David Davies: I voted and campaigned for Leave. But here’s why I’m supporting May’s Brexit plan.

Opposing this proposal serves only to help those who wish to undermin eour desire to respect the referendum result. It is only by being united that we can fight them off.

David Davies is Chair of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee, and is MP for Monmouth.

Ever since I entered Parliament in 2005, I have passionately and sincerely campaigned for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. Back in 2011, long before it became policy, I joined the Parliamentary rebellion to support a referendum on the issue.

Immediately after the referendum was announced, I began my daily campaign for Leave, both in my constituency and across the UK. I have knocked on countless doors and addressed many meetings in aid of this cause. So I do not think anyone can say I have not done my bit for Brexit.

It is precisely because of my longstanding support for Brexit that I will be backing the deal proposed by Theresa May.  It is not perfect, and there are many things I would like to have seen done differently in the negotiations. The Government should have begun planning earlier for no deal ,and made clear our willingness to follow this path if necessary. This would undoubtedly have increased our leverage in the negotiations.

And, there are areas where I will seek further reassurance. Not least, that no deal planning continues so that we maintain our ability to walk away if we have to.  But all of us have to deal with where we are now – with the circumstances in front of us.

This deal will take us out of the EU on 29th March 2019, as planned. Not as far out as I or many of my colleagues would like, but out nonetheless. And once we are out, there is no returning.

Franklin D Roosevelt famously asked people to ‘judge him by the enemies he made’. The Prime Minister would do well to ask the Conservative Party to do the same when it comes to this deal.

It is telling that some of the most vehement opponents of the deal are longstanding Remainers, who are explicit about their desire to overturn the referendum result. And, of course, the entire Labour frontbench, which smells an opportunity to try and remove the Conservative Government from office and usher in a Marxist one.

If this was truly as bad a Brexit as many claim, it is hard to see why those groups are working so hard to defeat it. Ultimately, their aim is for Brexit to fail. The reason they are working so hard to stop this deal is because they know that, if it is passed and we do leave in March next year, there is no going back.

After working and campaigning so hard for Brexit, I cannot understand why my colleagues would rather walk through the lobbies with those who have spent the past years trying to thwart them. Surely they can see doing as much would only play into their hands.

Many of my colleagues believe that if this deal is voted down, it will lead to us getting a better deal, with a cleaner break from the EU or just to no deal at all. But, with the greatest respect to them, there are no guarantees. It is just as likely, and possibly more likely, that we will end up locked into the Customs Union and Single Market permanently or, even worse, that we do not leave at all.

Lining up against this deal fundamentally risks what we have all worked so hard to deliver. Ultimately, it only serves to help those who wish to undermine our position and our desire to respect the result of the referendum. It is only by being united that we can fight them off.

This has been shown through the recent history of the Conservative Party. I fought my first general election in 1997. And, as with many of our candidates that year, I was resoundingly beaten. Why? Because our party had spent the past four years tearing chunks out of each other over Europe. The public have always taken a dim view of such division and self-interest. They will do so again. In the end, they simply want us to get on with it.

There is undoubtedly more work to be done over the coming weeks and months – even years. But this deal allows us to end the free movement of people, end our contributions to the EU budget, end our membership of the Common Agricultural Policy, take back control of our waters by ending the Common Fisheries Policy and have the ability to strike our own trade deals for the first time in over 40 years. Most of all ,it allows us to leave the European Union.

The honest truth for those of us that have long supported Brexit is that if this deal had been offered to us before the referendum, we would have gratefully grabbed it with both hands. We should all do so now.

A first glance at some of the main points in May’s deal

We set five tests for it. Does this draft agreement pass them? And does it really take back control of our borders, laws and money?

When Theresa May set out her strategy for the Brexit negotiations, she set out three goals: to take back control of Britain’s money, laws, and borders.

As the talks have progressed, more issues have emerged – not least Northern Ireland and the territorial integrity of the UK. So this month we suggested a further five points to consider.

They are: would the deal hive off Northern Ireland? Does it threaten to break up the Union? Would it trap the country in a customs union? Does it hand over money for nothing? And does it more closely resemble Chequers, or ‘Canada’?

Below, we take a look at how the Prime Minister’s proposals measure up against these yardsticks.

Are we taking back control of our money?

Probably. We’re paying the so-called ‘divorce bill’ as part of the Withdrawal Agreement, so won’t be able to use it as leverage during the future relationship. Lee Rotherham also points out that there’s little mention of the UK regaining our share of EU assets, despite lots of mention of our liabilities to the bloc.

