their hands.

Many of my colleagues believe that if this deal is voted down, it will lead to us getting a better deal, with a cleaner break from the EU or just to no deal at all. But, with the greatest respect to them, there are no guarantees. It is just as likely, and possibly more likely, that we will end up locked into the Customs Union and Single Market permanently or, even worse, that we do not leave at all.

Lining up against this deal fundamentally risks what we have all worked so hard to deliver. Ultimately, it only serves to help those who wish to undermine our position and our desire to respect the result of the referendum. It is only by being united that we can fight them off.

This has been shown through the recent history of the Conservative Party. I fought my first general election in 1997. And, as with many of our candidates that year, I was resoundingly beaten. Why? Because our party had spent the past four years tearing chunks out of each other over Europe. The public have always taken a dim view of such division and self-interest. They will do so again. In the end, they simply want us to get on with it.

There is undoubtedly more work to be done over the coming weeks and months – even years. But this deal allows us to end the free movement of people, end our contributions to the EU budget, end our membership of the Common Agricultural Policy, take back control of our waters by ending the Common Fisheries Policy and have the ability to strike our own trade deals for the first time in over 40 years. Most of all ,it allows us to leave the European Union.

The honest truth for those of us that have long supported Brexit is that if this deal had been offered to us before the referendum, we would have gratefully grabbed it with both hands. We should all do so now.

A first glance at some of the main points in May’s deal

We set five tests for it. Does this draft agreement pass them? And does it really take back control of our borders, laws and money?

When Theresa May set out her strategy for the Brexit negotiations, she set out three goals: to take back control of Britain’s money, laws, and borders.

As the talks have progressed, more issues have emerged – not least Northern Ireland and the territorial integrity of the UK. So this month we suggested a further five points to consider.

They are: would the deal hive off Northern Ireland? Does it threaten to break up the Union? Would it trap the country in a customs union? Does it hand over money for nothing? And does it more closely resemble Chequers, or ‘Canada’?

Below, we take a look at how the Prime Minister’s proposals measure up against these yardsticks.

Are we taking back control of our money?

Probably. We’re paying the so-called ‘divorce bill’ as part of the Withdrawal Agreement, so won’t be able to use it as leverage during the future relationship. Lee Rotherham also points out that there’s little mention of the UK regaining our share of EU assets, despite lots of mention of our liabilities to the bloc.

Perhaps more ominously, we will continue paying in during the initial ‘transition period’, and if we choose to extend it Article 138 says that our contributions will be established at an ‘appropriate’ level by the Joint Committee. One Labour MP compared this to signing an insurance agreement without knowing what the excess was.

The question is whether, or how, we end up disentangling ourselves from the EU during that period. Some of these issues may only become clear when the future relationship is negotiated.

Are we taking back control of our laws?

When it comes to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, the negotiators seem to have made some progress. Compared to the EU’s initial proposals (which a former ECJ judge denounced as ‘leonine’) its role is substantially reduced, and the idea that it would be the mediating institution in disputes between the UK and the EU is gone. One analyst has dubbed this a ‘solid win’.

On the other hand, this piece in the Financial Times suggests that the role of the ECJ, especially during the transition, could be much greater than the above analysis suggests, and that it might in effect remain the ultimate arbiter of UK-EU disputes.

Beyond that, there are other points of concern. First, Rotherham reports that the deal locks the UK into the European Convention on Human Rights, precluding any possibility of repatriating judicial supremacy to these islands – a longstanding Conservative ambition, and one shared by the Prime Minister.

Moreover, there was extensive ‘level playing field’ provisions (Annex 4) which would prevent future British governments from setting independent policy in a broad range of areas, and Rotherham suggests that the section on equivalence could end up with Britain in “in a fax democracy version of a Regulatory Union, and probably in a form of Customs Union.”

Finally, there is the salient fact that the backstop proposals, if implemented, don’t contain any procedure for the UK’s unilateral withdrawal (at least not without resiling from our entire negotiated relationship with the EU). This is a serious curb on the practical power, if not the technical sovereignty, of Parliament.

CCHQ is taking pains to combat the idea that the backstop is inescapable. In an email to the National Convention, Brandon Lewis writes:

  • “If both sides agree the future relationship is ready we would leave the backstop. This judgement would need to be taken in good faith and with view to their commitment on best endeavours.”
  • “If there is a disagreement, a special conference would try and resolve the differences.”
  • “If that failed to reach an agreement it would go to independent arbitration as to whether the NI protocol is still needed to meet its objectives.”

According to Article 170, “independent arbitration” means “the International Bureau of the Permanent Court of Arbitration”, an intergovernmental organisation based at The Hague. The five-person panel will comprise two members apiece from the UK and the EU, plus one independent member, whittled down from a shortlist of 25 (Article 171).

On the face of it this could allow the UK – if it had a very strong case – to climb the chain of appeals and have EU objections to withdrawing from the backstop overridden at the PCA. That doesn’t seem a likely scenario, however, and can’t be spun – as Lewis is trying to do – as a practical, reliable means of quitting the backstop.

