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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guto Bebb: Conservative MPs’ opposition to this deal is about far more than just the backstop

Only 13 of the more than 100 colleagues who are publicly opposed have said that their position is solely based on that aspect of the plan.

Guto Bebb is MP for Aberconwy, and a former defence minister.

Two months have now passed since the Prime Minister published the Government’s Brexit deal. In that time, I’ve spoken to colleagues and constituents; to friends and family; and reached an unavoidable conclusion: this deal is not in our national interest.

Conservatives from John Redwood to John Major agree that this is a bad deal. Whilst much of this unhappiness has centred on the vexed question of the Irish border and the backstop, colleague after colleague has made it clear that this is a bad deal for Britain for reasons that go way beyond the backstop. Never mind the backstop, most of us think it’s a bad deal full stop.  I anticipate that the comments within the letter sent by the President of the European Council and European Commission, released this morning, will change little.

Steve Baker, deputy chair of the ERG, wrote last year about his opposition to the deal, “In the end, it’s not really about the backstop.” This is, by far, the majority position. In the People’s Vote campaign’s analysis of the public statements made by the 100-odd of us Conservative MPs who are against the deal, just 13 of the colleagues who made negative comments about the deal wrote that their opposition was predicated solely on the nature of the backstop.

The rest listed several reasons why the deal is unacceptable. Seventy-two colleagues cited that the deal does not meet the promises made in the 2016 referendum – nor come close to doing so. The British people were told that Brexit would allow them to “take back control”, yet this deal, as my colleague Sam Gyimah made clear, involves the UK surrendering our voice, our veto and our vote – likely for a period of time far longer than any backstop or transition period.

Forty-one colleagues wrote about the uncertainty that this deal entails. It settles nothing. It merely ties up the terms of our departure, leaving the UK to pay a £50 billion divorce bill while postponing the difficult decisions until after we are out and have given away our money. Our future relationship with the EU is sketched out in a vague ‘Political Declaration’, a short document which guarantees nothing and will result in many more years of arguments and disagreements with the EU and throughout this country. Successive governments will travel back and forth to Brussels struggling to make sense of a deal that makes no sense for Britain. It is a deal that heralds a new era of ‘Brexternity’.

It is also no surprise that our analysis found that many members of our party, the Conservative and Unionist Party, cannot vote for this deal that threatens the integrity of the United Kingdom. Again, it is not just the backstop that puts strain on the Union, it is the large swathes of the deal. The consequences of the agreement reached on fisheries, and the safeguards for Northern Irish economy but lacking elsewhere, will turbocharge calls for Scottish independence. Whilst at the moment there are majorities against Irish unification and Scottish independence, a poll by Deltapoll earlier this year found that there is a majority for Scottish independence and Irish unification if Brexit goes ahead.

The numbers of colleagues implacably opposed to the Prime Minister’s deal, and the sheer variety of reasons why, make it impossible to see how it can ever be passed. The country needs another route forward.

Our options are limited and not pretty. We could leave with no deal, which many colleagues, myself included, consider a form of ‘national suicide’ and simply will not let happen.

A Norway+ relationship in reality amounts to EU membership minus any control or influence – something nobody wants nor voted for.

Then there’s an unappealing, messy, Frankenstein customs union relationship suggested by the Labour Party.

Or, as I think is likely, if Parliament cannot find a majority for any of these options, and is unable to make a decision, we could agree to let the people decide. Given how far the reality of the Brexit options are from what people were promised in 2016, this would not be a democratic scandal as some suggest. Given gridlock in Parliament, it is a pragmatic solution to a constitutional, national crisis.

It might be politically uncomfortable to tell the people that we politicians have failed, but the public are not stupid, they have seen forging a successful Brexit is far harder than anyone could have anticipated. They have seen the limits of what type of exit deal can actually be negotiated. They have seen that Parliament and politicians simply cannot agree a way forward, and know that we cannot just crash out.  Many colleagues, backbenchers, ministers, and Cabinet ministers, are sympathetic to the idea of returning to the people. But there is a risk we end up in a second rate end state if they do not make themselves heard.

We have an impasse in Parliament, and will soon have a full blown national crisis, if members of Parliament, particularly on the Conservative side, do not provide the pragmatic, democratic solution of another referendum.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first department to need boosting post-March. The Treasury? Business? Transport? No: Northern Ireland.

