WATCH: Summit 3) Barnier – “Such an extension should be conditional on a positive vote next week in the Commons”

Again, truth or bluff? Either way, the EU’s Chief Negotiator sings from the same hymn sheet as France’s President.

Now is the moment for Brexiteers in Parliament to stay true and be brave

John Bercow certainly knows how to hog the limelight. The man who drones on and on, lecturing MPs about brevity, was at his grandstanding best in the House of Commons on Monday. But for once, I agree with him. It is wrong for the Government to keep asking MPs the same question in the hope […]

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John Bercow certainly knows how to hog the limelight. The man who drones on and on, lecturing MPs about brevity, was at his grandstanding best in the House of Commons on Monday. But for once, I agree with him. It is wrong for the Government to keep asking MPs the same question in the hope that enough of them will cave in under pressure. Just because the EU deploys the same tactic to deal with recalcitrant voters who have the audacity to vote “the wrong way”, it doesn’t mean that the Prime Minister should be allowed to get away with it.

Thankfully, Bercow’s intervention has spared us all another meaningful vote this week, and although I am sure it was not the Speaker’s intention to help Brexiteers in Parliament in any way, it might just work in our favour.

I have to say that I am disappointed with some of my fellow Brexiteers – many of them personal friends – who have decided to back Theresa May’s deal at this stage in the negotiations. They have their reasons, and I don’t doubt their commitment to the cause. No-one can say that Philip Davies is anything but a committed Brexiteer, and if anyone starts questioning that commitment, I will defend him. No, the reason why I am disappointed is because I feel that their tactics are wrong.

Theresa May has written her letter and is today going cap in hand to Brussels asking for an extension to Article 50 at the European Council meeting. Britain is in crisis, so she says – said as if she is an innocent bystander, not a protagonist of a deal that has been overwhelmingly rejected by MPs and is deeply unpopular with the majority of UK voters.

If she has any sense, she will say that the Speaker of the House of Commons has tied her hands; that she doesn’t stand a chance of getting the current deal through Parliament because he won’t allow her to. “If you want us to leave more or less on time (after a short technical extension), you had better give me something meaningful, otherwise there won’t be another meaningful vote”, she should say. She could use it as negotiating leverage.

The EU doesn’t want a no-deal Brexit which – despite how MPs voted last week – is still the legal default position in just eight days’ time. It doesn’t want a long extension to Article 50 either. It has offered us a truly awful deal that it wants MPs to approve. The EU has to contend with elections this year which are bound to increase the number of eurosceptic populist MEPs. It doesn’t want more of them from the UK. A new Commission has to bed in and doesn’t want to have to continue Withdrawal Agreement negotiations with the UK. It is far better to give some more concessions that will command majority support in the House of Commons (knowing that it still has by far the best part of the deal) than to allow negotiations to keep dragging on.

So please, Brexiteers in Parliament, stay true and be brave. I know that you are facing pressure left, right and centre. The whips are on your back; retired politicians are busy writing op-eds telling you to cave in; newspaper editorials are urging the same; and one of your number, Andrew Percy, the co-chairman of the misnomer that is the Brexit Delivery Group, has accused you of idiocy for holding out. Don’t listen to them. You know that this deal is awful. You know that it is the worst kind of Brexit in name only. Like me, you are probably resigned to not getting the Brexit that you want. You know that you will have to compromise, but you shouldn’t compromise until the second you have to.

MPs will vote again on Theresa May’s deal next week after the EU has made some tweaks, despite what Bercow said on Monday. The Government will get around it with another one or two pieces of paper from the EU. If it is still a bad deal, they should vote it down. Watch the EU stop the clock on 29th March if it has to, and watch them make more concessions. Please remember that the EU has invested an enormous amount of time and effort into these negotiations, too. Theresa May doesn’t want to throw away more than two years of work, but neither does Michel Barnier.

It has to be made clear that the implementation period must be time limited and there must be alternative arrangements to the Irish backstop for the deal to go through. It still won’t be my kind of Brexit, and it still may be a poor deal, but it will be much better than it is now. Importantly, we won’t be trapped.

Now is not the time to give in. There may be just eight days to go, but these negotiations are far from over. Now is the time to fight harder than ever before.

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WATCH: Barnier – Tell us what you want to do next

The EU’s Chief Negotiator says that extension on its own won’t work: May needs a plan.

