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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Theresa May’s Brexit deal does not deliver what people voted for at the referendum

The Prime Minister says that the draft Withdrawal Agreement delivers what people voted for in the referendum, but it does not. The Government has said the UK will come out of the Customs Union. The draft Agreement, however, would bind us by treaty to the rules of a Customs Union that would be set by […]

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The Prime Minister says that the draft Withdrawal Agreement delivers what people voted for in the referendum, but it does not.

The Government has said the UK will come out of the Customs Union. The draft Agreement, however, would bind us by treaty to the rules of a Customs Union that would be set by the EU and that we could not change and could not leave. It is hard to see how anyone who supported Leave in the referendum can then support a proposal that commits the UK to remain permanently under EU rules.

The Government concedes in the draft agreement that Northern Ireland will be under greater EU control than the rest of the UK. The Prime Minister has repeatedly – and correctly – said she would not accept this outcome, but now has. The Government has also said that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” but the draft deal commits the UK to give £39 billion to the EU without securing meaningful agreement on any future trading relationship.

It is hard to see how the deal can win support among Leave voters, many of whom elected the Government last year. It is also hard to see how it genuinely represents the best available outcome for the UK.

When people voted Leave, they did so because they wanted to become an independent country like many others. This deal has much in it to please Brussels and major international businesses, but it risks letting down the hopes of people who thought we would end the control of the UK by Brussels and take back control for ourselves.

The crux of the problem remains the backstop which ultimately, regardless of the merits or otherwise of the rest of the agreement, is very hard to reconcile with our national interest. In the longer term the fear must be that it is politically unworkable to bind any country in perpetuity to an arrangement no-one voted for, that divides the UK, and that many would feel legitimately they rejected in the referendum.

Dominic Raab has spoken up for all those who backed Brexit, and for that he must be applauded.

The Government and Cabinet now need to think very hard about the implications of this agreement and be confident that they are not making a fundamental constitutional and political error – one that could have consequences for the ability of this country to overcome divisions and succeed in the years ahead.

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Brexit cannot be stopped

Europe can help Theresa May get this deal over the finish line.

This is a POLITICO debate. For the counterargument, click here.

Ever since 2013, when David Cameron first mooted the idea of holding a referendum on leaving the European Union, Europe has watched Brexit Britain with wide-eyed incredulity.

Now that a draft Withdrawal Agreement is finally in hand, the mood is changing. Brexit might still be regarded with regret — Germany’s Angela Merkel said Tuesday it would leave a “deep wound” — but it can no longer be denied.

As the Brexit process enters the “endgame,” policymakers and the public on both sides of the Channel need to accept that it’s actually happening. And here, the EU’s role should be clear too: Help get the deal over the line so we can all move on.

In the circumstances, the draft deal on the table is a good one. It does the job of extricating the U.K. from its rights and obligations as an EU member state by March next year. It keeps collateral damage to a minimum. The accompanying political declaration on the future relationship identifies clearly enough where the U.K. will end up — namely in a formal association agreement, which will form the basis for a dynamic new partnership.

The EU should also make clear that it will only deal with the U.K. government — and that there is no other viable government-in-waiting.

But the timetable to conclude all the different elements of Brexit is very tight.

EU leaders are expected to confirm the deal’s terms and flesh out the political declaration at a special summit on November 25. Because of chaotic delays on the British side, the EU27 have not had much chance to reflect on their future without the Brits, and countries that haven’t been paying close attention to negotiations may now raise more queries about the deal. Amid the general climate of nervousness about the EU becoming weaker and smaller, expect last-minute squalls about things like Danish fish. Some will express concern about the EU’s concessions of a U.K.-wide temporary customs arrangement, fearing undercutting by British business.

Still, there is little doubt that the Council will eventually decide to approve the deal — a decision that in any case does not need to be unanimous, but could be carried by 20 countries representing 65 percent of the EU population. The European Parliament is also likely to give the deal its nod of approval, as its key stipulations — regarding citizens’ rights and the need to avoid a hard border in Ireland — were met in the draft deal.

What is true among EU leaders is also true among most MEPs: They see Brexit as a major distraction from other important business and are impatient to move on. Departing British MEPs may be missed on an individual basis but not collectively. Many are debating what will be possible to achieve once the Brits have left.

EU Brexit chief negociator Michel Barnier hands the draft Brexit agreement to European Council President Donald Tusk | Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images

If Europe looks unanimous in its desire to get Brexit over the finish line, the biggest obstacle lies in Westminster, where there is not yet a discernible majority for the critical “meaningful vote” that must approve the deal before the government can introduce it into law.

A dedicated campaign of persuasion is underway on behalf of the government — and here, the EU shouldn’t shy away from lending a helping hand.

The EU institutions stood aside ahead of the 2016 Brexit referendum, allowing all sorts of fake news to develop around the facts of EU membership. It would be a mistake to let the same thing happen again.

The draft agreement is long and technical and, to the untrained eye, unintelligible. The accompanying political declaration is shorter and much more readable, and deserves to be shared and promoted more widely. EU leaders should use it as a script and avoid deviating from it — idle talk in Europe costs votes in Westminster.