The challenge to “our precious union” will be as much constitutional as economic – Deal, No Brexit…or No Deal especially.

Liz Truss wants to merge three smaller departments into a bigger one in the wake of the spending review.  Business, Culture and Transport would be folded into a new Ministry of Infrastructure.  B.I.S.C.U.I.T.S lives!

More prosaically, there is a danger, in weighing up the idea – the Chief Secretary believes bold measures are needed to raise productivity – of confusing three different though linked aims.

The first is saving taxpayers’ money through more efficient administration.  Amalgamating departments can help to achieve this end.  But it is always possible to find savings within the present set-up.  For example, Jeremy Hunt cut staff costs in one of those departments, Culture, by the best part of half, during his term as Secretary of State under the Coalition.

The second is restructuring departments to deliver political priorities.  Again, this shouldn’t be Mission Impossible.  However, it can go wrong.  The classic example is Harold Wilson’s Department of Economic Affairs, a “department of long-term go” created to balance the Treasury, the “department of short-term stop”.  Led by George Brown, it fought the Treasury.  The Treasury fought back, under Jim Callaghan.  Short-term stop is still with us and long-term go left very quickly.

The third is signalling priorities through ministerial appointments.  Consider the department at the head of the Chief Secretary’s list, Business.  Gordon Brown galvanised it by sending in a big hitter, Peter Mandelson.  David Cameron responded by appointing another as his shadow – Ken Clarke.

In that particular case, structural changes were made.  (Mandelson’s new department gained responsibility for universities.)  But these aren’t always desirable or even necessary.  By way of illustration, we offer a post-March 29 example.

If Theresa May’s deal eventually passes the Commons, Great Britain and Northern Ireland will have different regulatory regimes, assuming the backstop eventually kicks on.  Some argue that the two parts of the UK will potentially have different customs arrangements too.  This aspect of the deal has knock-on implications for Scotland, and therefore the Union, as a whole.

In the event of No Deal, it is possible that support for Irish unity and/or Scottish independence will grow faster than would otherwise be the case.  There is no way of knowing.  But Unionists should be alive to the possibility.  Relations with Ireland would certainly be tested in these circumstances, with an obvious read-across for Northern Ireland.  Whatever happens, we have paid for neglecting them.

In short, the latter will need a senior Tory player as Secretary of State when the next Cabinet reshuffle comes.  That person will need to know the Irish political scene, be on civil terms with the DUP and have a feel for how the island ticks.

Our suggestion is David Lidington.  He won’t be top of the DUP’s Christmas card list, but the party knows him well from his time as David Cameron’s Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, and vice-versa.  As a former Europe Minister he is familiar with the Irish side of the political equation: indeed, he has already been operating, in effect, as Theresa May’s emissary to Dublin.

Meanwhile, it follows that his replacement in the Cabinet Office would be tasked, as Lidington now is, with establishing how the whole UK can best work post-March 29.  In the event of No Deal, the challenge will be obvious – testing the UK Governance Group, presently charged with constitutional matters, to its limits.  In the event of No Brexit, it will be more subtle, but still present.

Our reflex is to send for Michael Gove when new thinking and action are required.  Perhaps we yield to it too readily.  And in any event, he can’t be everywhere.  Who else fits the bill?  Required: energy, brains, eloquence, seriousness and a passionate attachment to the Union.  These qualities are not in long supply.

The bold solution would be to send for a rising politician who has all five.

Rory Stewart is a Scot representing an English borders seat who is across the independence issue, having campaigned against it fervently in 2015.  He would not, repeat not, be Scottish or Welsh Secretary – any more than Lidington is now.  But a feel for what happens north of the border in particular would come in very useful.

These changes could be made without any structural change at all.  Or else DexEU could be folded into a new Department of Constitutional Affairs, with Stewart in charge, Chloe Smith staying on as the junior Minister, and perhaps a Scottish MP coming in too.

In which case, Steve Barclay could run the Cabinet Office.  Or Oliver Letwin return to do so.  Or Dominic Raab, if you prefer.  What’s that, you ask? B.I.S.C.U.I.T.S?  Well, it’s a long story.  Our theme today is shorter: mind “our precious Union”, post-March 29.