Perhaps more ominously, we will continue paying in during the initial ‘transition period’, and if we choose to extend it Article 138 says that our contributions will be established at an ‘appropriate’ level by the Joint Committee. One Labour MP compared this to signing an insurance agreement without knowing what the excess was.

The question is whether, or how, we end up disentangling ourselves from the EU during that period. Some of these issues may only become clear when the future relationship is negotiated.

Are we taking back control of our laws?

When it comes to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, the negotiators seem to have made some progress. Compared to the EU’s initial proposals (which a former ECJ judge denounced as ‘leonine’) its role is substantially reduced, and the idea that it would be the mediating institution in disputes between the UK and the EU is gone. One analyst has dubbed this a ‘solid win’.

On the other hand, this piece in the Financial Times suggests that the role of the ECJ, especially during the transition, could be much greater than the above analysis suggests, and that it might in effect remain the ultimate arbiter of UK-EU disputes.

Beyond that, there are other points of concern. First, Rotherham reports that the deal locks the UK into the European Convention on Human Rights, precluding any possibility of repatriating judicial supremacy to these islands – a longstanding Conservative ambition, and one shared by the Prime Minister.

Moreover, there was extensive ‘level playing field’ provisions (Annex 4) which would prevent future British governments from setting independent policy in a broad range of areas, and Rotherham suggests that the section on equivalence could end up with Britain in “in a fax democracy version of a Regulatory Union, and probably in a form of Customs Union.”

Finally, there is the salient fact that the backstop proposals, if implemented, don’t contain any procedure for the UK’s unilateral withdrawal (at least not without resiling from our entire negotiated relationship with the EU). This is a serious curb on the practical power, if not the technical sovereignty, of Parliament.

CCHQ is taking pains to combat the idea that the backstop is inescapable. In an email to the National Convention, Brandon Lewis writes:

  • “If both sides agree the future relationship is ready we would leave the backstop. This judgement would need to be taken in good faith and with view to their commitment on best endeavours.”
  • “If there is a disagreement, a special conference would try and resolve the differences.”
  • “If that failed to reach an agreement it would go to independent arbitration as to whether the NI protocol is still needed to meet its objectives.”

According to Article 170, “independent arbitration” means “the International Bureau of the Permanent Court of Arbitration”, an intergovernmental organisation based at The Hague. The five-person panel will comprise two members apiece from the UK and the EU, plus one independent member, whittled down from a shortlist of 25 (Article 171).

On the face of it this could allow the UK – if it had a very strong case – to climb the chain of appeals and have EU objections to withdrawing from the backstop overridden at the PCA. That doesn’t seem a likely scenario, however, and can’t be spun – as Lewis is trying to do – as a practical, reliable means of quitting the backstop.

Are we taking back control of our borders?

Eventually, probably. The Withdrawal Agreement at least doesn’t commit the UK to maintaining freedom of movement in perpetuity, and it has been argued in some quarters that the Government has actually managed, to an extent, to divide the ‘four freedoms’ and secure some form of market access without unlimited EU immigration.

However, the UK will have to maintain our current policies – including freedom of movement – at least until the end of the ‘transition period’ in 2021. Unless a full future relationship has been negotiated by then (and experience doesn’t offer much grounds for optimism) we will then probably use our one-off extension of the ‘transition period’, further prolonging freedom of movement.

If we revert to the backstop, freedom of movement comes to an end, but at present that option looks likely to be so unpalatable that few prime ministers would choose to enter it if they can help it.

The upshot of all that is that is that we aren’t locked in to freedom of movement indefinitely, but we probably won’t be able to introduce new controls for years.

On a final note, Rotherham suggests that, despite what David Mundell and other Scottish Conservatives have been saying about the UK becoming an ‘independent coastal state’, in fact the fate of British fishing stocks is still on the table.

Will it hive off Northern Ireland?

The barriers are less than they might have been – it doesn’t look as though there will be a customs border down the Irish Sea – but Northern Ireland is still a case apart under the proposed backstop, which is why it features in a huge share of the deal’s text.

Whilst the customs union provisions will be UK-wide, Ulster will remain additionally subject to a range of single market rules and other EU laws including VAT and excise (Article 9), Agriculture and environment (Article 10), the single electricity market (Article 11), and in part state aid (Article 12).

This will put Northern Ireland in the problematic position of having its economy regulated by a foreign legislature in which it is unrepresented (although MEPs from the Republic of Ireland might try to claim that mantle), and with the explicit intention of prioritising its alignment with the EU and Irish markets rather than the British one, despite the latter accounting for vastly more of its external sales.