Are we taking back control of our borders?

Eventually, probably. The Withdrawal Agreement at least doesn’t commit the UK to maintaining freedom of movement in perpetuity, and it has been argued in some quarters that the Government has actually managed, to an extent, to divide the ‘four freedoms’ and secure some form of market access without unlimited EU immigration.

However, the UK will have to maintain our current policies – including freedom of movement – at least until the end of the ‘transition period’ in 2021. Unless a full future relationship has been negotiated by then (and experience doesn’t offer much grounds for optimism) we will then probably use our one-off extension of the ‘transition period’, further prolonging freedom of movement.

If we revert to the backstop, freedom of movement comes to an end, but at present that option looks likely to be so unpalatable that few prime ministers would choose to enter it if they can help it.

The upshot of all that is that is that we aren’t locked in to freedom of movement indefinitely, but we probably won’t be able to introduce new controls for years.

On a final note, Rotherham suggests that, despite what David Mundell and other Scottish Conservatives have been saying about the UK becoming an ‘independent coastal state’, in fact the fate of British fishing stocks is still on the table.

Will it hive off Northern Ireland?

The barriers are less than they might have been – it doesn’t look as though there will be a customs border down the Irish Sea – but Northern Ireland is still a case apart under the proposed backstop, which is why it features in a huge share of the deal’s text.

Whilst the customs union provisions will be UK-wide, Ulster will remain additionally subject to a range of single market rules and other EU laws including VAT and excise (Article 9), Agriculture and environment (Article 10), the single electricity market (Article 11), and in part state aid (Article 12).

This will put Northern Ireland in the problematic position of having its economy regulated by a foreign legislature in which it is unrepresented (although MEPs from the Republic of Ireland might try to claim that mantle), and with the explicit intention of prioritising its alignment with the EU and Irish markets rather than the British one, despite the latter accounting for vastly more of its external sales.

Since the British Government will also have no right to withdraw, this means that Northern Irish voters will have no democratic control over important areas of law via either Stormont or Westminster.

However, RTE’s Tony Connelly has tweeted to explain how the EU intends to allow GB-NI trade to run smoothly… and it sounds a lot like the combination of targeted checks, back-office enforcement, and technology that was supposedly incapable of allowing for a ‘frictionless’ north-south trade border without the backstop. A Dutch customs expert has also told MPs that a technical solution on north-south trade is perfectly practical (video available).

If Dublin and Brussels are sincere when they say that their goal is simply to ensure smooth trade and avoid giving would-be terrorists obvious targets, this holds out some hope that the customs element of the backstop could be obviated entirely by a proper north-south arrangement.

However, it may be very difficult to get this done in practice. As the Prime Minister told the Commons on Thursday, under these proposals the backstop cannot be revived once it is set aside. That will make the other side very wary about doing so.

The problem of Single Market rules, however, would remain regardless.

Does it threaten to break up the Union?

The backstop poses several potential dangers to the integrity of the United Kingdom, both in relation to Northern Ireland and elsewhere.

First, there are the long-term ramifications of the Northern Irish economy potentially re-aligning away from the mainland in the course of a decade (or longer) locked into structure that gives preferential treatment to north-south commerce, and of Irish politicians unofficially – but probably publicly – presuming to act on its behalf inside the EU.

Ian Lucas, the Labour MP for Wrexham, highlighted the extraordinary way in which the agreement handles GB-NI trade in a question to the Prime Minister on Thursday.

Not to be under-estimated either is the damage this could do within political unionism. Northern Ireland’s position in the United Kingdom has not been strengthened by its almost complete political isolation, and if the links forged over the past couple of years were burned in the process of passing this deal it would represent a significant step backwards.

But the backstop isn’t just a problem for Northern Ireland. As Joanna Cherry, an SNP MP, has pointed out, such a high-alignment and asymmetrical arrangement makes life much, much easier for separatists across these islands. Not only does it restore the high floor for ongoing relations which made ‘independence in Europe’ so saleable, but it throws in an added advantage in that Scotland could theoretically regain its status as a ‘rule maker’ whilst not missing out on any trade with rUK.

This, and not just solidarity or high unionist principle, is presumably why both David Mundell and Ruth Davidson threatened to resign in the event of a withdrawal agreement which offered differential treatment for Ulster. Since that’s exactly what we’ve got, their u-turn on this is hard to explain.

Nor is all quiet on the Welsh front: during questions in the Commons yesterday a Plaid Cymru MP once again illustrated the dangers of the backstop by asking May to assure him that there would be no border between England and Wales if the latter were to adopt the Northern Irish settlement.

Would it trap the country in a customs union?

There seems a very strong chance of this. As previously explained, the backstop would lock the UK into a customs union without the ability to withdraw unilaterally. Worse, that would be a customs union in which the Government had no input into the rules.

