From an analysis of the Withdrawal Agreement’s text: How the Irish protocol would separate Great Britain from Northern Ireland.

It can’t have been Parliament’s intention to allow Northern Ireland to form part of a separate customs territory to Great Britain for any purpose.

  • The Irish Protocol is an integral part of the Withdrawal Agreement and establishes a permanent UK-EU customs union

  • It removes Northern Ireland from the UK’s customs territory and places it in the EU’s customs territory

  • Northern Ireland is in the same customs territory as Great Britain in the same way that it is currently in the same customs territory as Turkey.

  • The protocol will inevitably create many checks and controls on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, amounting to a ‘hard border’ on the Government’s definition – east-west, in this case.

  • The EU will have the power to tax and legislate for Northern Ireland in many areas as if it were an EU member state – but without any representation.

  • The ostensible justification for the protocol – because it is required by the Belfast Agreement – is not justified by the text of the Agreement, which says nothing about customs.

  • This is all in clear breach of many promises to protect the Union by the Prime Minister.

The Withdrawal Agreement and the Irish Protocol

  • Article 182 of the Withdrawal Agreement provides that the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland (‘the Irish Protocol’) forms an integral part of that agreement. The Irish Protocol contains the so-called backstop which has the ostensible aim of preventing a ‘hard border’ between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. This is said to be required by the Good Friday Agreement, but there is nothing about customs or border arrangements in that agreement.

The Irish Protocol establishes a UK-EU customs union

  • Article 6(1) of the Irish Protocol provides that until otherwise agreed, ‘a single customs territory between the Union and the United Kingdom shall be established (“the single customs territory”). Accordingly, Northern Ireland is in the same customs territory as Great Britain.’ The single customs territory is said to comprise ‘(a)the customs territory of the Union defined in Article 4 of Regulation (EU) No 952/2013; and (b) the customs territory of the United Kingdom.’ It should be noted that a single customs territory is the legal definition of a customs union: seearticle 24 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (‘GATT’) 1947, as amended.

EU customs legislation applies to Northern Ireland, not Great Britain

  • Article 6(2) of the Irish Protocol provides that ‘legislation as defined in point (2) of Article 5 of Regulation (EU) No 952/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council shall apply to and in the United Kingdom in respect of Northern Ireland (not including the territorial waters of the United Kingdom).’
  • Regulation 2013/952/EU is the Union Customs Code (‘UCC’). The legislation defined in article 5, point 2 of the UCC is the (a) UCC, and its implementing and supplementary provisions, (b) the Common Customs Tariff, (c) legislation establishing EU relief from customs duty and (d) international agreements on customs applying to EU. It is plain therefore that the EU customs legislation applies to Northern Ireland, but not to Great Britain.

Northern Ireland is made part of the EU customs territory

  • The provision of fundamental importance in the Protocol is article 15(1), which provides insofar as material that: “notwithstanding any other provisions of this Protocol, any reference in the applicable provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement and of this Protocol, as well as in the provisions of Union law made applicable to and in the United Kingdom in respect of Northern Ireland by this Protocol, to the territory defined in Article 4 of Regulation (EU) No 952/2013 shall be read as including the part of the territory of the United Kingdom to which Regulation (EU) No 952/2013 applies by virtue of Article 6(2) of this Protocol.’
  • This provision needs unpacking. The territory defined in article 4 of the UCC is the ‘customs territory of the Union.’ As note above, the part of the United Kingdom to which the UCC applies by virtue of article 6(2) of the Protocol is Northern Ireland. Eliminating the deliberately obscure drafting, article 15(1) provides, in effect, that:
  • ‘Notwithstanding any other provisions of this Protocol, any reference in the applicable provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement and of this Protocol, as well as in the provisions of Union law made applicable to and in the United Kingdom in respect of Northern Ireland by this Protocol, to the customs territory of the Union shall be read as including Northern Ireland.’

In short, despite the creation of a single UK-EU customs territory by article 6(1), the protocol repeats the substance of the EU’s first draft of the Withdrawal Agreement, which had provided, in article 4(2) of the draft Irish Protocol, that ‘The territory of Northern Ireland, excluding the territorial waters of the United Kingdom… shall be considered to be part of the customs territory of the Union.’

