The Prime Minister’s cave-in to Brussels’ demands on fishing rights is unacceptable

History often teaches us lessons that we can learn from as we move forward. In 1971, in response to the UK’s application to join the European Economic Community, the original six member states insisted on equal access to UK fishing waters. The then Conservative Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath, agreed – and after more than […]

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History often teaches us lessons that we can learn from as we move forward.

In 1971, in response to the UK’s application to join the European Economic Community, the original six member states insisted on equal access to UK fishing waters. The then Conservative Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath, agreed – and after more than a decade of negotiations about the share of the fish stock within those waters, the UK accepted a proposed share which fell far short of the quantity from which we should have benefited. Indeed, off the Cornish coast the UK share is approximately 10% of haddock and 8% of cod whereby the French Government secured around 70% of each stock.

British fishermen felt that they had been thrown a lifeline when the UK voted to Leave the European Union. They felt they could face their future with optimism for the first time in over 40 years.

They were also promised by the Prime Minister, Environment Secretary and many senior Cabinet figures that the UK would be leaving the Common Fisheries Policy and that the fish stocks in our waters would be governed by Article 61, 62 and 63 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The wording of this Convention is very important because it makes clear that the UK must act responsibly when setting the total amount of fish that can be taken from our waters (200-mile to median line limit). It also makes clear that the UK domestic fleet can take the whole of that fish, but if our fleet cannot, then the surplus can be made available to other nations.

One would think this means that the UK fleet can benefit considerably from a larger catch after 11pm on 29th March 2019. Sadly, this is not the case because of the Prime Minister’s agreement on an implementation period of 21 months.

At the time this was first proposed, MPs from fishing constituencies – including me – met with the Prime Minister and said that any implementation for fisheries should only apply until 31st December 2019. The EU would not accept this and the UK Government caved in and agreed that UK fishermen would have to stick to the same share they received under the Common Fisheries Policy of a further 21 months. UK fishermen reluctantly accepted this.

The Withdrawal Agreement, which has now been published, contains a proposal that the implementation period can be extended and that the UK can only withdraw from the Northern Irish backstop with the agreement of the EU. What is the problem with, this one could ask?

On Wednesday morning (14th November), it was reported that Sabine Weyand, Michel Barnier’s deputy who leads the EU’s negotiations at a technical level, said that the UK would be forced to concede on fisheries as part of a withdrawal agreement, meaning Britain would have to “swallow a link between access to products and fisheries in future agreements”.

The Prime Minister and Environment Secretary have said repeatedly that they would not use UK fish as a currency to buy into the market. I therefore fear that any future trade negotiations would result in stalemate and we would be tied into the backstop indefinitely, or UK fish stocks would be used to buy into a trade deal with the EU.

After fighting for fairness for our fishermen for almost 30 years, I cannot let them, my country or the UK down. And that is why I have submitted my letter of no confidence in Theresa May to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee.

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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.

Ministers should not believe a resolution to the bogus ‘backstop’ problem clears the way to a deal

It’s impossible to know for certain what deal the Prime Minister and her advisers are planning to spring on the Cabinet, Parliament and the country over the coming days; all that’s for sure is that they are, we are told, about to come up with something. The signals have, however, been clear enough, so that […]

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It’s impossible to know for certain what deal the Prime Minister and her advisers are planning to spring on the Cabinet, Parliament and the country over the coming days; all that’s for sure is that they are, we are told, about to come up with something. The signals have, however, been clear enough, so that a pretty good guess can be made: their plan is to come up with a last-minute triumphant announcement that the ‘backstop’ problem on the Northern Ireland border issue has been resolved, and in the UK’s favour.

Whether they will be correct or not in announcing that is irrelevant; that’s what they’ll announce – and indeed, it is perfectly possible that some major concession will be offered up by the European Union on this point, since the border ‘problem’ was always a ruse, designed to focus attention on a non-problem while funnelling the negotiations into an agreement that would include membership of the Customs Union (and, to all intents and purposes, the Single Market). If the Northern Ireland border was a problem, then it could be resolved by us staying in the Customs Union; ergo, we agree to stay in the Customs Union thus ensuring that the Northern Ireland border is not a problem. Whatever the reason for the backstop imbroglio, it is in any event a chimera – something that has become, in the most ludicrous way, the tiny tail that wags the enormous dog of Brexit.