Of course, neither side officially wants the backstop to come into force. But there are reports that, on the EU side at least, it is viewed as something to be built out on when constructing the future relationship, rather than merely a refuge of last resort if the negotiations falter. There is therefore a risk that integration on this level becomes the basis of the future partnership.

Does it hand over money for nothing?

Our editor posed the following question: “Since a future trade deal will be covered by an unenforceable political declaration – not the Withdrawal Agreement – what safeguards are there against shelling out £40 billion for nothing?”

The short answer seems to be “not many”. The political declaration on the future relationship is broad-strokes, to say the least, and whilst it could potentially shape up into a good agreement there are also plenty of areas where things could go wrong from London’s perspective. Rotherham also sets out in his Brexit Central piece several ways in which he thinks the financial settlement is unfair on Britain.

What is certain is that if the UK hands over the entire divorce bill it won’t be able to use those billions, and the threat of the EU being under-funded, as leverage during the negotiations. (The IEA have suggested one way in which London might split the payments, holding back £19.8 billion earmarked for “outstanding budget commitments”.)

Chequers or Canada?

This one we can’t definitively answer. The withdrawal agreement is not the future relationship, and the document we have on the latter is too short to draw clear conclusions from. A lot will depend on how the negotiations go between next March and the ultimate end of the transition period in “20XX” (note: not even “202X”!).

Whether or not an all-UK ‘Canada’ arrangement is possible seems to depend on whether the Government can negotiate to have the EU’s minimal-friction, tech-enabled, and intelligence-led customs arrangements applied to north-south trade from Northern Ireland instead of east-west.

However, there are ominous indicators. As our editor highlighted on Friday morning, the final spur for Dominic Raab’s resignation was the insertion, without his knowledge, of a commitment to pursue ” ambitious customs arrangements that build on the single customs territory provided for in the Withdrawal Agreement”. That doesn’t entirely close off the path to Canada, but it heavily skews the parameters of the negotiations towards a settlement that looks more like Chequers.

Our survey. Seven out of ten Party member respondents oppose the draft Brexit deal.

The finding suggests that she will have an uphill struggle to sell it to them, just as she did over Chequers.

Last month, 68 per cent of respondents to our survey wanted a Canada Plus Plus Plus-type Brexit, or else no deal at all – in other words, a quite hard to very hard Brexit.

And this month, we have 72 per cent against the Prime Minister’s draft deal and 23 per cent for it.

In other words, the bulk of our Party member panel respondents want a hardish or clean Brexit, and see Theresa May’s draft deal as not delivering it – a view that many will have taken without reading the best part of 600 pages of which it consists.

But there you go.  It’s salutory to look back to our final survey before the EU referendum, which showed 71 per cent of respondents either definitely for Leave or leaning to Leave, and 27 per cent either definitely for Remain or leaning to Remain.

What seems to have happened over time is that a very big slice of those Tory activists who voted Leave have solidified behind the clean or hardish Brexit that they probably always favoured in the first place.

It will be claimed that there is more support for the Prime Minister’s draft deal among Party members than this finding suggests, to which we make three responses.

First, the survey was opened on Thursday morning, and most responses arrived before May’s Commons statement and press conference of later that day, which might have made a difference at the margin.  And, certainly, views may change.

Second, this is the much same panel that swung behind May’s joint report agreement of last December by 73 per cent to 22 per cent.  It has not been reflexively hostile to everything she has done in the Brexit negotiations.

Finally, the survey results tend to end up in the same ball park as YouGov’s polls of party members, which are infrequent, but we regard as the gold standard.  After all, theirs are opinion polls and ours is a self-selecting survey.

That said, the survey has a strong record, and the message that this result sends to Downing Street is: polls suggest that voters haven’t swung behind your deal, and seven out of ten Party members oppose it.

Bob Seely: This deal isn’t perfect. If it can be improved, great. But let’s not make the best the enemy of the good.

We need to get back to our focus, governing for the people. They are fed up with Brexit and we are running out of time

Bob Seely is a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and is MP for the Isle of Wight.

Like many people, I am conflicted about the proposed Brexit Withdrawal Deal so, rather than present a polished argument to you, I am instead going to outline why, on balance and with reservations, I am continuing to support Theresa May.

I voted for Brexit. So did my constituency. I want a proper Brexit.

This deal isn’t perfect. Negotiations have not been well handled. Too much emphasis was probably placed on damage limitation rather than seeing Brexit as a liberating opportunity. Other mistakes have been made. Our £39 billon contribution should be phased in with results. I despair of the Government’s ‘managerial’ approach just when we need decisive leadership and vision.

However, the deal is not awful. We will have a points-based immigration system.  We will regain control of borders. The Government is confident that it can strike trade deals – in most areas – and 80 per cent of our economy is in services.  We will (eventually) control our laws. Provided these claims are true, then this is near enough what the British people want, whilst respecting the 48 per cent who voted Remain.