Since the British Government will also have no right to withdraw, this means that Northern Irish voters will have no democratic control over important areas of law via either Stormont or Westminster.

However, RTE’s Tony Connelly has tweeted to explain how the EU intends to allow GB-NI trade to run smoothly… and it sounds a lot like the combination of targeted checks, back-office enforcement, and technology that was supposedly incapable of allowing for a ‘frictionless’ north-south trade border without the backstop. A Dutch customs expert has also told MPs that a technical solution on north-south trade is perfectly practical (video available).

If Dublin and Brussels are sincere when they say that their goal is simply to ensure smooth trade and avoid giving would-be terrorists obvious targets, this holds out some hope that the customs element of the backstop could be obviated entirely by a proper north-south arrangement.

However, it may be very difficult to get this done in practice. As the Prime Minister told the Commons on Thursday, under these proposals the backstop cannot be revived once it is set aside. That will make the other side very wary about doing so.

The problem of Single Market rules, however, would remain regardless.

Does it threaten to break up the Union?

The backstop poses several potential dangers to the integrity of the United Kingdom, both in relation to Northern Ireland and elsewhere.

First, there are the long-term ramifications of the Northern Irish economy potentially re-aligning away from the mainland in the course of a decade (or longer) locked into structure that gives preferential treatment to north-south commerce, and of Irish politicians unofficially – but probably publicly – presuming to act on its behalf inside the EU.

Ian Lucas, the Labour MP for Wrexham, highlighted the extraordinary way in which the agreement handles GB-NI trade in a question to the Prime Minister on Thursday.

Not to be under-estimated either is the damage this could do within political unionism. Northern Ireland’s position in the United Kingdom has not been strengthened by its almost complete political isolation, and if the links forged over the past couple of years were burned in the process of passing this deal it would represent a significant step backwards.

But the backstop isn’t just a problem for Northern Ireland. As Joanna Cherry, an SNP MP, has pointed out, such a high-alignment and asymmetrical arrangement makes life much, much easier for separatists across these islands. Not only does it restore the high floor for ongoing relations which made ‘independence in Europe’ so saleable, but it throws in an added advantage in that Scotland could theoretically regain its status as a ‘rule maker’ whilst not missing out on any trade with rUK.

This, and not just solidarity or high unionist principle, is presumably why both David Mundell and Ruth Davidson threatened to resign in the event of a withdrawal agreement which offered differential treatment for Ulster. Since that’s exactly what we’ve got, their u-turn on this is hard to explain.

Nor is all quiet on the Welsh front: during questions in the Commons yesterday a Plaid Cymru MP once again illustrated the dangers of the backstop by asking May to assure him that there would be no border between England and Wales if the latter were to adopt the Northern Irish settlement.

Would it trap the country in a customs union?

There seems a very strong chance of this. As previously explained, the backstop would lock the UK into a customs union without the ability to withdraw unilaterally. Worse, that would be a customs union in which the Government had no input into the rules.

Of course, neither side officially wants the backstop to come into force. But there are reports that, on the EU side at least, it is viewed as something to be built out on when constructing the future relationship, rather than merely a refuge of last resort if the negotiations falter. There is therefore a risk that integration on this level becomes the basis of the future partnership.

Does it hand over money for nothing?

Our editor posed the following question: “Since a future trade deal will be covered by an unenforceable political declaration – not the Withdrawal Agreement – what safeguards are there against shelling out £40 billion for nothing?”

The short answer seems to be “not many”. The political declaration on the future relationship is broad-strokes, to say the least, and whilst it could potentially shape up into a good agreement there are also plenty of areas where things could go wrong from London’s perspective. Rotherham also sets out in his Brexit Central piece several ways in which he thinks the financial settlement is unfair on Britain.

What is certain is that if the UK hands over the entire divorce bill it won’t be able to use those billions, and the threat of the EU being under-funded, as leverage during the negotiations. (The IEA have suggested one way in which London might split the payments, holding back £19.8 billion earmarked for “outstanding budget commitments”.)

Chequers or Canada?

This one we can’t definitively answer. The withdrawal agreement is not the future relationship, and the document we have on the latter is too short to draw clear conclusions from. A lot will depend on how the negotiations go between next March and the ultimate end of the transition period in “20XX” (note: not even “202X”!).

Whether or not an all-UK ‘Canada’ arrangement is possible seems to depend on whether the Government can negotiate to have the EU’s minimal-friction, tech-enabled, and intelligence-led customs arrangements applied to north-south trade from Northern Ireland instead of east-west.