The border in Ireland already divides two jurisdictions with different tax regimes, products and the like. It should never have become an issue; the authorities on both sides already monitor it, to prevent smuggling, but through intelligence-led policing, not physical border structures. It is a border that the UK, the Irish and the EU have all confirmed will never be hard.

Now it has become a pretence for bouncing a post-Brexit UK into the Customs Union, complete with further surrenders on fishing and financial services. That reputable people apparently take the backstop issue seriously is a puzzle. The backstop is nonsense; both sides have repeatedly confirmed that they will not impose a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The issues of wandering cows and travelling milk can be resolved through agreements on sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards, not through physical border impedimenta. The amount of trade involved is negligible. The issue is a fraud and should be treated as such.

Some assert that the Prime Minister is desperate to keep us in the Customs Union because of promises, never published, that Greg Clark made to the auto industry two years ago. Others point to paragraph 49 of the December agreement with the EU (where the backstop is promised). This ignores the next paragraph, paragraph 50, inserted at the insistence of the DUP, which basically negates any claim that paragraph 49 is binding.  Regardless: the Prime Minister and her advisers’ major mistake seems to be that they believe that if victory can be declared regarding the backstop, they can then come back from Brussels, waving a piece of paper and asserting a good deal has been agreed, because the backstop has been resolved.

It won’t work. Way before backstop became the cause du jour of the negotiations, Chequers had already reared its ugly head, and Chequers is what this whole false angst about the Northern Ireland border has been about; to provide a reason for the UK to stay in the Customs Union after Brexit. Chequers is no good; enough people know it is no good; it won’t be possible.

There are many reasons why the UK must avoid at all costs being in the – or a – Customs Union.  This article by Graham Gudgin published on BrexitCentral yesterday is a comprehensive tour d’horizon of these reasons.  MPs – both Remainers and Brexiteers – understand all that, enough of them to preclude its being accepted by Parliament. And yet, when the Irish border “issue” has allegedly been put to bed, with some sort of faux “backstop” agreement, Chequers will, apparently, remain as the Government’s negotiating stand for Brexit: a proposal that we remain tightly bound into the Customs Union (and for all intents and purposes, the Single Market) – goods, fisheries, banking and all.  

There have been some eyebrow-raising odd leaks from “EU officials” in recent weeks, claiming that the EU’s arm was being twisted to force them to graciously allow the UK to stay within the Customs Union. Some may find that a joke – since the UK in the Customs Union is, in theory, precisely that vassal status that the EU should want the UK to be in (i.e. having German goods and French produce stuffed down our throat, with no say in the rules that govern competition in such goods and produce).

Nonetheless, I’m told that M. Barnier has assured delegations from the UK, with the utmost sincerity, that he does not wish the UK to be in the Customs Union. That is, however, what looks like is being offered by the UK in return for a “solution” to the Irish border. It is, also, precisely where the Government’s fatal error lies: enough Members of Parliament have made it very clear that they are not going to vote for such a deal, so any deal built around a Chequers view of the world will fail in the so-called ‘Meaningful Vote’ that we expect to take place in the House of Commons in the coming weeks.  

The Chequers construct involves keeping the UK within a Customs Union and (as the news from the City of London illustrates) also the Single Market – for an extended, possibly indefinite, quite possibly permanent, length of time.  It has been identified over and over as something that a large group of MPs will not accept.

How many such MPs? Well, there are so far 51 who have signed up to the “Stand Up for Brexit” pledge; there is a handful of Labour Leaver MPs; there are 10 DUP MPs; there are the ten or so further Scottish Tory MPs from fishing communities who know it would be electoral suicide to vote with the Government on this; there are the Remain-backing Conservative MPs, such as Jo Johnson, who now recognise that Chequers means vassalage; and there are most likely several Cabinet Ministers who will finally vote with their conscience by resigning their post and then voting against the Government in the Meaningful Vote.

The Labour Party says it will not support the Government in the Meaningful Vote, and it cannot be imagined that there will be enough renegade Labour Remainer MPs prepared to support the Conservative Government to overcome this group of anti-Chequers MPs so the Government, with its thin majority, faces an anti-Chequers vote that in total adds up to 60; 90; maybe many more.