Indeed, there’s a strong case to be made it’s a good deal for both parties: The Brexiteers’ main criteria have been met — in that the U.K. is leaving the EU — but there is also a great deal that should appeal to Remainers, including the EU’s insistence on continued respect for EU social and environmental standards, and the proposed customs arrangements.

European leaders should confirm there’ll be no extension of the Article 50 process merely to accommodate a second attempt at the negotiations — with the clock ticking away to March 29, Michel Barnier’s deal is it. This is in Europe’s interest too, as far-right parties across the bloc would make merry at the sight of the U.K. being trapped inside the EU against the expressed popular will of the British voters.

Neither should the EU27 stoke British hopes for a second referendum — it would prolong political uncertainty and cause financial instability.

The EU should also make clear that it will only deal with the U.K. government — and that there is no other viable government-in-waiting. Indeed, the Labour Party’s leadership is in a terrible mess over Brexit.

Some British MPs believe that the House of Commons should take over from the prime minister in late January if she loses her meaningful vote. From Brussels, however, this looks like a fantasy — not least because there is no discernible majority in the Commons for any alternative to May.

The unholy alliance of arch-Brexiteers and ultra-Remainers that could crash the Barnier deal could never produce a set of proposals that would be acceptable to the EU, and the spectacle of May’s Northern Ireland backers — the Democratic Unionist Party — opposing the deal causes special amazement in Brussels. Barnier’s deal keeps Northern Ireland effectively in two customs unions at once. DUP hostility to it would rely on an unusual combination of bigotry and stupidity.

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May gives a statement outside 10 Downing Street | Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images

Neither should the EU27 stoke British hopes for a second referendum — it would prolong political uncertainty and cause financial instability without any certainty that the outcome would settle Europe’s British problem one way or the other.

The EU needs to push to get the deal done according to the agreed procedure and schedule. Then we can all try and get down to business, by way of a bit of temporizing and compromise, to build a durable and trustful partnership.

Andrew Duff is president of the Spinelli Group and visiting fellow at the European Policy Centre.


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There are some nasty surprises in the smallprint of Theresa May’s Brexit deal

Having written briefings for frontbenchers on the treaties of Amsterdam and Nice, and having wandered in lonely eurosceptic errantry the corridors of Brussels during the Convention on the Future of Europe, it is, I suppose, refreshing to sit down and analyse a document whose intention is finally to take the country in the other direction, […]

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Having written briefings for frontbenchers on the treaties of Amsterdam and Nice, and having wandered in lonely eurosceptic errantry the corridors of Brussels during the Convention on the Future of Europe, it is, I suppose, refreshing to sit down and analyse a document whose intention is finally to take the country in the other direction, away from the EU orbit.

It is, however, a great shame that the designers failed to fill up the tank with petrol.

I’ve spent some hours scouting the text of the draft Withdrawal Agreement and Outline Political Declaration. As an initial review, it is of course impossible to delve into the minutiae of case law that apply to any single line and cross reference all of the cited directives, but as an exercise in reconnaissance at least you can over a few hours get a reasonable map picture of what is going on.

The problem is not singular, but a mosaic of issues.

There are some real shockers in there, such as over fisheries. There are serious ambiguities and strategic vagueries, such as over Justice and Home Affairs and Defence. There are also huge gaps – particularly over budgetary commitments and the assets which I fear have been simply written off.

I’ve not even dared dig into the Northern Ireland small print – which will take days to properly unravel. The ‘cover page’ that is the “Joint Statement” makes a heck of an admission to kick off with: “Neither the Union nor the United Kingdom wish to see the backstop enter into force.” I haven’t worked out how much share of the total word count and pagination is taken up by the Northern Ireland arrangement, but the percentage it comprises of the whole deal is telling in many ways. It’s certainly an indictment of those who led the focus and obsession of the negotiations to that pass, largely to the detriment of everything else (Although, paradoxically, for other states seeking in turn to replicate Brexit, they might see their own routes as being far more appealing now on reflecting that their own border politics is simpler).

Now, a lot of eurosceptics could buy into this deal on the assumption, despite the flaws, that landfall is near. But this is predicated upon the assumption that a transition agreement does what it says on the label – it transits.

That approach works for a time. Until you hit that most remarkable of paragraphs. It’s what you might call the Odysseus ClauseIt’s Article 132 – where the drafters can barely commit to finally fully leaving the EU this centuryHere’s what it says:

“Notwithstanding Article 126, the Joint Committee may, before 1 July 2020, adopt a single decision extending the transition period up to [31 December 20XX].”

That’s a bit of a variable.

Given the EU preference to plan around MAGP (multi year) timeframes, that could conceptually see a Brexit date of 2098. But there’s no reason why they might tweak the financial admin and go the whole hog. Why not have full Brexit on the first day of the 22nd century? That would be enough planning time for the CBI at least. T+Cs apply as the CAP falls away, but budgetary elements get recalibrated and most of the rest stays glued onto the UK.

But this variable is a massive trap. The drafters have not even bothered to put in 202X to make a point that they expect transition to take a decade or so at most. So all the problems with the transitional deal, accepted because they are seen as transitional, could quite plausibly turn out to be permanent – or at least, long lasting enough to cause serious damage to our economy, to our democracy, and to our national credibility.