It seems to me that the central issue is one of trust.  The European Research Group and other Brexit groups fear the backstop, and the inability of the UK to withdraw unilaterally from it – if I understand correctly.  The fear is that the EU will breach this trust by using the backstop to tie the UK’s hands permanently. It involves a temporary single customs territory, thus keeping the UK in a customs union until a permanent agreement. That agreement is assumed.

I don’t like the EU, but I believe that these fears are probably unfounded.  If the EU abuses its veto powers in relation to the backstop, it will harm their long-term interests as much as ours. The whips here assure us that the EU does not want the UK staying in a backstop longer than necessary, since they believe it would give us an unfair competitive advantage. It is temporary.

Other attacks in the Commons this week on the deal were from Labour opportunists, or from those who wanted to overturn the result by calling for a so-called “people’s vote”. We had a “peoples’ vote:. The people voted in 2016. Who do these campaigners think voted in 2016? Badgers? Only members of the Lords?

In the Commons, the Prime Minister was damned by all sides, yet she was poised and balanced in her responses. Her voice didn’t rise, and she remained measured and patient. Most of the amateur dramatics from MPs from all sides failed to reach their target.  Pantomime questions received pantomime reactions. However, Nigel Dodds’ intervention rang home, as did Mark Francois’.  The session was at times painful.

There are three options now.

First, a new referendum, which makes a mockery of the original decision to hold a referendum. In the UK, the people are sovereign. We must respect this. I despair of those who think otherwise. Do we really want to become as other European political elites, only treating our people as sovereign when it suits us? What a betrayal of our values that would be.

Second, No Deal. I do not believe the foolish scare stories of Remainers now any more than before. I don’t believe No Deal will be a ‘catastrophe’, but I would prefer not to take the risk. I remember the 1990s.

Third, support this deal. If we can renegotiate part of it, great. But until and unless we have something better, I’d rather a Brexit bird in the hand, however impure it is for some Jesuitically-inclined colleagues, than a perfect Brexit forever somewhere over the rainbow. Henry VIII took Britain out of the European system. Elizabeth I completed the task. Neither Rome nor an independent Britain were built in a day.

Paul Waugh wrote yesterday that Conservative MPs – possibly even MPs from across Parliament – are now divided between pragmatist and idealists.  I think that is right.

I am a pragmatist. I have no desire for ideological perfection. Ideological purity would mean rejecting his deal as a threat to the Union which I believe – yes, okay, hope – is more a theoretical danger then real. Ideological purity also means rejecting the deal because we do not want to leave. I reject both.

Finally, we need to remember, Government is here to govern.

We need to get back to our focus, governing for the people.  With respect to my colleagues, I fear a few risk forgetting the world outside Westminster. People are fed up with Brexit and we are running out of time. We have 135 days before we leave. No deal risks months of delay and uncertainty. We will be blamed. Saying Labour are divided won’t wash. Maybe my ERG colleagues – whom I very much respect – are correct, and their in-boxes are full of thousands of outraged emails withdrawing support. There aren’t many such emails in my in-box. In my in-box are emails from people concerned about planning, health, tax and education. People want us to get on and govern and fix peoples’ everyday dramas.

We need to make the best of what we can get. Brexit will be difficult. It will change how we are perceived. There will be greater risk. Remainers will distrust us for years. From next spring on, although negotiations will continue, we need to relentlessly focus on delivering our domestic agenda and getting the free trade deal around the world. We need to be working our socks off for the British people. My priority is a Government that delivers for my constituency – the Isle of Wight – and our nation.

My fear is not a mediocre Brexit – it is a Britain governed by Jeremy Corbyn, leading to a worse Brexit or a reverse of Brexit. I do not want to risk a Labour Government during a period of such uncertainty. My priority is keeping Corbyn out of power, delivering a Brexit we can live with and showing by our actions that we remain the natural party of Government. Our overriding moral duty is to govern and govern well.

It maybe that my support is redundant anyway if the Commons is now set against the Prime Minister’s deal. But on balance, and with reservations, I continue to support the Government. I hope I am right to do so.

Terror of No Deal is driving May to risk splitting her Party and fall back on Labour MPs instead

That’s the single fact that stands out from the “low tragedy, high farce” of resignations, splits, divisions, principles and ambitions consuming British and Brexit politics.