What will the Prime Minister do when the reality of this becomes clear? What will happen if and when a Meaningful Vote on a Chequers-based deal is lost? The most likely outcome of such an event has to be that we would shortly thereafter have a new Prime Minister. If not, and somehow – however unlikely that may be – she survived the defeat of her policy (perhaps by ditching her clique of hardcore Remainer advisers, just as she ditched Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill after the 2017 election fiasco), then she would have the same choice as a new Prime Minister would: either to hunker down and start properly preparing to leave the European Union on WTO terms on 29th March next year; or to seek some kind of unholy alliance in Parliament with the Labour Party that allowed her to sue for peace with the EU by asking for an extension (temporary or ongoing) of Article 50 – with all that implies for a never-ending failure of the UK to exit the EU

The former choice carries the possibility of some – but if truth be told, not a lot – short-term pain, with a saving of £39 billion (enough to fund roughly 20,000 policemen and 20,000 teachers and 20,000 nurses for the next 20 years); the latter would rent the Conservative Party (the vast majority of whose voters side with the “Stand Up for Brexit” MPs) in two, with disastrous likely consequences in 2022.  The Conservative Party might not recover for a generation or more.  

It is late – very late – but the Government must urgently reconsider its position, and move to, first, making clear that a WTO terms exit is very much in contemplation, and second, offering as an alternative to that a Canada-style deal with the EU, as described in Plan A+ – a clearly laid out and workable plan for a Free Trade Agreement that builds on the already solid work that David Davis and Steve Baker did while still in Government.

The EU has indicated it is prepared to accept such a deal; it is the only deal that can pass a Meaningful Vote in the Commons; it is extraordinary that the Government has not already pivoted to such a deal. Anything else, and the current shambles will just get even worse: if and when Chequers comes to the Commons, it will be defeated and the Government, as currently led, will fall.

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It is time the Conservative and Labour parties united in support of a Canada+++ deal

What is going to happen if the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal fails to secure parliamentary support? Are we really facing a catastrophic “no deal” scenario? Very probably not. “No deal” – at least in its extreme form – is so obviously in nobody’s interest that it is very unlikely to happen. It is much more […]

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What is going to happen if the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal fails to secure parliamentary support? Are we really facing a catastrophic “no deal” scenario? Very probably not. “No deal” – at least in its extreme form – is so obviously in nobody’s interest that it is very unlikely to happen.

It is much more probable that Brexit will go ahead on 29th March 2019 but that – pending the outcome of further negotiations – common sense and practicality will prevail.  Most existing arrangements for trade and other forms of co-operation will continue substantially as they are for the time being. Albeit with some disruption, negotiations to find workable solutions for the future will continue.

Parliament and the UK generally – and the EU27 – will nevertheless have to make up their minds what they are aiming for. So far, the main ways ahead – both for Parliament and maybe for the electorate, if we have either a general election or even a second referendum, have been portrayed as a choice between reapplying to re-join the EU, accepting some variant of Chequers, or “crashing out”.

Not nearly enough has been heard recently of Canada+++. This could be a big mistake because – especially in the new situation in which we may well find ourselves – Canada+++ has very substantial advantages over other options.

First, it has always been the most obvious way of fulfilling the result of the EU referendum and all the promises about honouring its result that were made at the time, thus abiding by the critical democratic decision taken in the June 2016. This approach is very much in line with the policy laid out in the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech, before the Brexit negotiations got side-tracked into Chequers by the outcome of the 2017 General Election.

Secondly, with caveats about the Irish border discussed below. Canada+++ is an option which the EU27 have repeatedly offered to us – not least by Donald Tusk in March this year and by Michel Barnier again just recently.  It is easy to see why the EU27 should favour this approach. If the UK is out of the Single Market and the Customs Union, the integrity of these crucial components of the EU structure would not be compromised or destabilised. This has always been a primary – and understandable – aim of the EU27 negotiators.

Thirdly, Canada+++ would supply Leavers with pretty well all that they thought they were voting for in 2016, while also providing Remainers with an outcome with which at least the more reasonable among them ought to be able to accept, especially if trade between the UK and the EU27 was on the widest possible free trade basis.

Trade would not be quite as frictionless as “free movement”, but pretty close to it. Supply chains would not be disrupted. It is worth bearing in mind that although 36% of the bought in components for the UK car industry come from within the EU, 21% arrive from outside, imported into the UK on WTO terms.