I was told it straight in Brussels: the EU’s only alternative to the backstop is a customs union

Michel Barnier hinted at it on Friday night, but the Irish delegation told me straight in Brussels on Thursday: they will never agree a subsequent agreement or variation to the Withdrawal Agreement which replaces the backstop that is not a customs union. Whether that is for the whole UK, or Northern Ireland on its own […]

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Michel Barnier hinted at it on Friday night, but the Irish delegation told me straight in Brussels on Thursday: they will never agree a subsequent agreement or variation to the Withdrawal Agreement which replaces the backstop that is not a customs union. Whether that is for the whole UK, or Northern Ireland on its own with a full customs border in the Irish Sea, is up to us, according to Barnier. As Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous might have said: “Cheers. Thanks a lot”.

From our International Trade Select Committee meetings in Brussels last week, in particular with the UK and Irish delegations, a crystal clear picture emerged of where we are in the negotiations and what lies ahead if Parliament is so foolish as to approve the Government’s capitulation to the EU in the Withdrawal Agreement. It would absolutely not be taking back control of our money, borders and laws.

The only reason the EU would prefer the backstop to end is that it does not give them enough control. They want us to adopt all EU rules in social and employment law, for example, and to give them access to our fisheries – as well as placing our defence and security within the EU structures.

But no other agreement than a customs union will be granted to us by the EU, meaning they will also control our trading conditions and trading relations with third countries, both in terms of the levels of import tariffs we need to charge, which disadvantage our citizens and businesses, and access to other markets. And they could further encourage products for our market to be shipped through Rotterdam so that the EU either keeps the revenue from tariffs on our imports or gives third countries free access to UK markets without them having to offer it to us in return.

Moreover, the customs procedure required by the Withdrawal Agreement, for every single commercial consignment between Great Britain and the EU, and each one crossing a new internal border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland imposed under the backstop, was again admitted to be unworkable and needing to be changed because of its friction and inefficiency.

Not only does it create an obligation for antiquated “wet ink stamps” on physical certificates for 200 million consignments per annum to be provided and processed by UK customs officers and businesses, with much more cost and delay at and behind borders than the cheap and efficient normal electronic declaration procedures for customs; but it does not obviate the need for export and rule of origin declarations which proponents of a customs union wrongly think avoids them.

To cap it off, it was admitted that in order to make changes to this which the UK Government admits are necessary, the process that would have to be used would be a decision on any superseding law or regulation made by the Joint Committee, as established by the Withdrawal Agreement. Any change to these anti-trade measures would need – yes, you guessed it – the EU’s permission. That is in fact the permanent structure for our future relationship that is set up by the Withdrawal Agreement: a secretive decision-making body not subject to UK democratic scrutiny in which the EU has veto power and therefore full control.

I hesitate to use analogies when it comes to Brexit, as most are imperfect and inappropriate, but it seems to me that a decision to leave is not best implemented by giving power to a person who does not want you to leave, over conditions for your future interaction with them and others on a permanent basis. As we might advise someone in a somewhat coercive, controlling relationship, it is almost always best instead to make a clean break.

In this case we know that the groundwork has been put in place to manage a clean break in a way that is not damaging to either party. I am not someone who thinks the EU is a bad person, and this is evidence. A nine- to twelve-month transition has effectively been arranged by way of unilateral actions in respect of aviation, haulage permits, aerospace and vehicle certifications, agricultural product access, electricity interconnects, insurance recognition and a raft of other areas. And under the “Malthouse Compromise” proposals we would continue to offer constructive cooperation, money, citizens’ rights and zero tariff free trade. So there is in fact no such thing as “no deal” by not agreeing the dubious terms of the proposed Withdrawal Agreement.

There was a Commons majority for the Brady amendment requiring replacement of the backstop. The EU took offence that the Prime Minister whipped for it, perhaps realising that the terms she had been offered, some at her own ill-advised instigation, were unacceptable. But that is where the sustainable majority in the Commons is: for a normal, balanced relationship between parties who wish to be friends. So submissive and confused by the EU the Government may have been, that it failed to act on Parliament’s clear instruction to table Malthouse alternatives. However they are practical and available, not at all fanciful or futuristic (as some have tried to paint them) and do not “involve a significant number of derogations from EU law” as the Prime Minister perhaps mistakenly claimed.

Instead of this cycle of suspicion, aggression and talking past each other, the parties should seize the chance to talk about the practicalities in an informed and rational way so as to achieve a good negotiated agreement whether inside or outside the Article 50 notice period for leaving the EU. The “Malthouse Compromise” sets out a framework and coherent strategy to find mutual interest in which to get it done. We would be fools not to insist that this is the way forward rather than the inappropriate Withdrawal Agreement, which does not create a stable or satisfactory solution, notwithstanding that many have obviously put a lot of effort into trying to make that work, in both the UK and EU delegations.