The effect of the Withdrawal Agreement, therefore, is that Northern Ireland will form part of the EU’s customs territory, and not the United Kingdom’s, although a single customs territory is also established between the UK and the EU. Northern Ireland will thus be in the same customs territory with Great Britain in the same way that it is currently part of the same customs territory as Turkey (see article 3(3) of decision 1/95 establishing a single EU-Turkey customs territory).

It is likely that this constitutes a breach of section 55(1) of the Taxation (Cross-Border Trade) Act 2018, which entered into force in September. This provides that: ‘It shall be unlawful for Her Majesty’s Government to enter into arrangements under which Northern Ireland forms part of a separate customs territory to Great Britain.’

It cannot have been the intention of Parliament to allow the Government to agree that Northern Ireland should form part of a separate customs territory to Great Britain for any purpose. Otherwise, it would be lawful for the Government to have transferred Northern Ireland into the Turkish customs territory without Parliamentary approval at any time.

This will mean a hard border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland

  • The Irish Protocol expressly contemplates checks on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Article 7(2) states merely that the parties will use their best endeavours to facilitate trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The Joint Committee is empowered to make non-binding recommendations to avoid ‘to the extent possible, controls at the ports and airports of Northern Ireland.’ The implication is that it may not in all circumstances be possible to avoid such checks. Indeed, article 14(2) of the Irish Protocol gives the EU the right to direct UK authorities to carry out controls to give effect to the Protocol.
  • Trade between the two constituent parts of the customs territory, i.e. the EU and Northern Ireland, on the one hand, and Great Britain, on the other, is regulated by Annex 3: see article 6(1). Articles 3 to 11 of Annex 3 set out the paperwork that will be needed (i.e. UK movement certificates) for such trade, except goods in the possession of travellers and postal packets which will be exempted.
  • Annex 5 applies only to Northern Ireland: see article 6(2). It contains the whole panoply of single market controls, including border controls, on goods. For example, it applies Council Regulation 2017/625/EU. Article 47 of that Regulation requires border controls where animals, products of animal origin, plants, and plant products are first imported into the EU. Official controls include documentary checks, identity checks and physical checks: see article 49.

The ostensible aim of avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland has come at the expense of creating one between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. It should be remembered the definition of a hard border in para [43] of the UK-EU Joint Report of December 2017 was the absence of ‘any physical infrastructure or related checks and controls’.

The EU acquires the power to tax and legislate for Northern Ireland, without any Northern Irish representation

Other provisions of the Protocol require Northern Ireland to abide by EU legislation and taxation: see articles 9 to 12 of the Protocol, and the Annex thereto. References to EU legislation in the Protocol are ambulatory references, so there will be a duty to keep Northern Irish laws and indirect taxes aligned to EU laws and taxes in the future: see article 15(4)-(5).

Furthermore, the EU has full power to legislate in respect of Northern Ireland, and the Court of Justice will have jurisdiction: see article 14(4)-(5). Northern Ireland is, in effect, treated as part of the EU for some purposes but without any representation. This will greatly and illegitimately enhance the powers of Ireland’s Government in Northern Ireland and undermine the Union.

WATCH: May – The backstop is like an insurance policy

“And the backstop can only ever be temporary…under the legal arrangements of the European Union.”

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’.

Brexit, the Irish border and deceitful politics in Dublin and Brussels

Neutrality towards the Prime Minister’s Brexit plan to lock the UK into an EU customs union is crumbling. Two Cabinet ministers have resigned, with other senior and junior resignations coming in. Already Chequers, the ‘half in, half out’ scheme, had provoked the resignation of two Cabinet ministers, with voters polling two to one against the […]

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Neutrality towards the Prime Minister’s Brexit plan to lock the UK into an EU customs union is crumbling. Two Cabinet ministers have resigned, with other senior and junior resignations coming in. Already Chequers, the ‘half in, half out’ scheme, had provoked the resignation of two Cabinet ministers, with voters polling two to one against the plan and many MPs opposing it.

But this week’s formal 585-page draft deal goes further. The UK would have no say over many of the laws under which it is governed. It would also be locked into a customs union (‘single customs territory’) with the EU under the Single Market rule book, potentially forever. With no legally binding exit day, no means agreed to end the backstop written into the treaty, Britain, as Ireland’s Sunday Business Post claimed last weekend, is in reality ‘on track to stay in the customs union forever because it will not be able to achieve a better deal with the EU’.