  • Does the ERG have the numbers and coherence to bring down May?  Jacob Rees-Mogg’s double coup de theatre yesterday – his extraordinary musing-aloud in PMQs about writing to Graham Brady, and his impromptu press conference later announcing he’d done so – has raised the stakes for the group and, of course, for May, the Party, and the country itself.  As a group of 80 people, the ERG doesn’t speak with one voice.  On the one hand, Rees-Mogg and Baker are for a challenge; on other, Bernard Jenkin and Michael Fabricant are apparently not.  Why?  Two main reasons.   First, because they’re not sure the numbers are there to defeat May.  Second, because there’s no agreed successor.
  • But does Brady already have the letters in his pocket? There are few rules governing a 1922 Committee Chairman’s supervision of letters demanding a leadership change.  Perhaps he already has 48, but is unwilling to make an announcement today, when the Commons isn’t sitting.  Maybe some of them aren’t clear. (and if you think that such a letter must be so, you may not have met all members of the Parliamentary Party).  Perhaps some are post-dated.  Maybe he is waiting till Monday.  Perhaps the simplest explanation is the best: he doesn’t have 48. You never know.
  • Will Gove quit today?  On Wednesday, he reluctantly backed the Prime Minister’s deal in Cabinet.  Yesterday, he turned down the Brexit Secretary post, urging her to renegotiate her deal.  His enemies will claim he’s having another “Gove moment” – like his dramatic withdrawal of support for Boris Johnson’s leadership bid.  That’s one reading.  Another is, as we wrote yesterday, that he is intolerably conflicted about which course is best for the country, and certainly cannot bring himself to help sell the deal in public.  May would have done better, from her point of view, to leave him quietly at Environment.
  • Will Mordaunt? (And others.) The International Development has the bit between her teeth about a free vote on the deal.  On and on she pushes – having a second go at May yesterday, this time at a private meeting rather than round the Cabinet table.  But it was never likely that the Prime Minister would unwhip Conservative MPs from the central policy of her Government – not least because it would be read by some as a signal that they would be free to vote against.  It is claimed that Chris Grayling is wobbling: he’s another conflicted Brexiteer.  We don’t read Liam Fox as a resigner.
  • Who stitched up Raab? A key driver for his resignation was a far-reaching change to the Political Declaration over which he wasn’t consulted.  Originally, it suggested that the options for Britain’s economic relationship with the EU would be broad enough to include a Canada-type option.  But the final version, not cleared by him in advance, lashes the country to customs arrangements “that build on the single customs territory provided for in the Withdrawal Agreement”. That’s Norway-plus-customs-union in perpetuity.  It’s easy to blame Olly Robbins.  The finger of suspicion points not just at May but at Philip Hammond.
  • Who on earth would take his old job, anyway? Sideline your Brexit Secretary once, shame on you.  Sideline him twice, and shame on whatever mug steps up to take the post third time round.  It’s too easy simply to blame Robbins, and friends of Raab have a grudging respect for this abilities.  The essence of the matter is that May is her own Brexit Secretary now – working closely with Hammond, who has played a quiet blinder over the closest possible alignment with the EU.  He is the Cabinet’s below-the-radar big winner.
  • Remainers are split, too… It’s easy to miss the point amidst the fog of news, but former and present Remainers are no less divided than Leavers.  On the one hand, Dominic Grieve is going full-out for a second referendum, and seems therefore to have rejected May’s deal.  Former Ministers who have resigned – Justine Greening, Phillip Lee, Guto Bebb, Jo Johnson seem to be in the same camp.  Anna Soubry also pushed for a second poll yesterday.  Meanwhile, Amber Rudd, Nicky Morgan, Stephen Hammond, Bob Neill and Jonathan Djanogly look more likely to swallow May’s deal.  Ken Clarke is on the fence.
  • The Conservative-DUP deal – not dead, but sleeping?  The fury of Nigel Dodds’ assault on the Prime Minister in the Commons yesterday suggested that the deal is off.  It depends what you mean.  Jeffrey Donaldson was stressing yesterday that the confidence-and-supply arrangement is with the Conservative Party, not May herself – but that it would be “in trouble” if her deal passes the Commons.  Evidently, the party is torn between its abhorrence of Jeremy Corbyn and its detestation of the deal.  A common sense reading is that May can’t rely on the DUP post-deal as she did pre-deal.
  • Sympathy for May? No poll has yet suggested substantial support out there – among the great mass of voters who want the Brexit drama to end – for the Prime Minister’s deal.  But there is potential for her in the stand-off between a dogged woman, doing her duty, and a mass of confused and sometimes cowardly men.  The correspondence this site is receiving suggests that there may have been a shift.  A significant card in her hard is the shift of the Daily Express and, above all, the new gentler, kinder (and posher) Daily Mail – which turns Dacre-like fire this morning on the ERG rather than the Government.
  • None the less, her plan seems, in the last resort, to be to watch her Party split – and rely on Labour votes.  It may be that the Whips’ Office has simply cocked up the numbers.  One source claims to ConservativeHome that Julian Smith believed – and perhaps still does – that the DUP will abstain on May’s deal rather than oppose it, and that he is confident that the Tory rebel numbers can be whittled down.  But Mark Francois’ Commons plea to the Prime Minister yesterday looks soundly based: he said that Conservative and DUP backing for it isn’t there in sufficient numbers.  Which leaves Downing Street wooing Labour dissenters.
  • Watch the Cabinet floaters.  One Cabinet member has told this site that trying to read the present political permutations is like trying to play three-dimensional chess with mice as pieces.  That’s about right: the interaction between ERG divisions, Remainer splits, Labour differences, high principle, low ambition, the text of the deal is impossible to anticipate.  Here is Geoffrey Hill’s “low tragedy, high farce”.the crooked timber of humanity is always vulnerable to woodworm.  But one stark fact stands out amidst the swirl.  Terror of No Deal is driving May to risk splitting her Party and relying on Labour MPs instead.