Fourthly, Canada+++ has a better chance than any of the alternatives of providing the UK with a stable long-term relationship with the EU, reducing differences of opinion and approach  to Europe from being a constant source of friction and disharmony, distracting our MPs and many other people from addressing the many problems faced by the UK other than our relations with the EU27.

Fifthly, Canada+++ may provide us with a way of dealing with the Irish border issue. In a new negotiating environment, we would no longer be under the obligation to go along with the concessions made by the UK in December 2017. The UK could then agree unilaterally not to have a hard border, to implement electronic pre-clearance as soon as practical for larger companies, to provide local traders with exemptions, and to recognise that there might be some slippage to start with. If there are no tariffs to collect, this seems a small price to pay to overcome an otherwise intransigent issue.

The reason why Canada+++ has slipped down the agenda is because the Parliament elected in 2017 had no majority for any arrangements which left us outside the Single Market and the Customs Union. Now that everyone can see that trying to leave the EU while staying in either one or both of these constraints simply does not work, the advantages of a free trade deal with the UK outside both of them are increasingly obvious.

Of course, Canada+++ is not absolutely ideal from every point of view.  Nothing ever is. But from the perspective of both the heavily divided Conservative and Labour parties, it now looks like a much better option than anything else on the horizon.

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The people gave our politicians their instructions – now they need to obey them

The eyes of the world are upon the British Parliament as we move ever closer to the date set for leaving the European Union. The Chequers proposal is a test of the trust that the British people decided to place in Parliament when voting to leave the EU. Either MPs will shun that trust by […]

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The eyes of the world are upon the British Parliament as we move ever closer to the date set for leaving the European Union. The Chequers proposal is a test of the trust that the British people decided to place in Parliament when voting to leave the EU. Either MPs will shun that trust by accepting the Chequers proposal or MPs will champion the national interest and the democratic mandate to leave the EU without a new deal.

The people consistently voted for a free and sovereign UK, both at the 2016 referendum and the 2017 general election, and politicians must be held to account for their commitment to leave the European Union.

In rejecting Britain’s membership of the EU, the people decided the UK’s policy. We need to put the decision behind us and the national interest ahead of us. The national interest is greater than any political party or special interest lobby group. The national interest and the outcome of Brexit is Britain’s place in the world on our own terms; it is the confidence, ambition, dynamism and agility which can once again be virtues of a global Britain.

Leaving the EU opens up the world to Britain, and opens up Britain to the world, beyond our immediate friends and neighbours across the Channel. It is for this reason that any deal, policy, treaty or political arrangement with the EU which comes into effect as we leave, must be commensurate with our standing as a sovereign nation on the world stage. This is why Chequers must be rejected. Chequers means EU control over Britain, as would remaining in the Single Market and Customs Union. Chequers does not mean Leave.

The Chequers common rule book compels the UK to comply with EU regulations without any say. Binding the UK to a Customs Union creates barriers for our businesses which grow by trading with other nations. And a continued period of uncertainty in ‘transition’ means the EU can impose its will upon the UK without an ability to stop them.

Tying the UK to EU Single Market rules defies economic sense and the best interests of UK business. Small and medium sized businesses cannot afford to lobby Brussels, though they can adapt quickly to maximise the benefits of business outside the EU. It is the large multinationals who make up the business groups who lobby to remain, despite the interests of UK business as a whole.

In seeking to placate the EU instead of working with them as an equal partner, the UK falls into the trap of the EU ideologues who will feel no shame in positioning Britain as a vassal state, warning other states of the punishment that awaits if they seek independence. The EU’s institutions are a natural concern to Brussels; the UK does not wish to harm those institutions – we simply see no future in them for us.

The British people voted to Leave without a new deal on the table, rejecting remaining in the EU with the empty deal that Prime Minister David Cameron had agreed. If there is a mandate for a new deal, it is for a free trade deal as outlined in Theresa May’s Lancaster House speech and the Conservative Party manifesto. Leaving the EU with a free trade deal is a worthy ambition, but we do not need a new deal before we leave, and we can thrive without one.

As the Government has no policy to leave the EU with a mutually beneficial free trade deal, politely ceasing negotiations and pursuing a Brexit without a new deal is in the national interest. Halting talks with Brussels would strengthen Parliament’s hand and taking control of our departure provides the people and our businesses certainty. We can govern ourselves once more and begin trading on WTO terms. There would be no more payments to the EU and the £39 billion promised to Brussels in exchange for a new deal would remain in our hands.