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How a visit to the European Parliament reaffirmed my support for leaving the EU

My first visit to the European Parliament in Brussels last week certainly brought out the politics nerd in me, even though it didn’t change my mind on Brexit. I have always considered myself a “pragmatic Brexiteer” and never harboured any ill will towards the Parliament itself, or MEPs who genuinely seek to make a difference […]

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My first visit to the European Parliament in Brussels last week certainly brought out the politics nerd in me, even though it didn’t change my mind on Brexit.

I have always considered myself a “pragmatic Brexiteer” and never harboured any ill will towards the Parliament itself, or MEPs who genuinely seek to make a difference in Europe and the wider world: from pushing for higher animal welfare standards to reducing inequality and supporting humanitarian aid projects, there are some positives. Sitting in on a fish welfare meeting shortly after my arrival showed me just how wide-ranging the issues covered there are, and the commitment of those involved to change things for the better was obvious.

But for all the good things I witnessed during my visit, they didn’t outweigh the deep-rooted problems running through the EU. Seeing first-hand the trunks sat outside MEPs’ offices that they use to transport their work between Brussels and Strasbourg was a visual reminder of the needless extravagance of the EU – the cost of operating two sites, chauffeurs for the MEPs, their vast expenses budgets and even ensuite toilets in the MEPs’ offices… The list goes on.

All of this is being paid for by the hard-working taxpayers of every Member State. Maybe not everyone will be particularly bothered or shocked by these things and perhaps they might even write them off as perks to attract talent; but they do hark to a bigger problem with the EU – and that is the way it, or should I say those at the top, perceive themselves and their project in comparison to the rest of the world.

The EU believes it is a superior power and should be respected as such. You only have to look at the way Michel Barnier, Jean-Claude Juncker and Co. have treated the UK for confirmation of this: dare to disagree with their vision of a United Federation of Europe, and they react like bullies who couldn’t get your lunch money.

Walking through the buildings, it reminded me of when I’ve attended the Conservative Party Conference – the press area buzzing with live TV interviews throughout the day and people catching up over coffee or rushing to their next event or meeting. Once inside, I was able to wander around, attend events, sit in on the voting, or visit the MEPs’ offices – which is probably the closest you’ll get to transparency in the European Union.

Chatting to an APA (Accredited Parliamentary Assistant), we of course came onto the subject of Brexit. He wished the UK wasn’t leaving, however he agreed that the EU hadn’t helped the situation back when David Cameron was seeking reforms to the UK’s membership by offering him so little. The EU called the UK’s bluff and the British people responded accordingly, using the power of democracy – a concept seemingly lost on the European Commission.

Towards the end of my trip, I explored the ‘Parlamentarium’, which is a museum a stone’s throw from the Parliament that takes visitors on a tour through the EU’s history, detailing its structure, a timeline of when each member state joined and the key objectives of the EU. It’s an interesting journey through EU propaganda that ends with a lovely gift shop filled with EU flags, mugs, badges, umbrellas, bags… Anything an EU fanatic or a Remoaner’s heart could desire!

At one point during my tour, I couldn’t spot the exit and suddenly felt a sense of panic of being trapped in the EU’s propaganda machine forever, just like the UK could be trapped in a never-ending customs union – an experience I never wish to repeat.

Even as I sat on the Eurostar on my way back to London, I noticed a passenger sat across the aisle from me whose laptop had an ‘I’m In’ sticker on it from the Stronger In referendum campaign – another reminder that three years on, those who support the EU project just can’t let go. Which is why it is more important than ever that we don’t let them forget the 17.4 million people who voted to leave it.

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip; the people I met there both in the Parliament and in Brussels itself were friendly and welcoming and the (subsidised) food was amazing.

But getting a taste of the EU first-hand not only reaffirmed my Brexiteer stance; it also made me wonder how things might have been had reform been possible. If you ever get the chance to visit and see it for yourself, I would highly recommend it.

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Martin Howe: It is far better to risk extending Article 50 than to accept May’s bad deal

Extension would be a breach of promise, but it offers advantages which the Prime Minister’s vassal arrangement does not.

Martin Howe QC is a barrister specialising in EU law, mainly Intellectual Property and the free movement of goods and services. He is Chairman of Lawyers for Britain, and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.