Shanker A. Singham: Brexit – and a new strategy for a New Year

It’s time for the Government to dust down Plan A Plus and A Better Deal – rather than its own scheme, which is going nowhere.

Shanker A. Singham is CEO of Competere and lead author of Plan A Plus and A Better Deal.

As MPs prepare to return from their Christmas break and face the New Year, they will be acutely conscious that it is a year that will go down in history – the year the UK left the European Union.

This is the moment for the Government to come up with a new approach to the Brexit negotiations. We have laid before them Plan A Plus, which sets out the comprehensive framework for how to develop independent trade policy for all the UK’s many options, including the EU FTA.

We have even more recently suggested an Alternative Withdrawal Agreement which we believe would pass House of Commons (A Better Deal, launched with David Davis, Shailesh Vara, the former Northern Ireland minister who resigned over the Withdrawal Agreement and Arlene Foster, the DUP leader).

We explained that the Government should present this to the EU in the likely event that the current Withdrawal Agreement does not pass the Commons when it is brought back again in January. Not bringing a vote in December was a serious tactical error. Had the Prime Minister lost that vote by a significant amount, it would have strengthened her hand in Brussels not weakened it. Clearly, the EU will not deviate from what is a very good deal for them without a clear reason – , i.e: a deal cannot get through the Commons.

Our alternative to the Northern Ireland backstop recognises the reality that permanent arrangements on the Irish border are crucial and should be the starting point for any agreement. We have developed a comprehensive way in which the current border arrangements can be maintained without the need for physical infrastructure.

Ultimately, this would be set out in a chapter in a EU-UK Free Trade Agreement on customs and trade facilitation, together with special Irish facilitations, based on a basic FTA with zero tariffs for goods and no quantitative restrictions. Only if a comprehensive FTA with the EU is not reached at the end of the transition period would this part of that FTA would apply. But the intention of all parties would be an advanced FTA which incorporating these arrangements.

In other words, the backstop would eventually become a front stop. This is logical, because if the backstop as currently drafted is the only way to solve the border issue, then it will be the front stop. But of course the backstop, as currently drafted is not the only solution, and is indeed unnecessary, as the UK, EU and the Republic of Ireland have repeatedly conceded.

Faced with all this, the government should do the following:

  • Table the Alternative Withdrawal Agreement we have proposed;
  • Make it clear that this is the only Withdrawal Agreement that can command a majority in the Commons.
  • Emphasise that we are preparing aggressively for No Deal, and that this will include unilateral actions by us that would inevitably impact the export interests of EU farmers, simply because this will be necessary to control food price inflation.

It would then be crucial for the Government to do what it has so far seemed incapable of doing, which is to hold the offer on the table and not blink. Unrealisable statements from MPs that they will not allow No Deal merely give comfort to those in the EU who think that the UK can be beaten into accepting a bad deal.

Whether there is a deal or not is, of course, not in the gift of Parliament. It depends on what the EU does, and how intransigent it is prepared to be. No Deal would be very bad for a number of EU member states, in particular for the Republic of Ireland itself. Irish beef farmers currently supply 70 per cent or so of the UK’s beef, and if those exports had to compete with exports from all over the world, they would not survive. Yet, this is where we seem to be heading – an impasse which has been caused principally by the backstop, pushed by the Irish government.

To be clear, exiting the EU without a Withdrawal Agreement is not an ideal outcome. But even No Deal is better than accepting the current Withdrawal Agreement which would locks the UK into all the preconditions of a very bad deal with the EU. Becoming a third country should not hold the terrors that our own Government has suggested, provided we prepare and undertake the unilateral measures that are necessary in this eventuality.

The Government must also communicate to the public and to the private sector what measures it is undertaking. The more the EU sees that the UK is seriously preparing for this eventuality, the better our negotiating leverage is, and the more likely we will be to agree a better deal with them.

As the dust settles on a tumultuous 2018, let us keep our eyes on the prize and not forget the tremendous gains possible if we embrace the opportunities that Brexit offers. A G7 nation adopting independent trade and regulatory policy for the first time in 45 years is a major global event, and we should expect that it will be difficult, particularly given how enmeshed we have become in the European system. However, what is difficult is not impossible. We must not give up. The prize is worth fighting for.