The only real safeguard here is that the extension time limit needs to be sorted out by December 2020, making it a domestic political issue. Given what’s happened over the past two years – and indeed in the last two weeks – that is slender reassurance against an unknown future Prime Minister, still failing to grapple with a Northern Ireland customs union alternative, who has lost his or her key leverage on the EU to play ball, foisting some last minute arrangement on the country and locking the UK into a permanent non-transition transition.

So much for the big picture. Given there are hundreds of pages of text, it may help if I briefly here outline some of the other crags and marshes ready to snare the unwary.

OUTLINE POLITICAL RELATIONSHIP

This is what we hope to end up with. Maybe.  The promised sunlit uplands.  But it only constitutes seven pages – 1.2% of the transition deal. This is a bit B+Q as pegs go, and a rather slender thing to hang £39 billion on.

The UK is locked into the ECHR, so bang goes that long-vaunted Conservative reform. You may remember that Theresa May was reported as advocating repatriating ultimate jurisdiction to UK judges in 2015, with Michael Gove continuing preparatory work undertaken by Chris Grayling on the issue and generating a new Bill of Rights and Responsibilities. Gove’s proposals were, incidentally, supported by a certain Mr Raab.

Then there is the dichotomy of ambition. I’m not sure that if you have “deep regulatory and customs cooperation” and a “single customs territory” you are necessarily going to end up with a model Free Trade Agreement. “Equivalence assessments” are to be run – allowing for the prospect, but not the guarantee, of mutual recognition and divergence. This would be a big win if achieved, but the wording allows for just a couple of minor ones to happen. That absolutely leaves the prospect of the end deal being one that sees the UK in a fax democracy version of a Regulatory Union, and probably in a form of Customs Union. Replacing the Northern Irish backstop is an “intention” to be ‘recalled’, rather than a stated pledged target within a timeframe.

The assertion is made that the UK will become an independent coastal state (thus with control over its own waters) – but without defining what is meant by future shared stocks, leaving the UK’s territorial waters on the table. There is also no clarity on the intended mechanism for actually managing them. This is a bit of an issue as it appears to concede future arrangements will freely give foreign trawlers quota shares of what is a UK national asset.

It appears to concede there will be a long term role for the Court of Justice of the Europan Union (CJEU) in UK participation on JHA issues.

On Defence again, the long term ambition is “Collaboration on relevant current and future projects of the European Defence Agency through an Administrative Arrangement, participation in European Defence Fund supported projects, and collaboration […] […] in Permanent Structured Cooperation projects where invited on an exceptional basis, under the conditions in Union law.”

So not exactly clear blue water here, in an area where in the past few days alone we have seen President Macron and Chancellor Merkel waxing lyrical on EU military aggregation. Meanwhile, we see a pledge to participate EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism, rather than the counterpart UN scheme.

The drafters might usefully have inserted a few caveats into the ambition to build structures that include “the possibility for specific governance arrangements in individual areas”, unless you want to rebuild a mini-EU Mk 2.

In summary, I’m not sure how much of this couldn’t have been written in the summer of 2016. There are some good individual ambitions, but they aren’t locked in. The consistency of the guarantee is sadly more porridge than cement – and heavily dependent on the good faith and generosity of the other party.

As to how that interrelates with the short Joint Statement – well, again, there’s a profound lack of certainty over the extent to which the future deal will require the UK to copycat and suck up future EU regulations, rather than coming to a deal that mutually recognising each others’. I fear Sabine Weyand had a point. Nor are we necessarily given much confidence in the peculiar ending:

“Negotiations on the full Political Declaration continue, and the negotiators are determined to reach a successful conclusion by the end of November.”

We can’t even be sure that the document we have in front of us now is actually the end trade deal sketch outline.

NATIONAL PARLIAMENTS

One suspects that MPs of all parties will find this section ‘challenging’. Article 128 (A128) means that MPs will get sent EU green and white papers. However, there is a big gap here. MPs won’t be able to complain about breaches of subsidiarity – they’ll just have to lump it. They won’t be able to suggest proposals. They won’t be on the circulation list for Council agendas. Or Court of Auditors reports.

If this and the protocol is as I read it, in effect what this is doing is blindsiding MPs to future decision-making even more. And right now, MPs are hardly in the loop (some proposals on how to fix that can be found here; but few are deployable in this framework).

It is not difficult to anticipate a lot of cross-party annoyance at that. Even the authorisation for UK experts to attend if necessary reads grudgingly – if “the presence of the United Kingdom is necessary and in the interest of the Union”, and even then like naughty schoolchildren they turn up, wait outside, get called in, and will then be booted out – a process which while administratively understandable hardly entails stylish agenda management for third parties. And of course they don’t get a vote, so they can just be ignored anyhow

THE COMMON FISHERIES POLICY

Under A130 of the transition deal, the UK is merely consulted about the management of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). It gets to supply comments.

The UK does not, however, regain control of its fisheries during transition. This is despite this being the default under international law (and specifically, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea i.e. UNCLOS).

The only interpretation arising from this must be that fishermen’s interests here were bartered away. For what? The answer might be informative – as would knowing if DEFRA was ever actually informed.

As fishing campaigners point out, since the UK does not regain management of its assets, stocks can be bartered to the point of pillaging by Council members without the UK being even now in the room. This is as bad a stitch-up as when the CFP was set up, ironically, to capture the assets of the North Sea states applying to join in 1973. At least then the Dutch had the grace to feel bad about it.