Michel Barnier is right about one thing: the clock is ticking. When the time comes will our MPs stand on the side of democracy by voting down the Chequers proposal? Or will our MPs lay down and let the EU machine trample on their principles, crush the unequivocal mandate from the people to leave the EU and destroy all trust in politics?

When the covers and scaffolds are removed from the House of Parliament, will it be repaired in all its glorious splendour, a beacon to the watching world, a shining example of representative parliamentary democracy? Or will the building be reduced in status to a museum to the democracy that was, the democracy that could have been, the looming statue of government failure and a symbol of political decline? As we restore the fabric of our Parliament, we must restore the institution it represents, the parliamentary institution in which the people put their trust in when they voted to leave the EU.

Few MPs knew when they first took their seats in Parliament that they would bear ultimate responsibility for the governing of our great nation; they were elected when so much power and responsibility resided outside of our shores in the many bodies of the EU in Brussels. Our MPs may not have expected such a responsibility; however, the people expect more from their MPs, more from Parliament, more from democracy, and in this the people show their confidence in the institutions, businesses and people of Britain. It is time for our MPs to take up that confidence and that trust, to seize the agenda that a truly global Britain can realise, and the benefits we can maximise outside the EU.

The country voted to Leave the EU with the largest democratic mandate in the history of our great nation. MPs must answer that call, trust in the people as they were trusted and reject the Chequers proposal. I urge MPs of all parties to accept that Britain will leave the EU on 29th March 2019, without a new deal with the EU, and start trading globally on WTO terms. Leaving on those terms means we have a new deal for the people of Britain; we will have control of our laws, our borders, our fishing waters, our taxes and our regulations.

The sooner Britain truly leaves the EU, the sooner Parliament can devote its efforts and attention to the challenges our country faces at home, challenges which we can solve together when Parliament is once again sovereign, when we are outside of EU control and free to prosper.

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How a Brexit deal would be done

What will happen this week? When could a summit take place? What would the Cabinet say – and what might the Attorney General do?

This week’s Cabinet meeting

ConservativeHome is told that there are two Brexit-related items on the agenda for discussion at tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting.  The first is the now-weekly deliberation on preparations for leaving itself and for No Deal.  The second is a more general exchange and gathering of views.

That might seem to provide an opportunity for Theresa May to put a draft deal to Cabinet members.  It looks like a convenient week for Downing Street to do so.  This is because the Commons is in recess from tomorrow until next Tuesday, November 12.  It would suit Number Ten for MPs to be absent if and when proposals are put to the Cabinet, because this would minimise the opportunities for hostile reaction and the inevitable talk of a leadership challenge.

However, it appears that the Government and the EU have not yet reached an outline agreement, though there is so much smoke and mirrors that one can never be quite sure.  In any event, the Prime Minister would presumably not want to risk putting a proposal agreed by Sabine Weyand and Olly Robbins straight to Cabinet members. (Remember what happened three or so weeks ago.)

A summit in mid-to-late November?

A more likely way of proceeding would be for the Cabinet to have another discussion about the key issues at stake – including five key issues we raised yesterday: the Northern Ireland backstop, implications for Scotland and the Union, a UK-wide customs arrangement, the enforcability of a political declaration, and what this last might contain.

We hope that Cabinet members press, as some did at last week’s meeting, for three conditions to met for any proposed deal.  That they approve it; that the Attorney General gives a view of it in writing, and that the Chief Whip offers an assessment of its likelihood to pass the Commons – in particular, whether it would effectively split the Conservative Parliamentary Party and leave Theresa May reliant on Labour backbench votes for it to pass.

Cabinet members told this site yesterday that any draft deal must be put to them for approval.  Number Ten wants to get a move on, because the more time ticks away before March 29, the less of it the Government will have to get its legislative preparations completed.  A date for a special summit to deal that deal was previously provisionally pencilled-in for the weekend of November 17-18.

Will Raab go to Brussels this week?

One view is that settling a mid-to-late November date for a summit is only possible if Dominic Raab flies to Brussels later this week to agree it with Michel Barnier.  If this is correct, the Prime Minister would seek tomorrow to get broad agreement from the Cabinet for him to do so on an agreed basis.