Key points:

  • A short Article 50 extension of under 3 months would make no practical difference and fear of one is not a reason for backing the deal.
  • A long extension of 21 months would have the same practical result as the “implementation” period in the deal, except the UK would be much better off than under the deal because we would still have a vote and representation in EU institutions and the European Parliament.
  • Unlike the deal, we would be free to leave on 1st January 2021 without being trapped in the “backstop” Protocol.
  • Our financial liabilities during the 21 month extension would be the same as under the deal, but unlike the deal, we would have no obligations afterwards.
  • Unlike under the deal, we would not be subject to indefinite ECJ jurisdiction after 2020.
  • We would not be subject to EU state aid controls after 2020, nor to Commission and ECJ “long tail” powers after that date.
  • We could line up international trade deals to come into force from 1st January 2021. Under the deal, we could not do this because the backstop Protocol and the commitments on tariffs we have made in the Political Declaration mean we could not assure negotiating partners that we would be in a position to implement deals with them.
  • We would have more time to prepare for a “no deal” Brexit, enhancing our negotiating power with the EU, and also more time to develop and deploy alternative customs control methods on goods crossing the Irish border.
  • An Article 50 extension is obviously being used as a ‘Trojan horse’ by Remainers and referendum-deniers who want to reverse Brexit. But Brexit supporters should not be swayed by that into supporting Theresa May’s deal which would poison Brexit and create a situation so bad that calls to re-enter the EU would grow in order at least to have a vote on all the areas where we will be rule-takers from Brussels.

The growing calls for an Article 50 extension

The Prime Minister’s statement to the House of Commons on 26th February 2019 opened the door to a “short, limited extension to Article 50 not beyond the end of June” if the House again rejects her deal on 12th March. She thereby abandoned her commitment, repeated in the Commons more than 100 times, that the UK will leave the European Union on 29th March 2019.

Without any apparent consciousness of the irony, she told the House that she would stick by her commitment to hold a vote on extending Article 50 “as I have [stuck by my] previous commitments”.

But in the background, there is a threat of a much longer extension. On 11th February 2019, Olly Robbins, the Prime Minister’s chief Brexit “negotiator” was overheard by an ITN reporter in a Brussels hotel bar, saying that he expected MPs in March to be presented with the choice of backing a reworked Brexit deal or a potentially significant delay to Brexit.

Opinions differ on whether making comments of this kind in a public bar was an accidental gross indiscretion on the part of a highly placed civil servant, or whether it was said in a Machiavellian bid to send a coded message to MPs without implicating the Prime Minister personally in saying something so contrary to her public stance.

Whatever is the right interpretation on this point, the idea of a long Article 50 extension is emerging from other sources. On 24th February 2019, The Guardian reported:

‘Brexit could be delayed until 2021, EU sources reveal… But sources said the EU was determined to avoid a series of three-month extension requests by the UK, which would cause damaging uncertainty, leaving Brussels unable to plan for the future. The emergence of the idea of a 21-month delay to Brexit will be seen by some as an attempt to push Brexiter MPs into backing May’s deal. The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barner, had advised ambassadors last week that the threat of a lengthy extension could be used by May as leverage in talks with her Brexiter MPs as she seeks to nudge the deal through parliament.’

How should opponents of the deal react to the threat of an Article 50 extension?

Despite her protestations about not wanting an Article 50 extension, it is clear that May is now seeking to use the threat of one as a lever to exert pressure on MPs opposed to her deal. But how should they react to such a threat?

First, an Article 50 extension to late June is no threat at all. A three-month extension provides at most three more weeks of negotiating time, as I (and others) have previously pointed out. This is because the European Parliament will dissolve on 18th April prior to its elections. If a deal is not agreed by then it will no longer be possible for it to be approved by the European Parliament. Such approval is legally required under Article 50 before the EU can formally conclude the deal.

So an extension to late June merely provides three weeks for further procrastination and delay. If a deal is not concluded and approved by the European Parliament before 18th April, the UK will then automatically leave the EU without a deal at the end of June. So, unless the deal is radically altered in order to make it acceptable through removal of, or major surgery on, the backstop, the reasons for voting it down will be just as strong as when the House rejected it by a majority of 230 votes in January.

What of a longer extension?

Let’s suppose that there is a threat of a much longer extension, say of 21 months to the end of 2020.

It seems to be assumed by those who utter such threats in Brussels bars and elsewhere that opponents of Brexit ought to quake at such a prospect, and then vote for May’s deal to “get Brexit over the line”.