FRAUD

It is something of a small positive that the EU’s anti-fraud unit OLAF gets a mention. It will still be UK taxpayers’ money that’s at stake. However, there is no reference, even in marginal papers, to resolving ongoing cases involving whistleblowers. This is an egregious omission, even if it had been slipped into a footnote of one of the annexes. Here’s why.

AGENCIES

The moves of EU agencies based in the UK out of this country, referenced in A119, have long been touted and indeed the Medicines Agency move made major headlines. For reference, the Galileo site move was announced back in January.

What is seemingly absent here is any commitment to radically pare back on the UK’s entanglement with the astonishing array of these Euroquangos, most of which the UK can disassociate itself from, and most of the remainder from which it can remain a detached associate. Background on what an aspirational change could have entailed can be found here.

FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT

No doubt a lot of analysis will focus on this, so we will confine ourselves to just a preliminary observation or two.

Article 21 (A21) cross-references the 2004 directive for the safeguard system, for people to legally challenge being deported. A15 of that references a later A31 on judicial review. Presumably, therefore, UK courts during transition will still need to base their judgements on not only past but also emerging ECJ case law.

A22 provides for family rights, so relatives of those with residency rights also have work rights. No doubt at some point the statistics will arise on what that means for potential figures for ongoing visa-free access to the UK labour market – they may be very significant and have an impact on long-term immigration targets, and with it visa allocations.

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION

This section sets out ambitions for common rules for emissions, public participation, sea life, global warming and a big list of similar policies. Astonishingly, this is supposedly done “with the aim of ensuring the proper functioning of the single customs territory”.

This is perhaps the most brazen element of treaty deception I have seen outside of Soviet practices. The Commission, and indeed both sides, should at least be honest about it: this section is about making sure the UK doesn’t become more competitive than the EU.

Surely if a bad law costs UK businesses a packet without providing a demonstrable social benefit, it has no reason to be on the statute book? I would challenge the reader, the next time they are in a room with someone from the CBI on a panel, to ask them which laws they think are unnecessary and which they’d like to repeal. It may get them thinking about the consequences of not having that option. Or at least get them to have an open debate about the merits of having policy based on the Precautionary Principle (which sits on p357 of the text).

Personally, I’m not entirely sure that citing the purported effectiveness of the carbon trading scheme as a target to aim for (p358) is going to be uncontentious as a concept either. It certainly sets an interesting bar.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

Article 54.2 asserts that geographical indicators (such as that old favourite example, Parma ham) will be respected. A more recent introduction to the EU lexicon, “traditional term for wine”, even gets several mentions – it’s not difficult to see which countries this is aimed at buying off. One suspects this has been cheaply sold.

It is both notable and symbolic that EU termination of a listing automatically triggers a UK one. A peculiar caveat does allow divergence, though one suspects applying this will be problematic, and the clause will prove contentious if another Feta dispute arises and the British Government tries to save its businesses from fresh repackaging costs by claiming it doesn’t affect us as ‘we’re not Greek’.

IMPLEMENTATION

Article 4 (A4) requires the UK to ensure compliance with EU rules. Parliament is required to pass laws to ensure public authorities and judges follow EU rules during transition – which, as we have seen, will be of elastic duration.

It means following ECJ case law and “concepts or provisions thereof” and UK judges applying “due regard” to this. We might well counsel against anyone relying on a UK judge testing the prospect of divergence. Article 162 even gives the Commission the right to intervene and send legal opinions to judges, when it doesn’t want to turn up in person.

The Luxembourg Court’s role remains paramount. Article 86 provides for continued jurisdiction during transition. New cases will still come under CJEU procedures in the meantime. And A87 asserts CJEU supremacy over not only UK judges but over the UK Government transposing its EU obligations during transition – and four years after it.

Added to that is Article 5, which puts into the script a good faith clause. It’s precisely this principle that has been encouraging Whitehall not to cause a nuisance of itself to get the best deal. It might be recalled that the principle of “sincere cooperation” is somewhat variably applied across governments, and indeed by the EU against ones with which they have had issues (not least the Austrians, Greeks and Italians, down to working on removing premiers). As a ‘rule of law’ state, however, by contrast we can expect the UK to pursue it more rigorously to a self-defeating level. For precedent here, one might reflect on how the UK was treated over the Health and Safety get-around for the Social Chapter opt-out, or the Disaster Clause bail out to tap the Treasury for money for Greece.

The dispute appeal process is always a pointer on how much an arrangement is intergovernmental or supranational. Article 168 keeps any disputes in house, unlike other trade deals where you can appeal to neutral third party arbitration – like a WTO panel. Instead, any dispute in the arbitration panel on interpreting what the EU precedent says goes before the CJEU judges under A174. The decision is binding.

PROPAGANDA

This becomes more of an issue, the greater the prospect of the UK getting jammed into transition.  Article 37 not only legally authorises, but encourages, publicity campaigns. While it will be helpful to ensure that people know what their rights and obligations are, the track record of what happens in EU PR budgets is atrocious. Here’s why historically, and why it is an issue today.

DEFENCE AND INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS

EU Defence policy is actually a very complex area, much of which is ongoing along several parallel streams and off the radar. For deep background, the reader is encouraged to look at a range of papers produced by Veteran for Britain.