When does an unmanaged No Deal become a managed No Deal?

This morning, despite claims it would never happen, we seem to have a unicorn made flesh – just in time for Christmas.

David Gauke said in Cabinet this week that a managed No Deal “is not on offer from the EU and the responsibility of Cabinet ministers is not to propagate unicorns but to slay them.”  Logicians of a certain bent would have difficulty with this claim, arguing that one cannot slay what does not exist.  While literalists might balk at imagining how Cabinet ministers would go about trying to propagate the beasts.

However, the Justice Secretary was of course falling back on one of Brexit’s favourite metaphors, attributed by some to Sabine Weyand, and taken up enthusiastically by Remain-orientated critics of the Government everywhere.  But when is a unicorn not a unicorn?  Or, to give the question context from Gauke’s own example, when is a managed No Deal not a managed No Deal?

One take would be that a unmanaged No Deal would mean no arrangements at all between Britain and the EU to replace those due to end on March 29.  But it became very clear yesterday that this will not be the case.  The EU plans to allow flights from the UK into and overflying the EU for a year, hauliers to carry freight by road into the EU for nine months without having to apply for permits, and some UK financial services regulations to be recognised as equivalent to the EU’s for one or two years.

It is hard to see these arrangements being removed once they are put in place.  To take one example almost at random – hauliers – one must look consider the context for Ireland, which publishes its own No Deal plans today.  It is reliant on transport via the UK for exports and imports.  The EU will not collectively cut off Ireland’s nose to spite Britain’s face, or the other way round if you prefer.  As Roberto Azevêdo, the WTO’s head, has suggested, trading on basic WTO terms “would not be the end of the world”.

However, as he also said, it “wouldn’t be a walk in the park either”.  To take a striking example – and one capable of launching a thousand tabloid stories – EU pet passports issued to UK owners will no longer be valid.  And never mind animals: what about people?  The rights of British nationals living in the EU will essentially be in the hands of the member hands.  All in all, the EU’s arrangements are designed to protect its own interests.  Why would it act otherwise? The financial services plans, for example, are a basic minimum.

All this none the less looks like a managed No Deal, albeit one of a very rudimentary kind.  And is well worth bearing in mind that these proposals, plus the UK’s own preparations, might not represent the end state were No Deal actually to happen.  Some Cabinet Ministers want to go further, and bung the EU some money for two years or so after Brexit day to ensure a transition-type period in which No Deal can be better prepared for.

We are dubious.  Two years from March 2018 takes us to the spring of 2020.  There is no political gain from moving the inevitable disruption of No Deal nearer a general election.  The planning pluses would have to be very clear to offset the electoral minuses.  We are bound to hear more of the scheme after the Christmas break.

But this morning, at any rate, we can see what a managed No Deal might look like: a lot better than a trade war, a lot worse than a good deal.  Lo and behold, we have a unicorn made flesh – just in time for Christmas.  Or, as the old saying doesn’t have it, if it looks like a unicorn and whinnies like a unicorn, then it probably isn’t a unicorn at all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alan O’Kelly and Hugh Byrne: It’s time for a Conservative Friends of Ireland group

The Party has not yet cultivated a formal relationship with the Irish community in Britain and this is an opportunity to reach out to what can be a powerful network.

Alan O’Kelly is Executive Director of the Conservative Ireland Association, an organisation that has just been recently established to create links with the Irish community, and is Deputy chairman (Political) of Putney Conservative Association. Hugh Byrne is a Wandsworth Borough Councillor.

The relationship between Ireland and the UK is as complex as ever.  But regardless of any current political differences, the UK has provided jobs and homes for hundreds of thousands of Irish people over the last century. Today, nearly 400,000 Irish-born people currently reside and work in the United Kingdom. This represents a huge number of people who can vote in the United Kingdom, thanks to agreements that pre-date the EU by several decades. It is also estimated that six million people in the UK can claim Irish citizenship by virtue of having at least one Irish grandparent.

It is estimated that 35,000 Irishmen died fighting for Britain in the First World War and, since then, Irish people have played an important role in helping to develop the British economy: supplying labour to help to rebuild our cities after the Second World War and by contributing to the development of the NHS. Much of this immigration was driven by economic necessity, though newer waves of Irish immigrants to the UK are now more likely to work in the technology and business sectors. As a result, their aspirations tend to be aligned with the values of our party.