If Raab and Barnier reached an agreement about a draft deal and summit date, May would duly go to the latter herself to formalise the agreement in principle.  There is talk of a four-way press conference at the end of such a summit, starring the Prime Minister, Barnier, Donald Tusk…and Raab himself (to show the Parliamentary Party that the pro-Leave Brexit Secretary is signed up).  The deal would then be put to Cabinet.

Such a timetable would leave a dangerous gap for Number Ten between an agreement to hold a summit and it actually taking place.  It would presumably be filled by claims and counter-claims about what was in the deal to be signed off.  There would be that talk of 48 letters to Graham Brady.  However, Brexiteering Tory MPs would probably want to wait to see the final product.

Would there be Cabinet resignations?

Let us presume for a moment that this is controversial.  A question that follows is: would any Cabinet members resign and, if they did, would that leadership challenge follow?  (This line of thinking shows the importance to May of getting Raab’s assent to any deal.  If she doesn’t have it, she won’t have his backing in putting one to Cabinet.  Which suggests that she is now dependent on his agreement to be able to do so.)

The Prime Minister survived the resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson without then facing a confidence ballot.  The consensus expectation is that she would similarly be able to withstand the loss of Andrea Leadsom, Esther McVey and perhaps Penny Mordaunt – and that Liam Fox and Chris Grayling are unlikely to quit.

Michael Gove going would be more problematic.  So would be the departures of Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt.  But these are unlikely.  In particular, Cabinet members whose departments would be in the front line in the event of No Deal have an obvious incentive to stay on.  These are Gove (agricultural products at the border), Grayling (transport and prospective queues, particularly in Kent), Javid (border control and security arrangements) – and Matt Hancock (medical supplies), though there is no realistic prospect of the pragmatic last resigning.

What would be the role of the Attorney General?

The arrival in Cabinet of Geoffrey Cox, with his track record as a Brexiteer and authority as a senior QC, has transformed its balance of debate.  The Attorney General played a central role in demolishing a set of Robbins/Weyand proposals in the middle of last month.  He has turned up to a meeting of Andrea Leadsom’s pro-Leave pizza club of Ministers.

Cox is surely no Peter Goldsmith – prepared to issue different drafts of guidance, each closer to the view that the Prime Minister wants.  There might well be a row about Cabinet members’ access to his written advice, which will be provided to May.  Number Ten will be nervous about it leaking if distributed.  Labour, other opposition parties and many Conservative MPs will demand that Parliament sees it.  We want it to be published.

A conventional expectation is that Cox would make an oral presentation to Cabinet.  Is it conceivable that he could stress the distinction between his legal responsibilities and his political views?  (“Well, Prime Minister: as a lawyer, my view is that under these proposals we could not escape the backstop.  But as a politician, my take is that they are preferable to No Deal.”)

If the Cabinet approves a deal, what happens next?

The Commons would then undertake its “meaningful vote”.  Today, we glance only at one aspect of it.  Let us suppose for a moment that Brexiteers are unhappy with a deal agreed by Cabinet, and that perhaps there have been resignations.  We stress that neither of these will necessarily be the case in the event of a deal.

Would, say, ERG members immediately flood Graham Brady will a mass of letters demanding a confidence vote – thus risking blame for alone seeking to bring down May at a crucial moment in the Brexit drama?

Or would they wait for the meaningful vote, join MPs from other parties in opposing the Prime Minister’s plan – and hope that, if it went down, she would then resign?  This would arguably leave them less directly exposed to criticism from fellow Tories.  We don’t know what the answer is, but the question is worth asking.

Theresa May needs to tell Michel Barnier that we will happily leave the EU on WTO terms

So here we are in the last days of the negotiations. Our Government stands on one side of a rhetorical gulf, terrified of No Deal and having made no significant preparation for it, its finest minds baffled by the impossible Irish Rubik’s Cube constructed for it by the EU. On the other stands the EU, […]

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So here we are in the last days of the negotiations. Our Government stands on one side of a rhetorical gulf, terrified of No Deal and having made no significant preparation for it, its finest minds baffled by the impossible Irish Rubik’s Cube constructed for it by the EU.

On the other stands the EU, sure from the outset that the UK would, in its delicate phrase, “take dictation” and now convinced that the strategy will pay off. No doubt the British officials leading the negotiations are assuring the Government that a deal can still be pulled off.