The UK has taken a step back from the more blatant and obvious elements of EU defence integration, particularly with respect to unit integration. These texts in this regard are problematic, as they still provide scope over the long term for forms of UK affiliation, which will have a negative impact on relations with NATO and the US. As a consequence, the transition agreement carries additional baggage, since it anticipates over the immediate term the UK will not engage in any significant EU operation justifying it taking an operational leadership role. Consequently, an extended transition deal presents the peculiar prospect – which obviously needs to be avoided – of the UK providing a large share of troops or assets without being able to provide a commander or sufficient input into deployment policy.

But this is a marginal risk in comparison with the core problem. Under the transition arrangements, the UK continues to be institutionally associated with the key EU Defence agencies, which are now engaged in accelerating moves towards a Common EU Defence. The nature, limits and safeguards in a number of areas are ill-defined. In the longer term plan, there is not even a clear directive to make a clean break after the end of transition, so the UK does not achieve a guaranteed escape momentum.

Perhaps most problematic, and not even considered in the draft, are the treaty elements covering trade risk providing a back door for the EU as it develops a Common Defence Industrial Strategy. The UK, moreover, will remain associated with the core institution behind Defence Integration, the EDA.

On Cyprus and the Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs), anyone familiar with them can see it makes perfect sense and is uncontroversial to keep them in a Customs Union with the Republic of Cyprus. For instance, it is a bit of a pointer that their currency is the euro. That said, the wording on p483 and the derogation on p484 may need tightening with respect to “all goods intended for use in the Sovereign Base Areas”, since some overly officious Commission desk warrior might take a burdensome interest in RAF inventories. It might also be interesting to learn what assessment has been made of estimated duties that might now fall to the MoD, and which would be payable to Cyprus, under Article 4.2 (p487).

I also note the inclusion of a readmission clause on p490 for asylum seekers who make it to the SBAs and who don’t want to claim asylum in RoC. While this has been tested latterly in the courts, the result has not been favourable to UK interests or indeed one suspects general SBA management, and this was an opportunity to deter migrants risking their lives and targeting landfall there.

Finally here, on international affairs, under Article 129, the UK is bound to avoid actions “likely to be prejudicial to the Union’s interests” in any international organisation, agency, conference or forum. How is that to be judged?

JUSTICE AND HOME AFFAIRS (JHA)

It’s worth remembering before we look at this section that the Home Office has a long track record of being far more keen on signing up than its fellow opt-out/opt-in state, Denmark. For some dated but salutary statistics, see here.

Given past policy and attitudes within the Home Office (and of a past Home Secretary), it came as no real surprise that the Chequers strategy saw the development of four pillars of cooperation, one of which would be JHA. Consequently, there is a list of agreements included, including the European Arrest Warrant, where the UK will stay signed up, but which have caused serious political issues in the past.

The question again here must arise as to whether, in its enthusiasm to maintain bilateral agreements that the other side were even more keen to retain, the Cabinet Office has too cheaply sold a prize, at negotiating cost elsewhere.

Thoughtfully, and perhaps with an eye to a long-term transition term, the drafters have inserted where to post the bill for the UK’s IT and admin access.

BUDGET

For all its contention and controversy, the £39 billion is remarkably translucent.

Quite where this leaves what is styled in the Recitals (the opening section of the draft) as the “single financial settlement” is very much an open question – and a critically important one. There is perhaps good reason for this, not least the apparent decision to write off the UK’s share of EU assets.

The European Parliament’s art collection is abominable. But properly speaking on budget share, the UK owns a tenth of it. That applies equally to the wine reserve, the official bicycles, one of the nine floors in the Council building, a proportion of the legations occupied by the External Action Service and its assorted vehicles, and so on.

But there is little reference to assets as opposed to several references to liabilities and debts.

There is RAL, Reste à Liquider, meaning the long-term liabilities that have been signed off by an overpledging Commission and MEPs. This, incidentally, is heavily in areas (transport, Social funding) where the UK gets half the share it is statistically due, so logically the UK might have argued it should consider itself bound by half the liabilities (it could at least have made a negotiating play of it – there are no signs it did). Article 140 covers outstanding commitments (in Section 3a). The UK is liable. And the EU works the share out.

The list of assets provided in Article 142 assets is a very partial list, and only appears to have been put in as they come with associated liabilities that the EU is keen to share. At first sight, for example, it looks like the UK assumes ownership of – but also the disposal liabilities of – Joint Research Centre nuclear assets – this is hardly a generous Commission concession, as it is a bit difficult to stack a nuclear reactor on the back of a truck and move it away. Sadly, by the time we get to Annex V (p547) we learn that the UK gets the Euratom assets in the UK, but has to pay for them.

Again, the UK share of EU pension liabilities will be unfair, given the very low percentage share of UK staff in institutions (see here, for example). No doubt assuming a budget-based rather than staff-based share of liabilities was inevitable, but it would be nice to know that the UK made the point and tried.

As for anyone potentially claiming that getting the assets back from the winding up of the ECSC (Article 145) and from UK money held at the EIB (A146), the slight win is getting the money from the latter back in five years and not, say, thirty, but again it’s a location where the UK has paid in and only got half its share back.