However, for historical reasons the Irish community has tended to show an antipathy or ambivalence toward the “Conservative and Unionist party”, and the “Irish vote” is usually claimed by Labour. This is at odds with the natural tendency of Irish people to be socially and economically conservative in their thinking, with a strong focus on the family, work, and home ownership. It is more than possible to be a proud Irish person and a Conservative at the same time, despite the Party’s full name. In the years following the Acts of Union until the War of Independence, over 100 Irish MPs sat in the commons, a fact frequently noted in the novels of Anthony Trollope and personified by one of his most famous characters, Phineas Finn.

The Party has not yet cultivated a formal relationship with the Irish community in Britain and this is an opportunity to reach out to what can be a powerful network. Analysis which we have conducted shows that in several key marginal constituencies the number of Irish-born voters is greater than the margin needed to win the seat. The Party is missing an opportunity to engage with this community who could and would support it, given the right support and encouragement. Many are already involved in the Conservative Party, whether in local government or as constituency officers or volunteers, but we believe that the time has come for the Conservative Party to acknowledge the Irish diaspora on more formal level, which is why we have established the Irish Conservative Association.

This new group will seek to build a bridge between the Irish community in the UK and the Conservative Party. We will be a member-led organisation promoting the values and ideals of the Conservative Party across the UK. This new group is open to anyone with an Irish background or an interest in Ireland. We believe that participation and inclusion will be key to our success going forward and we are proud that Maria Caufield has agreed to act as our Chair.

The relationship between the UK and Ireland will always be important one, and one that has changed dramatically over time. While the debate over Brexit has increased tensions, we believe that our two countries still have much in common, not to mention our economic ties and shared border. Our aim is to foster and deepen the relationship between the Irish community here in Britain and the Conservative Party. Establishing this group will have many benefits for the party and over the coming weeks we hope to announce a variety of initial events that will take place in the new year.

If you would like to get involved, please drop us a line at

Sheila Lawlor: Even with an exit clause from the backstop, this deal would be unacceptable

Its freedom to prosper, to make and judge its own laws, for its people ‘to take back control’ over how or by whom they are governed – all these will be lost for ever.

Sheila Lawlor is the Director of Politeia and the author of Deal, No Deal? The Battle for Britain’s Democracy.

The confidence vote has kept Theresa May in office for now. But the Withdrawal Agreement may yet prove her nemesis.  It is that ‘deal’, the EU’s and hers, that almost did for her last week. So far, it has brought Britain’s government to a state of paralysis, prompted political turmoil, constitutional chaos and a level of uncertainty and disruption near-unprecedented for the best part of a century, as well as spooking the markets.

Unless it is put right, it will do, in the pejorative sense, not just for the Prime Minister, but for Britain too. An end date to the backstop, legally binding under international treaty, is needed, otherwise the UK may be obliged to remain indefinitely in an EU customs union and under its law, whilst Northern Ireland will be treated as a separate state, UK (NI),  with an even greater burden of EU law imposed than the rest of the UK.  So much is widely recognised – now, at least verbally, even by May herself. Few, however, recognize all the implications.

Consider, for example, state aid, on which under the backstop Brussels will rule. This, the EU claims, covers certain tax rules and fiscal choices, which mean that tax breaks would still be under the EU’s control. So if the UK wants to award tax breaks to start ups or to promote home farming or fish processing enterprises or otherwise stimulate the economy on leaving, it will probably be prevented from doing so under ‘state aid’ rules. Moreover, so long as there is the threat of an indefinitely long backstop, it is is hard to see how the UK will be able to resist the demands of EU negotiators to include many of its intrusive conditions in the future economic agreement.

But suppose for a moment that the Prime Minister in the end manages to extract from Brussels a cast iron guarantee that, if the backstop is invoked, it will end on a date written into the Withdrawal Agreement, and at that date the UK will leave the Customs Union with the EU and no longer be bound by any related corpus of EU law.