But let us calmly compare the actual consequences of such a 21-month extension with the alternative of May’s deal. In objective terms, a 21-month Article 50 extension is miles and miles better from a Leave perspective than May’s appalling deal.

Let us look at the key points in turn.

Transition period: A 21-month Article 50 extension would lock the UK into having to obey EU laws across the board until 31st December 2020. But that is exactly what May’s transition period would do – the one she insists on calling an “implementation period” even though there will be no concluded trade deal to implement, just more turmoil-filled negotiations taking us up to another mythological “cliff edge” at the end of the transition period.

The big difference would be that under an Article 50 extension, the UK would continue to be represented in EU institutions, and continue to exercise a vote and veto (where unanimity is required) over new EU rules. Further, we would elect a new phalanx of MEPs, large numbers of whom would be Brexit supporters who would be robust in defending Britain’s interests and in disrupting the EU’s centralising plans.

No backstop: The next huge point is that under the Article 50 extension the UK would not be bound by the backstop Protocol, which under May’s deal would kick in on 1st January 2021. Instead, on 1st January 2021 we would just leave unencumbered. We would be able to negotiate for a trade deal with the EU with a strong hand, and our negotiating position would not be crippled by being prospectively or actually locked into the backstop as it would be under May’s deal.

Financial claims: Under an Article 50 extension, we would automatically be liable to contribute as a Member State to the EU budget up to the end of 2020. But that is exactly what we are obliged to do under May’s deal, up to the end of the transition period which will last at least to the end of 2020 but might be extended for up to two years more. The big difference is that under May’s deal, we would be liable for huge additional ongoing financial liabilities after that date. These will be adjudicated on by the ECJ and not by a neutral independent body.

ECJ Jurisdiction: Under the extension, we would continue to be subject to the ECJ’s jurisdiction across the board until the end of 2020. But so will we under May’s deal, the difference being that under her deal we will no longer have a British Judge and Advocate-General as members of the court. But the really big difference comes after the end of 2020: at the end of the extension, we shall be free of the ECJ. Under her deal, we shall be subject to its continuing jurisdiction over wide areas for the indefinite future.

State aid controls and “level playing field”: Under an Article 50 extension, we would be subject to EU state aid control as a Member State but at least we would still have political influence and representation on the Commission. These controls would then cease to apply to the UK after we leave at the end of 2020. By contrast under the May deal, we would have no political influence over the way these controls are exercised during the transition period, and these controls would continue to apply both to Northern Ireland and Great Britain under the backstop. In addition beyond that, she has given a commitment in the Political Declaration that the UK will continue to submit to these controls permanently.

International trade policy: Under an Article 50 extension, we could not operate our own tariffs or implement our own free trade agreements until the end of 2020. However, we could negotiate and line up deals to come into force on 1st January 2021. (Note that there is no validity in the argument that the EU treaties prevent us from negotiating and concluding trade agreements while we are members which come into force after we leave: see Negotiating International Trade Treaties Before Exit).

By contrast, May’s deal would oblige us to apply EU external tariffs up to the end of 2020 in the same way as if were still members, except of course we would have no vote. But in addition her deal would prevent us from negotiating any deals with third countries because we would not be able to guarantee to trade partners that the backstop would not kick in and lock us into an indefinite customs union with the EU. The Political Declaration’s paragraph 23 on tariffs requires us to negotiate a long term arrangement with the EU which “builds and improves on the single the customs territory” in the backstop, and is completely incompatible with having a conventional Canada-style free trade agreement with the EU. This and other highly damaging parts of the Political Declaration (such as sharing of fishing waters) cannot simply be ignored as having no legal force, since the Withdrawal Agreement legally commits both the EU and the UK to use their best endeavours to negotiate a long term deal in accordance with the Political Declaration.

More time to prepare for No Deal: The Article 50 extension would give us more time to do what May’s government should have been doing all along during the two and a half years since the referendum. That is to prepare overtly, steadily and determinedly for a No Deal exit, as a twin-track alongside negotiating with the EU. This would strengthen our negotiating position, and with May’s deal in the bin we could actually press for a deal which genuinely protects our ability to forge an independent trade policy and also deals with the Northern Ireland border issue by alternative means.

An Article 50 extension is also compatible with the Malthouse Compromise, since the extended Article 50 period would substitute for the transition period up to the end of 2020. But, as explained above, we would be much better off than in the transition arrangement, since we would retain our vote and voice within the EU institutions.

So what’s the threat in an Article 50 extension?