Iain Dale: The Prime Minister put in a superb Parliamentary performance yesterday

Plus: But her deal’s so bad I’d rather Remain. Robbins is the real Rasputin, not Timothy. Would I really vote Tory tomorrow? And: Carry on Cocks and Dicks.

Iain Dale is an LBC presenter, a commentator with CNN and the author/editor of over 30 books.

I’m not angry: I’m just overwhelmed by a feeling of sadness that it’s come to this. It didn’t have to be this way.

I’m convinced that if Nick Timothy was still Theresa May’s chief adviser, things would have been very different. Instead, Olly Robbins replaced him in the Prime ministerial affections game, and we know the result.

Oops, how every dare I criticise a civil servant! The very thought. Well, I’m sorry: this Rasputin-like figure has more of a hold over the Prime Minister than Alan Walters had over Mrs Thatcher, or Peter Mandelson over Tony Blair.

She’s believed his every utterance or piece of advice over Brexit strategy even though, time and time again, he’s proved to have been disastrously wrong. On each occasion, it has resulted in yet another humiliating capitulation. When the rue history of this period is written, Robbins will not come out of it well.

– – – – – – – – –

On Wednesday, I wrote on my blog explaining why I thought the Brexit deal hatched between Theresa May and the EU was just about the worst result possible.

Indeed, so bad is it that if I had to choose between remaining in the EU and voting for this abortion of a deal, I would vote to Remain. I don’t resile from my Brexit vote, or the firm belief that we are better off out – but the trouble is, we won’t be out if this deal gets through.

For the avoidance of doubt, let me put on the record once again that no deal is preferable to a bad deal, and that this is the very worst deal. No deal is not an ideal option either, but at least we’d be master of our own destinies.

Yes, I accept that there would be some short-term issues to get over – but get over them we undoubtedly would. Instead May thinks that we should accept European rules with no say in their drafting. Any fool can see the dangers in that, and it is the direct opposite of ‘taking back control’.

So when the deal comes to the Commons, I hope it is decisively rejected. And I say that in the full knowledge that the Prime Minister would undoubtedly have to resign immediately. There’s no way she could survive it.

Having said that, she does have a remarkable ability to endure the impossible. But this time I think she’s bitten off too much. It takes a special talent to unite Andrew Adonis and Jacob Rees-Mogg, but by God she’s achieved it. It will be something she will live to regret, I suspect.

– – – – – – – – – –

I’m completing this diary early on Thursday afternoon. So far, there have been six resignations but by the time you read this I suspect there will have been more.

If Penny Mordaunt, Andrea Leadsom, Liam Fox and Michael Gove aren’t seriously considering their positions, I am not quite sure what kind of backbone they think they have.

Dominic Raab has now got first mover advantage, and has instantly transformed himself into a frontline leadership candidate.

– – – – – – – – – –

I have to say that May put in a superb parliamentary performance yesterday. Having to stand up on your hind legs when you’ve just had two cabinet ministers resign can’t have been easy. And to take questions for two and a half hours is something that few other leaders across the world would ever have to do. Credit to her for coming through it with aplomb.

– – – – – – – – – –

This week, I feel a bit of a fraud writing for ConservativeHome. For the first time in a very long time, I do wonder if I could support the Conservative Party in a general election were it held tomorrow. If it were a snap election held on the basis of endorsing Theresa May’s Brexit deal, I don’t think that I could.

But here’s the dilemma. Who else could I vote for? Certainly not Labour, definitely not the Liberal Democrats, absolutely not UKIP, whose leadership I abhor with every fibre of my being.

The Greens? Another lot of pro-European zealots. But I don’t really believe in spoiling my ballot paper, either. And this is why I rarely believe people who say after some Conservative disaster or another, “I’ll never vote Tory again”. Time heals and most people go back to their normal political home.

May had better hope there really are four years between now and the next election. Many people will have forgiven the party for this Horlicks of a Brexit deal by then…but it’s entirely possible that this open wound won’t have healed by then, either.

– – – – – – – – – –

Last week I told the tale of Cox, Dicks and Willy. However, according to a senior cabinet minister who texted me having read it, I missed out the best story.

Terry Dicks, John McDonnell’s predecessor as MP for Hayes & Harlington, used to tell a story about a public meeting in the 1979 election when he was standing against Michael Cocks, the Labour Chief Whip in Bristol.

According to Terry, the well-spoken woman in the chair concluded the meeting with the words: “Well ladies, there you have it. Your choice is between Cocks and Dicks”. For some of us, it was ever thus…

Richard Tice: May’s deal is the worst deal in history

For nothing in return, by way of a guaranteed free trade deal, the Prime Minister is willing to hand over at least £40 billion, potentially £60 billion.