But what a “deal” it will be: a binding treaty in which the UK gives away large amounts of money and what seems to be a perpetual lien on Northern Ireland and in exchange gets an expensive “transition” period (with an option, it seems, to pay more for an even longer one) and a non-binding “framework” (possibly only a few pages long) that will guide the trade talks we will begin (but can hardly hope to conclude) in the never-ending “transition” period. During that “transition” we shall be fully subject to EU law but have no representation in its legislature (in possible contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights, but what the heck).

This will be mendaciously described by some as a “good deal for Britain that delivers the referendum result” and the Government will set out to frighten and cajole MPs of all parties into supporting it, with the clock ticking and the fanciful “cliff-edge” just a short hop down the road.

It is a scandal, really. But is the alternative “crashing out with no deal”, as some put it? No. It is still possible for the UK to take back control of the negotiations and achieve a successful and workable Brexit. But to do that means being willing to embrace the prospect of leaving without a trade deal. And it requires a proper understanding of what the EU intends the Irish backstop to achieve.

Our politicians have largely failed to present the backstop to us in its proper light. They say it is a transitional measure, one that will cover a gap between next April and a new trading relationship that will be so close as to make it redundant. They talk freely therefore of an “end-date” to the backstop, anticipating that close relationship as permanent.

But the EU perfectly understands that, once we leave the EU, there is nothing they can legally do to stop us from diverging, piecemeal or suddenly, from our new trading relationship. Michael Gove has told them that is exactly what we intend to do, after all. And if we do that, they may feel forced to erect a border on the island of Ireland to “defend” their Single Market. They want a guarantee that they can never be obliged to do that.

So what the EU is seeking in an Irish backstop is not a transitional or temporary thing. It has to be permanent (“workable, enforceable and all-weather”, as Michel Barnier put it recently, “all-weather” being the new euphemism for “permanent”). It will not be effaced or rendered null by a future trading relationship. It is what it says: a backstop, a perpetual insurance policy ensconced in international law that will come into play if ever we want to change our future trading arrangements in a way that could be judged by the EU to necessitate a “hard” land border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland. The EU thinks they have made this sufficiently clear and they look in bafflement at British interlocutors when they say there must be an end-date to the backstop!

In short their view is that Great Britain (not the United Kingdom) can strike any reasonable trade deals it can manage, with the EU or with other countries, but that, if we do so, we must leave Northern Ireland behind in the Customs Union and large parts of the Single Market, permanently deprived of a say in substantial parts of the laws affecting it, and with a goods border in the Irish Sea.

And since no British Prime Minister will ever propose abandoning Northern Ireland (unless it freely and lawfully chooses to join the Republic under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement), the whole UK will be trapped in perpetual subservience to the EU, tied to their rules and laws and having no say in them. That is what signing it means. Like a virus, the backstop may lurk in the marrow for many years unnoticed, but it will pop out if ever we seek to make a real break for freedom. Properly understood, it destroys the notion of some Brexiteers that surfaced in mid-year that we can “get out and fix it later”. We can’t fix it later: not while maintaining our territorial integrity.

If that is the price of a “deal”, clearly we must go for No Deal. But there are in fact two deals: a Withdrawal Agreement, as envisaged by Article 50 and a future trading relationship, formal talks on which will not begin before we leave. We would do well to split them. We can certainly offer a Withdrawal Agreement acceptable to us, but uncoupled from a deal on the future relationship.

Old-fashioned diplomats, going into negotiations, always sought to avoid being in the position of the party seeking something: the demandeur in diplomatic parlance. Our weakness in the negotiations is that we are desperately seeking something and the EU, through canny sequencing of negotiations (in which we lazily and stupidly acquiesced), has managed to make out that it is not. The only way to break out is for us to cease to be the demandeur. And the only way to do that is to embrace leaving on WTO terms and be willing to do so.

What we need to say now to the EU is that we no longer wish to discuss our future relationship as part of these negotiations. We are under no legal obligation to do so. We will have the default relationship that any independent country has with the EU, just like the USA and many other countries do. But we will sign a Withdrawal Agreement that will involve our paying our dues and agreeing citizens’ rights and the other administrative matters that it has suited both sides for practical reasons to include to date in the draft Withdrawal Agreement.