The victory would be a hollow one unless there is also there is also a fixed, end date for the Withdrawal Agreement’s other legal obligations. Without that, the UK’s constitution and its law will still, under international treaty, be subjugated to the EU in a number of areas, indefinitely, backstop or no backstop. Its freedom to prosper, to make and judge its own laws, for its people ‘to take back control’ over how or by whom they are governed – all these will be lost for ever.

Far from taking back ‘control of our laws’ or respecting ‘the integrity of the United Kingdom’, the claims made on its behalf in the Prime Minister’s initial letter to voters and since, the Agreement and its Northern Ireland Protocol fail to do either, and not just on the backstop. Were ministers to read a smattering of the 585 pages of the proposed legal text, they would see how serious the consequences of the deal will be across whole areas of national life. 

In fact, freedom from EU law is anything but guaranteed.  Article Four of the Withdrawal Agreement gives EU law supremacy over domestic law in a number of areas in respect of the entire Withdrawal Agreement and not just for citizens’ rights, as a House of Lords briefing paper and a senior MP have made clear. Article Four, which provides for direct effect and supremacy, is not limited to the transition period but will continue to apply to those provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement (and of EU law to which the Agreement refers) once the UK has left the EU at the end of the transition period. Thus the status of EU law in the UK at the end of the transition is not clear.

This is just one example of the uncertainty that awaits the UK if the Withdrawal Agreement is accepted, even with modifications to the backstop. A careful reading of its near 600 pages would discover more. Why accept it? Even the Prime Minister can find no reason better than that is the only deal, so that the other options are, she says, no Brexit or leaving without a deal. In fact, no Brexit is not an option: the people voted clearly in 2016 and Parliament has legislated for the UK to leave the EU on March 29, 2019.

But leaving without a deal simply means leaving without agreeing to the special terms that the EU wishes to impose, but following the legal agreements which the UK has made. It leaves open, not just the certainty of being able to trade, as we  already do very successfully with most of the world, on WTO rules, and the opportunity to sign free trade agreements globally and reaching a Canada Plus style trade deal with the EU. Indeed, the UK will probably be in a much better position to negotiate an ambitious long-term trade deal with the EU if it leaves cleanly, without the baggage that any sort of divorce deal will inevitably impose.

Esther McVey: How to deliver Brexit from here. We must prepare properly for no deal.

When I tried to focus these concerns by calling for a vote to see if this deal did indeed have the agreement of Cabinet, opposition crumbled – and my colleagues fell silent.

Esther McVey is a former Work and Pensions Secretary, and is MP for Tatton.

Resigning from Cabinet is often described as one of the most difficult decisions that a politician can make, but for me it was entirely logical.

From the outset, it was clear that the Withdrawal Agreement failed to honour the outcome of the EU referendum, secure our long-term economic independence and take full advantage of the UK leaving the constraints of the EU. How could I remain in the Cabinet knowing that?

I could not, hand on heart, sign up to a deal that sells the UK short. So keeping my job paled into insignificance compared to the enormity of the effects that this bad deal will have on the future prosperity of our country. Its effects will last far longer than any of our careers; it will shape the UK’s future for generations to come.

Concerns about the agreement around the Cabinet table were palpable, and the legal advice from Geoffrey Cox was damning.  This was the one chance that the Cabinet had to avert the UK accepting a bad deal.  But when I tried to focus these concerns by calling for a vote to see if this deal did indeed have the agreement of Cabinet, opposition crumbled – and my colleagues fell silent.

In politics, trust is paramount.  Once it is lost you cannot get it back.  Leaving the EU on the terms set out in the Withdrawal Agreement would see us lose public trust on the biggest issue of our age.  And we were risking that trust on an agreement which had zero chance of passing a vote in the Commons.

Even now, I find it hard to believe that my colleagues could not see that this deal was doomed from the outset. Since I left the Cabinet, I have watched with disbelief as events have unfolded – like everyone else.  The attempts to sell this fundamentally bad deal through a full Ministerial tour and PR campaign actually saw opposition harden.  The Government was left with no option this week but to pull the meaningful vote to avoid a defeat of historic proportions.

In her statement on the delay to the vote, the Prime Minister spoke of the need to provide ‘reassurances’ on the backstop for the Northern Irish Border.  This was a major misreading of the concerns which I and many others have over the backstop and of the deal which will see us hand over £39 billion with zero guarantees over a future trade agreement.