Richard Tice is an entrepreneur, campaigner and co-founder of Leave means Leave

Theresa May had always repeated what I have known to be true in business: “no deal is better than a bad deal”.  But now, even in the face of multiple Cabinet resignations and growing anger among her Parliamentary colleagues at her proposed deal, her actions suggest she believes that any deal is better than a no deal.  The regrettable reality is that her deal is not only a bad deal: it is the worst deal in history.

For nothing in return, by way of a guaranteed free trade deal, the Prime Minister is willing to hand over at least £40 billion, potentially £60 billion.   We will have no say in the EU, but payments will continue until the EU decides we can leave the arrangement.

May’s deal misses the point of Brexit entirely, and will result in losing control of our money and continuing to make massive payments to the EU indefinitely – since they have no incentive to stop, having captured us in their “naughty” chamber.

A UK-wide EU Customs Union would kill off the idea of Global Britain.  We would not be able to strike our own trade deals with old and new friends around the world.  That would means the same protectionist high costs for consumers and, in reality, no access to new EU trade deals with third countries.  We would also have no influence at the WTO, no protection against trade dumping and have our own tariffs decided by the EU.

The EU is terrified of a competitive UK. It’s terrified of our innovation, flexibility and attractiveness to the world.  That’s why under May’s deal, EU competition, environment, employment and state aid rules would apply.

Taxation without representation is not Brexit.  Continued European Court of Justice oversight is not Brexit.  This deal will only succeed in disenfranchising the UK electorate, possibly forever, and result in Dublin having more of a say than London over large parts of the UK economy.

Don’t be fooled by those who say this is only a transitional arrangement.  Once we hand over £40 billion for a transition process that may never end, there is no longer any incentive for the EU to come back to the table to talk trade.  And what kind of maso-sadist Prime Minister would want to re-open negotiations with the EU in the future?

There are just seven pages of non-binding waffle on the “future framework” of a possible trade deal, which the EU has no incentive to finalise; yet there are almost 600 pages of room for EU traps and mischief on everything else in the Withdrawal Agreement.  The backstop, is a backdoor to the EU, with EU regulatory control and no time limit.

Worse still, we could only break this terrible deal with EU approval, which they have zero reason to give.  As Michel Barnier’s deputy, Sabine Weyand, has said to EU Ambassadors, the backstop will be used to lock the UK inside the EU indefinitely as a feeble vassal state.

Brexit is the opportunity of a lifetime.  But May is determined to rob us of those opportunities by handcuffing parts of our country to the EU Internal Market and chaining us to the EU Customs Union.

With her ministers abandoning ship in large numbers, her position is on the edge. However, she could avoid the current national humiliation and a vote of no confidence if she immediately shook up her negotiating team, removing Olly Robbins first, and bring in competent Brexit-supporters and businesspeople as I recommended on this site last December.  She should then go back to Brussels, and make clear that she’s aiming for a sensible and achievable Canada+ deal, which we know they are happy to do.

Pushing on with May’s current deal would betray not only of the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the EU, but also destroy the idea of Britain as a strong, independent-minded and innovative nation with so much to offer the world.  Should it get that far, Parliament has an obvious decision to make: no deal is better than a bad deal, and this is the worst ever deal in history.

Changing the Prime Minister, in itself, would solve nothing

A new leader would need a new plan to reverse this evident humiliation of May’s leadership and of British statecraft.

If we can congratulate Cabinet members on nothing else this morning, we can at least do so on their ability to speed read under pressure.  In less than a morning, they somehow managed to master 585 pages of the Brexit Draft Withdrawal Agreement, all without recourse to independent legal advice.  Plus the seven pages of the Outline Political Declaration – a mere bagatelle by comparison.  Yes, that’s right.  The Government wants us to hand over the best part of £40 billion for fewer than ten pages of unenforceable text. And our future negotiating leverage into the bargain.

But let’s stick for the moment to the Withdrawal Agreement.  Don’t judge it before you’ve read it, its backers said yesterday.  That they were supporters betrayed that they had already made a judgement themselves.  By the same token, they should have conceded that reading a document of that length takes rather more than a few hours.  None the less, we will take their advice.  Unlike a mass of newspapers and commentators, we do not pretend to have done so in full.

So we will make no comment for the moment on whether the Northern Ireland backstop has survived, with its implications for Scotland and the Union.  On the UK-wide or Great Britain backstop, and whether the latter can practicably leave it, de facto if not de jure, with all the consequences that has for our freedom to strike trade deals worldwide.  On whether that seven page declaration points towards Chequers, Canada, Cheqada – or anything bankable at all (and if there are any safeguards for the money).  Above all, on whether the whole package leaves us, in that neat reversal of William Hague’s famous saying, out of Europe, but run by Europe.  And on, if you prefer George Osborne’s brilliantly malicious assessment yesterday, whether or not the EU has Taken Back Control.