Our proposed Withdrawal Agreement will also contain a promise by both sides to use best endeavours to have a minimal Irish border and will remit the question of practicalities to technical talks outside the Article 50 process. In effect, we will offer the EU money for their coffers and stability for their and our citizens. We will also recognise that underlying legitimate Irish concerns about the “border” are more fundamental issues about the economic and social future of Ireland and we shall offer to work together to address those.

Our proposed Withdrawal Agreement will not include a “transition” period. But we will offer more money should the EU agree a strictly time-limited one, concluding in December 2020. Both sides can use this to prepare in more detail (if needed) for trading on WTO terms.

It is an offer that will be understood by Parliament and the British people as proposing an exit that is neither “disorderly” nor “chaotic”. With luck, it will maintain a smidgeon of goodwill with the EU and allow closer relations to be rebuilt over time. Crucially it will preserve the independence and the territorial integrity of the UK.

The choice will then be for the EU to accept the proposal or to invite us to leave with No Deal. Our offer will remove EU leverage from the negotiations, since if they refuse it, we will simply leave it on the table. They may come round one day and in the meantime they will look wholly unreasonable, to the world and to their own citizens. And we will be out.

Of course, as I say, this does mean we would leave on WTO terms. But, if the EU decided to accept our payment for a transition period, it is more than possible that a working trading arrangement, if not a full all-UK/EU Free Trade Agreement, could be worked out in that 22-month period. However, we would not be seeking that: we will no longer be the demandeur.

The art of leadership, if you don’t know the answer to the question, is to change the question. That is what the Government needs to do. But to do so, we must be seeking nothing, and so remove the EU’s negotiating leverage.

Here, therefore, is the letter Mrs May should now write to Mr Barnier:

Dear Michel,

We wish to take a new approach to the negotiations surrounding our departure from the EU.

The UK will cease to be a member state on 30th March next year. We no longer seek to conclude a framework agreement with you on our trading relationship with the EU after that date as part of the current negotiations. Nothing in Article 50 requires us to do so. This will mean a degree of disruption to both of us, but we will cope and in due course we will, as separate states, start to repair the web of relationships that geography and mutual interest imply between two neighbouring but independent entities with so much in common. But it is clearly the case that we find it impossible to agree those things now in a way acceptable to both sides, so we need to let time and good sense take their healing course.

As a responsible state, however, we are willing to enter into a Withdrawal Agreement as contemplated by Article 50 to cover matters of common interest relating to our departure in an orderly way and on a mutually acceptable basis.

The Withdrawal Agreement we propose will cover:

  1. The orderly assignment of assets and liabilities between us, to be assessed and adjudicated by an impartial, independent body;
  2. The rights of EU citizens resident in the UK and of UK citizens resident in the remaining EU states, though with no role for EU law within the UK beyond an eight-year time limit;
  3. An agreement to work together in good faith outside the Article 50 process to establish and implement the minimal proportional customs arrangements on the land border between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom consistent with the status that will subsist between us as “third countries”; these discussions will be undertaken by competent technical officials from the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland and the EU and, in our view, will build on technological monitoring, electronic filing and remote enforcement. The shared objective will be to have as “invisible” a border as can be agreed; and
  4. Other matters of a practical character already agreed between us.

We note that the current draft Withdrawal Agreement includes payments by the United Kingdom covering our budget contribution during an implementation or transition period of some 22 months from next March. These payments would no longer form part of the Withdrawal Agreement we propose unless the planned implementation or transition period were retained. The United Kingdom would be willing, however, to make those budget contributions if the implementation or transition period were retained on a basis fully consistent with the European Convention on Human Rights and we believe it would help minimise disruption for both parties, should that be agreed.

We are conscious of our legal and constitutional responsibilities under the 1998 Belfast Agreement and are fully committed to their fulfilment. Outside the Withdrawal Agreement, but alongside it, we therefore propose to work closely with the Irish Government and all communities on the island of Ireland to ensure that the legitimate concerns and aspirations of all communities embodied in the Belfast Agreement remain fully credible after Brexit. The assistance of the European Union in facilitating those discussions in support of the peace process would, of course, be welcome.

We hope you will accept these terms. If not, we will, if so obliged, proceed to leave in March without a Withdrawal Agreement.

Yours sincerely,

Theresa

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