When you want to get someone to do something by threatening them, the normal protocol is that you threaten them with something which is worse than the thing you want them to do. However, in this case, it is the other way round. The ‘threat’ is manifestly more advantageous in every way than the thing the threatener wants the threatened to do (vote for the May deal).

Of course it can be argued that the practical consequences as set out above of the Article 50 extension are not the only thing to think about, and one must also think about the danger of the extended period being used by unreconstructed Remainers and referendum-deniers to reverse Brexit altogether.

To those who are worried by this issue, I would make two points, one negative and one positive.

The problem with May’s deal is that it poisons Brexit by closing off the freedom of action which is the whole point of Brexit, and drains away its advantages. Those who blithely talk about busting out of the backstop Protocol in the future by breaching treaty commitments gravely underestimate the difficulties of pursuing such a course of action and the damage to the UK’s standing and international interests if it were to be attempted.

If Brexit supporters are complicit in miring the UK for a decade or a generation in such a terrible vassal arrangement with the EU, inevitably calls will grow for us to re-join the EU in order at least to get back a vote on the rules which we have to follow.

On a positive note, even if the Remainers were to get the long extension which they crave, it does not mean that the support will be there either in Parliament or still less in the country to hold a second referendum or to reverse Brexit. The Labour party in particular would find it very difficult if it alienates its Leave-supporting voters in the many marginal seats where they are plentiful.

And there are severe difficulties in the way of getting such an extension in the first place. The EU is wary of the problems which would be created by holding the European Parliament elections in the UK. The Conservative Party should be not simply wary, but alarmed across the board, at such a prospect, since a decimation of the Conservative vote in the face of Nigel Farage’s reinvigorated Brexit Party cannot be ruled out. And if the Brexit party establishes itself with a big vote in the European Parliament elections, it will not go away and will be a real vote-splitting problem for the Conservatives in by-elections and at the next general election – an even greater problem than UKIP was in the past.

The EU may well not be willing to agree to an extension. It only takes one member state to veto it. As I point out above, a long Article 50 extension would materially strengthen the UK’s bargaining position and the EU might not wish to facilitate that on top of the European Parliament elections problem. And would a long Article 50 extension actually get through the House of Commons, after the backlash against those who support it from betrayed leave voters is taken into account?

So, if the deal is bad and stays bad, there is no reason for MPs who oppose it to panic and change their position, and every reason why they should stand firm in the face of these Article 50 threats.

Delaying Brexit with an extension to Article 50 means Remaining in the EU

Those of us who have made our lives in Brussels have always known it: EU referendums are a trick for idiots. The people can vote, but their vote will have no effect, not unless the vote is what the EU wants. Of course, I thought that would not apply to the UK; we are not idiots. […]

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Those of us who have made our lives in Brussels have always known it: EU referendums are a trick for idiots. The people can vote, but their vote will have no effect, not unless the vote is what the EU wants.

Of course, I thought that would not apply to the UK; we are not idiots.

But it turns out that maybe we are.

The Prime Minister is now giving out signals she is willing to extend Article 50. Here is the first signal. At the EU-Arab summit at the weekend, Mrs May produced a new, shrunken assurance on Brexit day: “It’s still within our grasp to leave the EU by 29th March,” she said. Not that Brexit is going to happen on the day she had repeatedly promised. Just that it’s there, around, in the neighbourhood of possibility.

The second signal was the story in the Telegraph that Number 10 is preparing to ask for a two months’ extension to Article 50. The decision for extension will be presented by the Government as a political manoeuvre to placate those Conservative MPs who are refusing to consider leaving the EU without a deal. Short-term stuff. No more than eight weeks. Just enough time to get the assurances in respect of the Withdrawal Agreement for which we have been negotiating and agree the deal.

Except there have been no negotiations for months, so that, right there, is a fraud. Nothing has changed in the Withdrawal Agreement since it was agreed between the Prime Minister and the EU last year. Not a word, not an inflection. Nothing.

There have been trips to Brussels by Mrs May and others, of course. But there have been no negotiations. The deal, a deal exactly to suit the EU, was agreed last year, and done. What Mrs May and the others do in their meetings at the Commission is nothing but a pantomime of a negotiation. There are no negotiations going on now over the Withdrawal Agreement. A two-month Article 50 extension would continue the same level of negotiations, which is, exactly level zero.