There’s one miniscule glimmer in this fog. While it is chicken feed in comparison, someone at the Treasury seems to have remembered that (Article 149) the Bank of England has contributed €55.5m of capital subscription to the ECB. We get that back.

As for future payments, Article 136.1 rings alarm bells about the UK’s long term financial contributions, including the rebate, if transition is extended. The applicable contribution will be subject at any time to change, presumably of course under the new rules with the UK not in the room. Nor is there any express guarantee for the Rebate, which leaves it open to challenge. As for the general budget itself and thus the UK contribution, the track record shows it only ever faces the prospect of being increased. After all, it is practically the European Parliament’s mission statement, asking for more money to manage.

Taken as a whole it really does look as if the Cabinet Office negotiating team, except for one Treasury desk officer, didn’t fight the money corner hard.

CONCLUSION

Taken together, this is, I’m afraid, a bad deal. I wish it were otherwise. As a temporary structure it might work to a point – though with clear structural flaws and damage – if it had a clear dismantling date. But it’s a pontoon bridge that’s been put up on a flood plain.

We might usefully conclude by turning to what Lurcio would call “The Prologue”. The Recitals element contains a couple of useful pointers here, not least in the assertion that “this Agreement is founded on an overall balance of benefits, rights and obligations for the Union and the United Kingdom” – a warning if ever there was one that no one in the UK, be they judge or elected politician, should mistake this text for something other than written in stone.

It is perhaps an appropriate situation that the drafters didn’t appear to have had the time, or even reach the basic level of agreement, to come up with a snappy name for the “JPD” (Joint Political Declaration). Its title in the text was left to be filled in later. No doubt that will now leave plenty of scope for inventive and colourful suggestions by MPs who will now get the chance to study the text in depth.

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Brexit can still be stopped

A second referendum is not impossible — Europe should get behind it.

This is a POLITICO debate. For the counterargument, click here.

LONDON —  As Theresa May announced her Cabinet’s collective approval of the withdrawal deal she negotiated with Brussels, she listed three options: her deal, no deal and no Brexit.

It was the first time she acknowledged that not doing Brexit at all is even a possibility. And she couldn’t avoid it, since no Brexit is today — on form at least — the favorite among the choices she offered.

Now I’m not one to promote gambling, but in the three-horse race that is Brexit, anyone fleet of foot enough to get down to the bookies today can still get double-your-money 2-to-1 odds on another referendum at any time in 2019.

Even more astonishing, you can get 5-to-1 odds on a referendum next year resulting in a Remain vote. This is ridiculously good value.

Neither Tory nor Labour Party frontbenchers have the courage to unilaterally back away from Brexit.

Granted, you’d need to act quickly as the potential payoff is shrinking by the day.

May’s deal is being slowly euthanized. If her own survival is unlikely, the death of her deal is guaranteed. There is nothing like a majority for it in parliament, as became clear Thursday when Brexiteer MP Jacob Rees-Mogg — like many, many others on the Conservative benches — stuck his knife in and wandered out of a three-hour session in Parliament to submit his letter of no confidence in May’s leadership.

That leaves us two runners: no deal and no Brexit.

In the fog of posturing and deceit that has shrouded Brexit, two things at least are clear.

Pro-Brexit MP Jacob-Rees Mogg has formally challenged Theresa May’s leadership | Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

First: Parliament is desperate to avoid no deal. The hard core of Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group are practically alone in being comfortable with this.

Second: Neither Tory nor Labour Party frontbenchers have the courage to unilaterally back away from Brexit.

Even if a Conservative Party vote of no confidence replaces May with a hardcore Brexiteer, parliament would find a way to block no deal — unprecedented as that course of action is. (As for anyone still fantasizing about Canada ++ (that’s you Boris), the EU will never accept it. No time, no inclination.)

If May falls and a new Tory leader takes her place, there’ll be no need for a general election, given that May was not removed by parliament but by her party.

Westminster is paralyzed by fear and confusion. Even though Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has managed the almost inconceivable feat of failing to pull ahead of the Tories in the polls, no sane Conservative leader (I know, I know) would take the gamble of calling for a fresh election.

So, the only course left — the one that would make any sense to all sides — is to throw the question back to the people.

Only a fool would predict anything with any certainty in this “Alice in Wonderland” moment of British politics.

Labour would back a vote. Hardcore Tories would back a vote (believing they would prevail). And — crucially — the EU27 would back it, and help find a way to give us the time we’d need beyond March 29, 2019 to make it happen.

This is where the attitude of the EU27 becomes central to the future of Brexit.

EU politicians and policymakers across the board have expressed regret at Britain’s decision, and are likely to consider possibility of the U.K. staying in the bloc as a positive outcome — not least because the country has played a crucial role in pushing back against federalization in the EU.

Here, concerns among some Europeans regarding total freedom of movement, increased federalization in the shape of a European Army and protectionism of the failed euro project could again present Britain a lifeline.

British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves Number 10 Downing Street | Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Encouragement from the EU27 on the validity, and the necessity, of calling a second referendum would show the Brits that the bloc is alive to the wishes of the British people and values democratic processes.

On the flip side, if the EU demonstrates the same aloof disdain for the rational concerns of the British voter, then Leave would — I believe — win another vote.