Although it is alleged that only such a route would preserve a soft Irish border, the claim is no more than a pretext, a political fraud in which the leaders of both Ireland and the UK have been complicit with the EU. In fact, the EU has made clear from the start that reducing the UK and its economy to the EU’s ‘level playing field’ and so to subservience is the long-term aim.

The Prime Minister came to accept the long-term advice of her chief negotiators that economic ‘alignment’ with the EU and remaining in a quasi-customs union was a must. EU demands to uphold the soft Irish border have turned out to be a very useful whitewash for the breach of promises involved in accepting such an arrangement. Now that the political battle is to the fore, such deceit should be revealed for what it is. Whether there is or is not to be a deal, no one believes with any seriousness that there can be a return to a hard border in Ireland when Britain leaves the EU.

Not only has the UK made clear it will not instigate one, but international trade has moved on to technological borders, advocated not only by the WTO but by the EU, and proposed by the UK for the Irish border as far back as 2017. In fact the militarised 1970s borders, the barbed wired, sentry posts, police checks and shootings have been consigned to the films of the Soviet era – or the footage of the 20th century Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Militant IRA, of which Sinn Fein was the political arm in those days, used bombs, booby traps and bullets in guerrilla warfare to reach the goal of an ‘all Ireland’ republic, while equally militant Loyalists took to the gun to prevent it. Then the state and its police force were thought by many moderate nationalists to be a vehicle of repression. Northern Ireland’s civil rights movement followed, as did the outbreaks of violence and repression and over time the negotiation, ‘agreements’, stalled talks with interventions from both UK and Dublin governments.

The 1998 Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, which recognised Northern Ireland’s status could only change by the ballot box, proposed a power sharing executive, to which nine years later the Reverend Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams, the two totemic symbols of orange and green militancy and the apartheid of their communities, signed up. By then, Paisley’s DUP and Adams’ Sinn Fein were the biggest parties in the elected Assembly.

Adams agreed to end the military ‘campaign’ in 2005, calling instead for peaceful means to establish Ireland’s unity and calling on the IRA to dump arms. He sealed the deal by camping his Sinn Fein tanks on the lawns of Dublin’s parliament, Dail Eireann, to which he was elected in 2011. Having positioned Sinn Fein to be ‘the only All Ireland Party’ and a socialist republican anti-imperialist party, it now has 23 seats in the Irish Dail to (the nationalist) Fianna Fail’s 44, while Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael won 50 seats.

Sinn Fein therefore is a potential rival in the political battle being played out with Brussels to win Ireland’s voters. Fine Gael aims at the elites and metropolitan classes and younger voters with their unquestioning europhile sentiment. Sinn Fein aims at the anti-establishment and those left behind in Varadkar’s new Ireland in rural or inner-city Fianna Fail and Labour strongholds.

Varadkar, modernising and europhile, is pitched against Adams’ successor Mary Lou McDonald, a radical, republican former MEP. Both are ready to play whatever it takes to win on EU terms, even if in the process they destroy their country’s close economic, social and historical ties to the UK.

Instead of falling in with the ploys of Brussels to manacle the UK economy and prevent a true Brexit, Britain’s leaders should respect their own voters. In that way they will also help the stability of their neighbouring island, the victim of a misleading EU campaign accommodated by Dublin’s warring leaders.

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The Irish protocol in the withdrawal agreement rules out an independent trade policy

It seems fair to say that the draft withdrawal agreement agreed between negotiators and published this week has not been universally welcomed. In particular the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland has been the source of much criticism. In a detailed briefing by the Institute of Economic Affairs, I described how, if it were to come into […]

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It seems fair to say that the draft withdrawal agreement agreed between negotiators and published this week has not been universally welcomed. In particular the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland has been the source of much criticism. In a detailed briefing by the Institute of Economic Affairs, I described how, if it were to come into effect, this Protocol would effectively rule out an independent trade policy for the UK, and would throw up serious trade barriers between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

It’s worth reminding ourselves of why this Protocol was thought to be necessary. Our government agreed in December last year to guarantee that there would be no physical infrastructure or related checks and controls at the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. In order to achieve this they conceded that, unless they could put forward alternative solutions, Northern Ireland would stay in alignment with the rules of the customs union and single market in all areas necessary for north south cooperation, the all-island economy and protection of the Belfast (“Good Friday”) Agreement. It was also stated in the Joint Report that the UK would not allow new regulatory barriers between Great Britain and the United Kingdom. The EU’s interpretation of that was a draft agreement under which, “unless and until” other terms were agreed that would meet the objectives for the Irish border, Northern Ireland would remain in a customs union and regulatory area with the EU. This is what the backstop is.