One could say even that there have never been any negotiations, not negotiations as anyone British would understand the term. As Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister who was politically mauled when he tried to negotiate changes to eurozone demands on Greece in 20015, told the BBC last November:

“Once the European Union presents a deal on the table, there is no way that it can be unpicked. It is take it or leave it. Nobody negotiates with the European Union… Bureaucrats are like software, like algorithms. They have a check list. Mr Barnier has no mandate to negotiate with Mrs May on anything of substance. So he goes tick, tick, tick.”

Why then are the Commission signalling that of course they would ensure that all 27 other member states would agree to an extension for “further negotiations” – when they know there are no negotiations at all? Because it suits their technique. Since the foundation of what would become the EU, the tactic used by negotiators in getting what they want is “engrénage” or gearing – meaning no sudden demands, no sudden moves, only the gradual ratcheting up of a process.

The gearing has no reverse movement. Only forward click, click, click.

Or as Varoufakis identified, tick, tick, tick. What is important is to understand who it is who draws up any Brexit checklist that must be ticked: Martin Selmayr, the German lawyer and bureaucrat who runs the European Commission, leaving Jean-Claude Juncker free to enjoy lunch. He has only two aims when dealing with Brexit: either manoeuvre the United Kingdom to stay and have its billions of pounds pour into the EU’s 2021 seven-year multi-annual financial framework –  or leave and be punished. The report that Selmayr said “losing Northern Ireland is the price Britain must pay for Brexit” sounds true to those of us in Brussels who have watched his skill in manipulation.

Which is why this idea of a two-month Article 50 extension would be deadly. It is the next click of the gear. Selmayr would nod through a two-month extension, allowing Mrs May to pretend she will go on with negotiations.

There would in fact be no more negotiations, only meetings.

At the end of the two-month extension, the Withdrawal Agreement on the table would be the same one which is on the table now. The European elections would call for another extension fix of some sort – perhaps saying that MEPs such as myself can go on sitting in the European Parliament until the end of this year “to allow more time for negotiations”.

That would be the gear turning again. No negotiations, just more time. What the Commission is already signally today is that they would be happy with a further extension of two years.

What the EU would be doing is waiting for either a general election in the UK, or a new Prime Minister, or the move for a second referendum to succeed. As long as the UK is still in the EU, any of those could stop Brexit.

The only way to stop the EU and their Remainer allies overturning the greatest democratic result in this country’s history is to jam the gears now. No extension, none, not for a moment.

I wish we could have a deal. I wish we could leave on easier terms than WTO. But most of all I wish were sure we will leave the EU on 29th March.

If we don’t, Brexit will not be extended. It will be extinguished. Click, click, click.

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Nicky Morgan: Downing Street needs to tell us clearly this week what it wants from the EU

In over six hours of meetings, officials tried to make the tyres fall off the Malthouse Compromise, and couldn’t do so.

Nicky Morgan is Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, a former Education Secretary, and MP for Loughborough.

There is a good reason why the Conservative Party is the longest-standing and most successful political party in the world – and that is because it is based on pragmatism and a set of core values, not an ideology. Conservatives seek to deal with the world as it is, not the world that we might wish it to be. And to be successful we need to be a broad church.

So I was very sorry to see Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston leave the Conservative Party this week. I understand fully why they made their decision, although I disagree with their conclusion. I believe that their voices would be stronger, and they would be more effective in seeing the values that they believe in prevail, if they stayed in the Conservative Party and argued their case from within.

Anna is a personal friend with whom I served in the Cabinet. As a fellow East Midlands MP I know just how hard she fights for her constituents and her constituency.

I believe that the Conservative Party demonstrated our differences from the current Labour Party in the way we reacted to this news. While Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters attacked the former Labour MPs who left, the door has been left open to the former Conservative MPs to return.

It is true that Brexit, which is based on a particular view of the world, has thrown the most enormous spanner into the workings of the Conservative Party as well as the Labour Party. But Brexit is an event from which the modern Conservative Party can recover, as long as all Party members and activists decide that we want to do so, and that we aren’t going to keep attacking each other or picking over old divisions.

As we approach 29th March, I’d argue that the Conservative Parliamentary Party owes it to voters, who are watching how we are handling Brexit with mounting alarm and anger, to decide, right now, that we aren’t going to let Brexit divide us further.

The majority of MPs, including Conservative ones, want a withdrawal agreement to be in place when exit day happens. We know that because the House of Commons has twice said so – by means of an amendment to the Finance Bill and then the Spelman/Dromey amendment in January.

We also know that the majority of Conservative MPs can unite around a form of Withdrawal Agreement because we said so via the Brady amendment in January. There is one major issue of concern: the backstop. There are alternative arrangements to the current backstop which get us to the same place in terms of avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland.