Only a fool would predict anything with any certainty in this “Alice in Wonderland” moment of British politics. But it would be a mistake to consider the Brexit story already written.

Two years ago, when my newspaper began the campaign for a second referendum, we were accused of howling at the moon. Today, it is more than possible.

And, what’s more, it’s very, very winnable.

Matt Kelly is editor of the New European.


Read this next: 10 things you need to know about the Brexit deal

It looks like we’re seeing another betrayal of the British fishing industry

Forty years on it looks as though Theresa May has taken a leaf out of Ted Heath’s Book of Betrayal in her treatment of British fishing. In his rush to get into the Common Market, Ted betrayed fishing by accepting a Common Fisheries Policy cobbled together just before our entry negotiations by the six existing […]

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Forty years on it looks as though Theresa May has taken a leaf out of Ted Heath’s Book of Betrayal in her treatment of British fishing. In his rush to get into the Common Market, Ted betrayed fishing by accepting a Common Fisheries Policy cobbled together just before our entry negotiations by the six existing members to get access to the rich fishing grounds off Norway and Britain.

The CFP required “equal access to a common resource”. We contributed two thirds of the fish stocks to that common resource but were graciously given only a third of our own fish back. That meant a massive run down in our fishing industry. It eliminated any prospect of rebuilding it within our own waters as every other fishing nation was able to do when the UN accepted that fishing limits should be extended to 200 miles.

Under the CFP, English fishing got a meagre six-mile limit which was regularly infringed. “North Britain” – which didn’t include the North East or Yorkshire – got 12 miles, resulting in disaster for the English industry and damage to the Scots.

Brussels decided who could catch what in our waters and tried to keep everyone happy by handing out paper fish. Policing was a nightmare. French trawlers occasionally trawled right up to the Yorkshire coast, destroying British lobster pots. Beam trawlers damaged our grounds. I found on a fishery protection vessel that while British vessels were assiduously policed, foreign vessels breaking the rules could simply nip over the median line to escape prosecution.

Finally, to add insult to industry, the EU court decided in the Factortame case that European fishing companies could hop the quotas by taking over British companies and catching their British quota too. Indeed, chairing a fishing committee visit to Spain I was introduced to the Chairman of the Fleetwood vessel owners. He spoke little English.

This farce should end with Brexit. The CFP isn’t based on either the Single Market or the Customs Union, though “fishery products” are. Yet now the CFP is to be extended over the transition period so catches will continue to be determined by Brussels until 2020. After that, Michel Barnier’s deputy, Sabine Weyand, has announced the UK will “have to swallow a link between access to products and fisheries”, meaning unless we continue the CFP, they’ll keep out our fish exports.

That’s unacceptable. It means continuous control over fishing, more disputes like the battle between British and French vessels and no rebuilding of British fishing. We can be sure that at the end of a transition period in which we have no say and no negotiating weapons, Spain, France, Denmark and Holland – which depend on their British catches – will fight to keep them. Even that’s assuming the EU ever allows us to end the transition.

That means little control of our own waters. It means no year-by-year gradual reduction in EU catches, no stock swaps with nations like Norway which control their own stocks. Crucially it will deter investment in rebuilding our British industry to fish in our own, once rich, waters. Who’s going to put money into fishing without the certainty that British fishermen will get sustainable catching of our own fish?

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As humiliations go, accepting this Brexit deal would be complete and unendurable

After the end, the beginning. The long months of talks in Brussels have brought forth a draft withdrawal agreement to leave the European Union – all 585 pages of it. Amid the drama, the essential themes are clear. There will be a backstop agreement to the deal without an end date and with no ability for […]

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After the end, the beginning. The long months of talks in Brussels have brought forth a draft withdrawal agreement to leave the European Union – all 585 pages of it. Amid the drama, the essential themes are clear. There will be a backstop agreement to the deal without an end date and with no ability for the UK to extricate ourselves without the consent of a third party. And there will be a grave threat to the Union.

Northern Ireland will find itself in a different regulatory regime to the rest of our country – to use the analogy that is being deployed about the “backstop within a backstop”, it will be in the deep end of the swimming pool while the rest of us are only paddling up to our knees. This represents gold dust for the Scottish Nationalists, who will seize on a different arrangement for one part of the country to demand a separate arrangement for Scotland.

We will be asked to sign up to all this, and hand over £39 thousand million, in exchange for a flimsy 15-page “political declaration” about the hoped-for trade relationship that would lie beyond this, should we ever be able to escape. That political declaration will be drafted to mean all things to all men, but will lead inexorably to the ultra-high alignment agreed at Chequers in July rather than the Canada-style free trade deal we should be aiming for. There will be so-called “non-regression clauses” to ensure the UK cannot out-compete the EU. This would scupper our hopes of being a global trading titan and bind us into EU manufacturing rules in perpetuity. As humiliations go, this would be complete and unendurable. The Prime Minister will have unerringly delivered a deal that delivers none of the benefits of leaving the EU and none of the benefits of remaining.

85 years ago, Churchill warned: 

“All down the centuries, one peculiarity of the English people has cost them dear. We have always thrown away after a victory the greater part of the advantages we have gained in the struggle. The worst difficulties from which we suffer do not come from without. They come from within… from the mood of unwarrantable self-abasement into which we have been cast by a powerful section of our own intellectuals. They come from the acceptance of defeatist doctrines by a large proportion of our politicians… Nothing can save England if she will not save herself. If we lose faith in ourselves, in our capacity to guide and govern, if we lose our will to live, then indeed our story is told.” 