The facilitated customs arrangement and common rulebook of the Chequers plan were an attempt to provide the alternative arrangement that would mean the backstop would never be activated. When Chequers was roundly rejected by the EU, and the Prime Minister declared after the Salzburg summit that no prime minister could accept the EU’s terms, the negotiators went back into their tunnel and reformulated the backstop so that Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK would be in the same customs territory, and Northern Ireland would retain EU regulations on goods “unless and until” a new agreement could be reached. Mrs May is now satisfied that this is something that a British prime minister can sign up to.

Some of us have long been convinced that keeping the Irish border free of infrastructure could be achieved by way of legal, technical and technological solutions. European customs experts Hans Maessen and Lars Karlsson have confirmed to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that this can be done. But the EU negotiators and the Irish government have been adamant that the requirements of EU law mean that only a customs union and regulatory harmonisation on goods can achieve this, as even with a free trade agreement with zero tariffs and quotas, the risk of goods that have not been duly declared for customs purposes or that do not meet EU regulations might cross the border cannot be tolerated. Except, it now transpires, for fish. Because under article 6 of the Protocol, fisheries and aquaculture products will be excluded from the customs union arrangements (and therefore fish caught by British and Northern Irish boats would be subject to tariffs) unless an agreement between the UK and the EU on access to waters and fishing opportunities is reached. But by the EU’s own reasoning, the exclusion of even one product would require a full customs border, to ensure that that product isn’t smuggled in undeclared. Now Irish government and EU negotiators could be forgiven for assuming that the British negotiators will concede on this as they have on almost everything else, and sign away fishing rights to the EU. But they might not, and then we would need a hard border wouldn’t we, and the Protocol would be for nothing? Or could it be, that for fish, as for everything else, it is possible to manage a customs border without physical interventions, and the EU is prepared to take the risk of having to do so in order to leverage access to UK territorial waters.

It is often overlooked that as well as being by far the biggest market for goods sent outside Northern Ireland  64% of goods brought into Northern Ireland come from Great Britain, with 12% from Ireland and 59% of its external sales are to Great Britain, as against 12% to Ireland. In seeking to preserve frictionless trade with Ireland, the Protocol, if it were to come into effect, would introduce costs and formalities for the vastly more significant trade within the UK. As former Brexit minister Suella Braverman noted in her resignation letter, customs professionals are clear that this could have been avoided. It’s time to start listening to them.

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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.

WATCH: Foster – “We could not as Unionists support a deal that broke up the United Kingdom”

The DUP leader says that “there will be consequences” if the Prime Minister proposes one.


May’s choice today. The possibility of her Government collapsing soon…or the probability of it doing so now

The DUP hates the idea of Corbyn in Downing Street. But it will surely be unwilling to swallow the partition of the UK, as it sees it.

Imagine for a moment that today’s Cabinet rejects the draft Brexit deal negotiated by Sabine Weyand and Olly Robbins.  While there would still be time for an agreement to be reached later, both the UK and the EU would step up No Deal preparations. The timetable gives them no option to do otherwise.

Pressure for a second referendum in the Commons would increase.  The Government would be drawn into an accelerating conflict with those MPs who support one.  Their number would doubtless grow, including on the Conservative benches.  It is possible to believe that ways would be found to bring Commons business to a standstill, thus piling pressure on Theresa May for a second vote.  Hardline Remain-backing Conservative MPs might write en masse to Graham Brady demanding a confidence ballot on her leadership.

None the less, Jeremy Corbyn is clearly opposed to second vote, and the group of Tory MPs backing a second referendum remain small.  In short, the best betting is that, in these circumstances, the balance of probabilities is that the Government could make it through and deliver No Deal, for better or worse.