We will pause to make only one observation.  Theresa May’s claim that the agreement would allow us to take back that control – of borders, law and money – is already under siege, at least as far as its second part is concerned.  Paul Waugh of the Huffington Post has found 63 references to the European Court of Justice in the draft.  Ending its jurisdiction was at the heart of the EU referendum result.  The Conservative Manifesto committed the Party to it, not that most of members needed any persuading.

Where Waugh has trod, others will follow.  As we write, Martin Howe will be pouring himself another cup of strong black coffee, surrounded by gutted candles and legal tomes.  He will have laboured overnight to craft his assessment.  So will others.  By lunchtime, the Withdrawal Agreement will have been wrenched open, gutted, filletted, and its innards displayed to the world.  One thing is certain: bits of it will not look very appetising.  The Prime Minister will have passed them over in her statement yesterday evening.  One senior ERG member told this site yesterday that the agreement is like a Budget that will unravel on day two.

We are not at all sure that he is right.  This morning, it looks rather more like one of those Budgets that went to pieces on day one.  Today’s splash headlines make bleak reading for Downing Street.  How could they not, given the Cabinet’s verdict, which is all over them, and on the inside pages too?  Dominic Raab was palpably unhappy.  Geoffrey Cox compared the agreement to a life raft made up of oil drums and a plastic sail.  Michael Gove thinks it is bad, but that no deal would be worse.  Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt pushed at May to take if back to the EU for re-drafting.  Liam Fox dislikes the backstop.  Penny Mordaunt wants a free vote, so that she can oppose the agreement.  Esther McVey actually called for a vote, clashing with the Chief Whip and the Cabinet Secretary.  How on earth can any of the discontented third of the Cabinet, or more, look voters in the eye and claim they are content with it?  How can they go out and sell it?  It is significant that, yesterday evening, none of them were due to take to the airwaves this morning.

One last point on that Cabinet meeting.  Reporting of it has tended to divide members up into supporters and opponents of the agreement.  This is understandable, but flawed.  The Cabinet makes, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, collective decisions.  And as McVey has discovered, it does not vote.  Nor do its members shape the minutes.  If they are unhappy, they must either wait to be cheered up, or resign.  Those whose discontent spills over into opposition, like McVey, have not quit – so far.  Do they really intend to stay in office, hoping perhaps that the agreement collapses, or that the Commons votes it down, saying nothing about it at all?  Such a position would be worse than dishonourable, in a manner of speaking.  It would be ridiculous.

By then, events may well have overtaken them.  Perhaps Graham Brady will announce today that he has received 48 letters, and that a confidence ballot in Theresa May must be held.  Maybe he will not.  Perhaps it will come later, or not at all.  But even if it does, and she wins it convincingly, her troubles will be far from over. As matters stand, it is very unlikely that the agreement can get through the Commons.  Even if she survives a ballot, she might not be able to survive that.  The combination of a future Commons vote on the agreement and aleadership contest, ushering in a new Prime Minister, would be like a cutting-edge experiment with two new chemicals.  There is simply no knowing what it would bring.  We believe that a Conservative Prime Minister, faced with this Commons, can carry through Brexit if intent on it – even a no deal one, given the legislative state of play.  But it is possible that the mix could blow the laboratory roof off.

Our position on May’s leadership is well-known.  Like our members’ panel, we believe that she should not lead the Party into the next election.  Enraged Brexiteer MPs are itching to get her out now.  The sum of their view is that there is a lie at the heart of her policy – that she does not believe her own words; that no deal is better than a bad deal.  For this reason, they say, we are not properly prepared.  Downing Street and the Treasury have dragged their feet, and conspired to spring a new choice on the Cabinet yesterday: May’s Deal, a chaotic No Deal, or No Brexit.  And for this she has lost the DUP, in all likelihood, and with it her majority.

One doesn’t have to take a view on the agreement before accepting their point.  But they should reflect that changing the Prime Minister, in itself, would solve nothing.  A new Conservative leader would face the same old Commons.  He or she would need a new plan – Canada, plus or minus those three pluses; Nick Boles’ Norway-for-Now; or perhaps a transition to No Deal, as proposed by some Cabinet Ministers.  And given the numbers in the Commons, logic also points to a general election, sooner rather than later, to win a majority for change.  That runs the risk of a Corbyn Government – and, more pressingly as far as some Tory MPs are concerned, the loss of their seats.

Some Leavers will be tempted to join many Remainers, and say that this humbling pass, this evident humiliation of May’s leadership and of British statecraft, is the inevitable consequence of Brexit.  Our response is uncompromising.  The British people are entitled to vote to leave the European Union.  If they were now to be told that they can’t, because our politicians aren’t up to negotiating it; or the commanding heights of our institutions are against it; or government is incapable of planning for it – in short, that they must “come to heel”, in John Kerr’s illuminating phrase – what would that say to the British people about the state of our liberal demcracy and parliamentary government?  The potential consequences are so far-reaching that there is no need to spell them out.