Such will be the legacy of Brexit if this deal goes through. The brave decision of the British people to leave the European Union, taken in the largest democratic vote in our history, will have been reduced in two years to a shameful and squalid surrender. This must be resisted at all costs, and I have little doubt that the House of Commons will indeed defeat the deal should matters go that far.

The burning question will then arise: what next?

A deal may still be salvageable, based around the broad and generous offer made by European Council President Donald Tusk in March. This would be an advanced free trade agreement, encompassing services and covering all sectors with zero tariffs and no quantitative limitations. Alongside this the UK would offer deep security cooperation and mutual recognition of practical issues from aviation regulations to driving licences. The EU’s offer, of course, was made to Great Britain and not the whole of the UK. The EU was not prepared to extend its offer to Northern Ireland – hence so much of the tortuous negotiation that has ensued.

But there is a way to deliver such an agreement, in the form of a free-standing treaty on trade facilitation between the UK and Ireland to be negotiated in parallel to the wider negotiations, as it surely could be. Such a treaty would deliver an invisible border that would satisfy WTO rules and could be referenced in the wider UK-EU free trade agreement. There would be no hard border and no need for a backstop beyond this.

This seems to me to represent a deal that could secure sufficient votes to satisfy Brussels and pass the House of Commons. In tandem with this, an immense national effort must be set in motion so that the UK Government and businesses prepare themselves day and night between now and 29th March next year for a no-deal scenario. Every moment that passes without such an effort is a moment wasted, and weakens our hand in securing the good Brexit deal that our country expects and deserves.

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We must not pay the EU’s ransom unless and until all outstanding issues are satisfactorily settled

Theresa May’s negotiating technique with the EU has been to go in announcing red lines she wouldn’t accept, then – as soon as she found that she wouldn’t get them – to throw herself in front of the EU steamroller appealing to better natures the EU hasn’t got. The calculation must have been that by […]

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Theresa May’s negotiating technique with the EU has been to go in announcing red lines she wouldn’t accept, then – as soon as she found that she wouldn’t get them – to throw herself in front of the EU steamroller appealing to better natures the EU hasn’t got.

The calculation must have been that by acting humble she could get some kind of settlement, however unsatisfactory. The Tory Party in Parliament will then be forced to accept it as the price of staying in power and the accurate criticisms of the Brexiteers will be brushed aside. Then a long transition period can postpone the problems, rob the Rampant Remainers of their fear weapon and the People’s Vote wreckers of their hopes of staying in the EU by democratic deceit. Boris and his Brexiteers will grumble, even revolt, but most of the party will heave a sigh of relief and shuffle into line while Labour, even more divided, will be torn between its desire for an election and its commitment to a ‘soft’ Brexit. It may even fall apart with those keen to stay in the Single Market supporting the Government.

It’s a calculated strategy, which might work in a country getting fed up of the long futile argument. But it won’t achieve the Brexit the people voted for at the referendum and will leave Britain at the mercy of an intransigent and unforgiving EU. The two essential requirements of independence, control of EU immigration and the ability to come to trade deals with other nations whose trade is now growing while the EU’s share remains stagnant, will not have been delivered. We’ll still be subject to the EU rule book. That means dearer food and German dominance continuing to drain Britain.

The EU will have us over a barrel. We’ve already seen how rule-bound and hostile to British interests and arguments they can be, but in an infinitely extendable “transition period” to work out the details of Brexit, we’ll be well and truly trapped. An open-ended deal is infinitely extendable to keep the UK on a rack so they can refuse any of the changes we need and force us to observe the “EU rule book” as adjudicated by the EU court. We’d be hog tied unless we insist that no money will be handed over until we get an acceptable settlement. Nothing is settled (or paid) until all is settled.

After Theresa May has given away so much in her Chequers appeasement, the only point of leverage left is the enormous bill she’s undertaken to pay to allow the Commission to continue building marble palaces in Brussels and protect the other 27, who are already getting restive with the EU, from having to increase their contributions. “Can’t Buy Me Love,” as the Beatles sang. Theresa’s attempt to do so falls due next March when the notice we’ve given under Article 50 expires.

To pay that ransom, or anything at all, before everything is settled removes our last means of influence. The EU’s insistence that our departure allows them to punish us for being so naughty will prevail and we walk naked into the negotiating chamber. There we’re in limbo and they can dictate on all the issues remaining to be settled, as they most certainly can’t be before next March. That’s the reason they talk about a transition. To pay anything before it’s completed is to accept being a colony of the union our electorate voted to Leave.

Parliament can, and must, reject that, by insisting on a ‘no tickee, no takee’ clause before any deal is ratified. The Government would find it difficult to resist, Labour couldn’t vote against saving money and the canny Scots would be forced to choose between bawbees and their love of the EU. That leaves only the Liberals – who’re so Euro-daft that they’d be happy to pay even more to stay in – likely to vote against. As for the public, they’d be overjoyed that at last something is being done to implement their wishes, instead of all the wheedling, fear, manipulation, delay and weakness they’ve had to put up with up to now.

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