Readers will see where all this is heading.  The possibility of its collapse soon, in the unlikely event of the draft deal being rejected by Cabinet today, must be set against the probability of its collapse even sooner if Cabinet accepts the deal instead.  The DUP hates the idea of Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street as Prime Minister.  But if the alternative is to swallow the partition of the UK, as it sees it, under this Government then it is likely to exit its confidence and supply arrangement with the Conservatives, formally or informally.

ConservativeHome understands that this point will be made to the Prime Minister this afternoon.  The question at stake is not only whether the proposed deal is good for Britain and honours the referendum result.  It is also whether or not her Government survives with its majority intact.

Gisela Stuart: The EU referendum gave the political class a chance to mend its ways. So far, it hasn’t.

There is still time for adoption of a comprehensive free trade deal on offer from the EU and applied to the entire UK, which even now could provide a way forward.

Gisela Stuart is Chair of Change Britain. She is a former Health Minister.

Successful or not, these are the final days of Theresa May’s negotiations and, as with all EU negotiations, they are getting heated as time runs out. So far, so predictable. But as the media focuses ever more tightly on Downing Street and the Commons, and MPs tour studios promoting solutions from second votes with two options or second votes with three options to Norway, EEA, the Customs Union, a customs union, backstops and backstops to backstops, it may be a good time to remember what this is all about.

It’s about implementing a direct mandate given to the Government and MPs in Parliament by the people they entrusted with the decision of whether we should remain in the European Union or leave. It was to be a generational decision – accompanied by the promise that whatever they decided, the Prime Minister would implement.

The mandate then was and still is to leave the European Union. That means that the UK has the final say on laws, borders, taxes and trade deals. The mandate, delivered in the referendum on a turnout of 72 per cent and with a clear majority of 3.8 per cent, was accepted by the two main political parties in the 2017 general election. The Liberal Democrats, who promised to overturn the referendum, were trounced.

Parliament endorsed the time table by voting to trigger Article 50, thus giving the Government two years to complete a Withdrawal Agreement before the end of the multi annual financial framework, the European Parliamentary elections and a new EU Commission.

Now, as the months count down, the deal that the Government is trying to secure is being rejected by MPs who campaigned for Leave and Remain alike. No one deal, we are told, is capable of winning a majority in Parliament. Brexit is unworkable. The whole project was doomed from the start. We need another referendum, where we can change our minds and vote to go back in.

Three observations may help to add clarity. Whilst politicians in Westminster have argued with themselves, there is no evidence that the public has changed its mind. Another vote would undermine the validity of the first, but probably produce the same result. Fearing that outcome, some are already proposing a vote with multiple options and an alternative voting system, overlooking the irony that AV was rejected in an earlier referendum.

The EU has identified and pursued its strategic goals and remained united. UK negotiators have failed to split EU capitals from one another and from the Commission, while at the same time seeming ready to compromise at every opportunity to avoid the appearance of conflict. Our political classes have been out-performed. They have lacked clarity of purpose and vision. Even basic skills of political management and analysis have seemed woefully lacking.

One reason that the political classes were so surprised by the 2016 vote to Leave is because it was in part a referendum on their failure to understand or engage with the experience of ordinary voters in towns and villages across the country, and on their tendency to get stuck within their own unconscious bias about what ought to be in the best interest of the majority of the UK.

The referendum offered a second chance; an opportunity to start listening, think about national renewal and to bring politics home to communities across the country as we took back control from the EU. Instead, political leaders in Westminster are signalling they have learned very little from 2016.

What is to be done? Chequers and the backstop do not allow us to leave the EU, and there is a real danger that if we fail to deliver Brexit the breakdown of trust between London and the rest of the country will be hard to repair. In Westminster, the hope will be that Parliament can take control, postpone Brexit so that we can have another referendum or have time for a change in government to refresh the negotiating team. 

The most significant point of Jo Johnson’s resignation statement was his reference to the failure of statecraft. He was right. As Mervyn King put it recently, you have to ask yourself how the world’s sixth largest economy, with a reputation for political stability and administrative capacity, has got itself into such a mess. If government, the civil service and MPs are unable to deliver Brexit, the correct diagnosis is not that Brexit is impossible, but rather that our politicians have failed. 