The Prime Minister has now won a confidence vote of Parliamentary colleagues, but it is clear there are significant concerns over what remains a bad deal for the UK.  However, rather than using this moment to reassess the Government’s approach to the terms of our exit, the Prime Minister continues to talk about seeking further reassurances.  Mere reassurances fall far short of addressing what is wrong with this deal. We need fundamental changes, including to the legally binding agreement.

The Prime Minister must now do what she should have done when it was clear that the deal she presented to Cabinet did not honour the outcome of the referendum, failed to secure our long term economic independence and risked missing the huge opportunities of leaving the constraints of the European Union.

She must use the clear domestic concerns about the agreement to push for two fundamental changes

  • That the backstop is ultimately unacceptable and must be removed and,
  • That the £39 billion must be linked to a future trade agreement.

The clock is ticking, so we simply do not have the time to pretend that, with a little bit of tinkering, this fundamentally bad deal can be made acceptable to the British people.  The more time we waste on an agreement which cannot meet the wishes of both sides, the more likely it is that we will default to an abrupt departure at the end of March.

t is better to focus our time, resources and energy on preparing a planned Brexit now and to come up with a clear plan for what will follow.  To continue with a charade that tweaking here and there and tacking on assurances will somehow make this flawed agreement better risks the Government failing properly to prepare for what comes next.

With little over three months remaining, we must pursue these two conditions with the EU and, if they are rejected, then we must accept that it has not been possible to secure a deal which satisfies the interests of both the UK and the EU.  In the event of this outcome, we must focus all our resources on securing an orderly exit from the EU.

Moving to a planned Brexit should follow these recommendations to ensure that it is as orderly as possible in the time that we have available:

  • Identify the pragmatic and tactical agreements based upon mutual interest which we can make with the EU and bi-laterally with individual member states to minimise disruption to both parties upon the UK’s exit from the European Union.
  • Put in place the contingency measures that we can begin to implement now, giving clarity to people and businesses. Immediately review all no deal planning conducted to date and scale up planning in key areas before 29 March to allow the UK to mitigate known areas of impact.
  • Negotiate a ‘no deal implementation period’, like the one in place for a deal situation, and pay the EU our membership fee during that time (circa £10 billion a per year net).
  • Identify investments in new systems, such as those in operation at the border which need to be implemented, scaled up or brought forward to support an orderly Brexit.
  • Begin immediate discussions with the Republic of Ireland on the operation of an open border post-Brexit, since both the UK and the Republic have committed to no hard border even in the event of no deal.
  • Start an immediate study of the policy changes needed to ensure the long-term competitiveness of the UK, including the reduction of burdensome regulations on business and, where required, divergence from the EU, while maintaining alignment in areas of national interest.
  • Issue immediate reassurance to all EU nationals residing in the UK to remove any doubts over their future and rights once the UK has left the EU.

Moving to a planned Brexit will allow us to reallocate the £39 billion to implement contingency measures, introduce new systems to ensure long term success and provide a cushion to those areas of the economy which need more time to adjust to the change.

It will also allow us to move beyond the discussion over the flawed backstop arrangement and look for practical solutions for the Northern Irish Border.  The EU has cynically used the backstop to leverage a deal which will allow them to keep the UK tied into their rules indefinitely.  Shifting the focus to a planned Brexit would give a clear focus on the practical arrangements that authorities on both sides of the border need to take to keep the border open.

The current Withdrawal Agreement does not fulfil our vote to leave the EU, is not in our economic interests and, ultimately, its inherent flaws mean that it increases the chances of the UK defaulting into an abrupt no deal Brexit.

It is increasingly clear that an alternative approach is required.  Some have suggested that Norway, ‘Norway for now’, Norway Plus or EFTA/EEA membership could present that alternative, yet this would keep us even more closely tied to the EU and would genuinely ensure that we remain in the EU in all but name. This is not delivering on the referendum and would destroy the public’s faith in democracy.

Without agreement from the EU that it is willing to remove the backstop and accept that the £39 billion payment must be linked to a future trade agreement, a planned and orderly Brexit as outlined above is the only option which prioritises our economic interests, is achievable within the time frame left and which actually delivers on the public vote to leave.