In over six hours of meetings, officials tried to make the tyres fall off these alternative arrangements, and couldn’t do so. Indeed, we identified that the current backstop proposals don’t actually work and need to be replaced. So these alternative arrangements as envisaged in the Malthouse Compromise could, as Michel Barnier has apparently acknowledged in recent days, supersede the backstop.

The handling of the vote this week is therefore critical and the mistakes of the Valentine’s Day votes must be avoided. We now know this week won’t see a meaningful vote on the actual agreement. So can the Government provide sufficient assurances this week that a deal can be reached, so that MPs don’t need themselves to take ‘no deal’ off the table? The Government needs to table a motion which captures the changes it is asking for from the EU. This would enable MPs to show that if these changes are secured there will be a majority for the agreement.

To do this would be in the finest Conservative tradition. Not ideological but practical – as I say, dealing with the world (and Brexit) as it is, not as we ideally would wish it to be.

Better agree No Deal now than accept the weakness and humiliation of the Withdrawal Agreement

Approaching “no deal” at the eleventh hour, as we may well now be doing, is clearly not ideal. It would have been much better if we had spent the last two years negotiating the Canada+++ free trade deal which was the logical outcome of the 2016 EU referendum. This would have enabled us to have […]

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Approaching “no deal” at the eleventh hour, as we may well now be doing, is clearly not ideal. It would have been much better if we had spent the last two years negotiating the Canada+++ free trade deal which was the logical outcome of the 2016 EU referendum. This would have enabled us to have had a smooth transition towards an inter-governmental relationship with the EU27, rather than the one based on political unity which the 2016 EU referendum rejected.

The alternative we are now facing is the Withdrawal Agreement or some variant of it, possibly after a protracted delay if Article 50 is extended. This may buy us some short-term stability, but at the cost of putting us in a desperately weak negotiating position in the future. It is therefore important to appreciate how much stronger our hand might be if we start from “no deal”.

First, we would not be obliged by a legally enforceable international treaty to pay the EU £39bn. This is not to argue that we should refuse to pay the EU27 a fair amount to cover our legal obligations. It would, however, put us in a position to ensure that the sum to be paid is what we really owe and not an inflated figure, as £39bn arguably is. It would also provide us with substantial leverage to ensure that we would be able to secure agreement to a fair trade deal in return for the money we are paying, which we should surely agree to pass over only when we know what we are getting in return.

Second, “no deal” would force the EU27 to resolve the Irish border problem. No one, including the Republic of Ireland, the UK or the EU27, wants a physical border. Everyone will, therefore, have to find a way of using technology, combined with AEO trusted trader status for major companies and exemptions for smaller ones, to manage the border without physical checks. Of course, this should have been planned long ago. Now it will have to happen.

Third, “no deal” would ensure that we were out of both the Single Market and the Customs Union and therefore in a position to push ahead straight away into negotiating free trade deals with the many countries which have already expressed interest in having FTAs with us.

Fourth, we would be able to start – without delay – negotiating with the EU a free trade deal which has already been offered to us on various occasions – by Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, and Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator. Politics tends to trump economics in the EU, but the huge balance of payments deficit we have with the EU27 – £96bn in 2017 compared to a surplus of £13bn with the rest of the world – must mean that EU exporters will press for continuation of as close as possible to frictionless trade between the EU and the UK. It would, in fact, be possible, under WTO rules, for the European Commission and the UK Government to agree to continue immediately with no tariffs and quotas. Because of their trade surplus, it would make even more sense for the EU27 than it would for us to agree this being done.

Contrast what could come out of negotiations on this basis with where we would be under the Withdrawal Agreement – stuck for two or three traditional years of ongoing uncertainty; stuck with paying £39bn with nothing concrete being provided in return; stuck with the Irish backstop; and stuck very probably with having to make more concessions – on fishing, Gibraltar, ongoing net payments and other issues – to get any sort of trade deal in place; and still half in and half out of the Single Market and the Customs Union, with all the obligations these entail, but with few of the benefits they provide which could not be secured by a free trade deal – and with no vote.

Of course, leaving the EU at the end of March 2019 with “no deal” involves risks of disruption and ill feeling. The probably short-term nature of these hazards, however, needs to be weighed against the years of humiliation which are in prospect if we have to negotiate our future on the basis of the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement. Falling back on “no deal” at the last minute may be far from ideal, but it seems hard to argue that it would not put us in a better negotiating position than any alternative likely to be on offer.

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