It’s not too late. There is still time for a change in policy, for adoption of a comprehensive free trade deal on offer from the EU and applied to the entire UK, which even now could provide a way forward. Faster and more comprehensive preparation for departure on WTO terms would both strengthen the UK’s negotiating position and give us another way out as an independent and self-governing country.

Such a change, however, requires a grasp of statecraft we have so far found lacking. It is what the people voted for – but we may find our political class are found wanting.

Amber Rudd & Andrew Percy: Brexit. Why a Canada-type deal won’t work for Britain.

The UK should copy Canada only in regard to how it pursues a deal, and that means securing a deal that is bespoke to our economic needs and realities.

Amber Rudd is a former Home Secretary, and is MP for Hastings.  Andrew Percy is currently trade envoy to Canada, and is MP for Brigg & Goole.

Canada, a great and progressive free-trading nation, of so much more than moose and Mounties, is an unwitting participant in our Brexit debate. Canadian friends are a little nonplussed to find their wonderful country, or rather its trading relationship with the EU, quoted repeatedly as a basis for a future UK-EU relationship.

We are two Conservatives who voted for different sides in the EU referendum; one Leave, one Remain. We both understand that there was a public call for change. Moreover, we are two patriots who want the best for our country and recognise the difficulty in securing a deal that works for everyone, let alone one that satisfies everyone!

There has been plenty of talk on what that deal should look like. Politicians from across the political divide have spoken out in favour of various arrangements, the advantages that they feel each option would bring and how they plan to get there. Perhaps none more so than ‘Canada’, with or without the addition of any number of ‘pluses’.

We understand why a Canada-style deal is, on face value, attractive. Those who argue for it say that it will give the UK a ‘clean break’ from Europe. But at what cost? To our mind – Remain and Leave alike – a Canada-style deal fails to recognise that the UK’s relationship with the EU is wholly different to that of Canada, and fails to understand such a deal could exact a heavy price.

First, it could be economically damaging. A Canada-style deal is not an extension of the status-quo, and in many ways could be seen as a failure of the UK’s negotiating position. The EU-Canada trade deal, positive though it is for that trading relationship, is a somewhat limited agreement, principally focusing on the elimination of tariffs and the raising of quotas on certain sectors, such as dairy.

In the context of the UK, it would introduce considerable friction in our trading relationship with Europe, where there is presently none. There would be customs checks at the border, disrupting established supply chains of British success stories; car manufacturers, aerospace and pharmaceuticals companies. A Canada-style deal wouldn’t cover services, the overwhelming majority of our economy; accountancy, insurance and legal services would be impacted. It seems ironic that at a time when we might be free to talk to Canada about co-operating more in the area of services as part of a future UK-Canada free trade agreement, we would be putting up substantial, and potentially damaging, barriers with the EU.

Second, it would be constitutionally dangerous. Such a deal would need a hard border – and there, we have two choices; one on the island of Ireland, or one down the Irish Sea. No serious politician, who cares for either our security or our Union, can accept that. A hard border in Ireland would split communities, throwing away decades of work to bring about cohesion and peace. A hard border in the Irish Sea would split our country and recklessly put our Union at risk.

Finally, it is politically impossible and flies in the face of parliamentary arithmetic. There is no majority in the Commons that would see a Canada-style deal voted through. It would fall at the first hurdle. No plan riddled with so much uncertainty and reliant on goodwill alone would win the requisite number of votes.

Brexit is about making tough decisions in the national interest. It is about pulling together to secure the best possible deal for the UK. We should also be realistic about what we can deliver for the British people. When Canada negotiated its free trade agreement with the EU it did so on the basis of what was in Canada’s economic interests. It secured a good deal for Canadians, and did not seek to copy anyone else’s arrangements: neither should the UK. Canada works for Canada. The UK should copy Canada only in regard to how it pursues a deal, and that means securing a deal that is bespoke to the economic needs and realities of the UK.

These matters are too important to play fast-and-loose with. Aspiration and ambition are worthy traits. But pursuing an agreement that ignores the political reality would at best put jobs at risk and, at worst, do the same to our precious Union.  That is why we back the Prime Minister in getting the best deal that she can. But we all have to recognise that, for now, that isn’t, and can’t be, Canada.