However, there are ominous indicators. As our editor highlighted on Friday morning, the final spur for Dominic Raab’s resignation was the insertion, without his knowledge, of a commitment to pursue ” ambitious customs arrangements that build on the single customs territory provided for in the Withdrawal Agreement”. That doesn’t entirely close off the path to Canada, but it heavily skews the parameters of the negotiations towards a settlement that looks more like Chequers.

Brussels won’t allow Brexit deal do-over

EU negotiator Michel Barnier tells ambassadors the EU has a ‘duty’ to stick to its red lines, despite political turmoil in London.

Brussels is on edge, but it has no intention of going back to the Brexit drawing board.

Chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told a meeting of EU27 ambassadors Friday morning that whatever political “difficulties” Theresa May is experiencing in London, the bloc has a “duty” to stand firm on its key Brexit red lines, according to EU diplomats present.

For her part, May is standing firm on the deal in the face of a gale of criticism and is intent on pushing the deal to a vote in the House of Commons. But if political opponents in her own party succeed in forcing her to seek a better deal, there is no sign that any of the EU27 red lines will change.

We cannot “compromise” or engage in “cherry-picking” or “bargaining,” Barnier told ambassadors, referring to requests to reopen the draft deal that was agreed by the British Cabinet on Wednesday. He added that he expects “difficult negotiations” ahead.

Barnier also expressed a desire to help the British government in its efforts to ratify the text in a vote of MPs. And he said that there could be room for movement on the EU side in specific areas, such as enhanced cooperation on phytosanitary regulations and so-called technical barriers to trade. It is a moment not for triumphalism, he said, but for “encouragement.”

“All eyes are on London. We see there are some turbulences” — EU diplomat

The chief negotiator’s presentation at the more than two-hour meeting reflects a dilemma for Brussels. While EU countries want to help May get the deal through parliament, there is a reluctance at such a late stage to radically unpick the agreement — despite threats to May’s leadership and a series of ministerial resignations over the deal.

Diplomats say that some tweaks might still be possible if they could make the difference between the deal succeeding or crashing, but the kind of radical overhaul proposed by Brexiteers such as former Brexit Secretary David Davis is simply not on the table. There is “no question” of that, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday.

“If we renegotiate something it could be on very small details,” said a senior EU diplomat “[but] it will not be on the main issues.”

“Europeans are not scared, but very cautious, and everybody hopes the deal will be approved,” he added, saying that the first major challenge will be the tight timescale to consider the details of the deal before a hastily arranged EU leaders’ summit on November 25.

There is “no question” of radical overhaul of the deal, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said | John Thys/AFP via Getty Images

“Some of us will need to consult our MPs on the text, and make the necessary democratic deliberations in our countries,” the diplomat added.

“All eyes are on London,” said another EU diplomat. “We see there are some turbulences.” Asked about the mood in Brussels, the diplomat said: “It’s a feeling of relief that at least there’s a text on the table.” A third diplomat added: “Everyone is committed to getting the ball over the line.”

In any case, as Barnier said Wednesday, EU capitals feel that they have already given significant ground in the final stages of the talks. And not everyone is happy with all aspects of the final deal.

“We had to accept compromises,” said the second diplomat. “There are some points that also make some EU members uncomfortable.”

The diplomat cited the EU’s acceptance of an all-U.K. customs backstop — as an insurance measure to prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland — and the decision to kick negotiations about fisheries access into the transition period that will immediately follow Brexit day in March next year. “It’s not clear, and it will affect millions of jobs,” said the senior EU diplomat. “There’s nothing precise.”

Barnier was briefing ambassadors on the state of ongoing talks about the political declaration — the document that will accompany the 585-page Withdrawal Agreement. Only a cursory seven-page outline of that was published on Wednesday evening and the chief negotiator indicated that several issues are still in play.

“Any regulatory gap is a serious issue” — Senior diplomat

On security matters including participation in EU agencies such as Europol and Eurojust he said, according to two EU diplomats, that the U.K. does still “not accept” the full ramifications of not being an EU member country. But Barnier added that both sides share the aim of close cooperation. And on mechanisms to ensure there is a level playing field between British and EU businesses after Brexit, EU ambassadors expressed reservations in the discussion following Barnier’s briefing.

“Any regulatory gap is a serious issue,” said the senior diplomat, adding that the text “isn’t clear” on environmental and social measures. “The consequences are important because it could enhance any regulatory gap on major issues.” One country’s representative is also “worried” that the text offers too much to the U.K. on services.

French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire | Sébastien Bozon/AFP via Getty Images

Despite the desire not to contribute to political instability in London, not all EU politicians are adopting a softly softly approach. France’s economy minister, Bruno Le Maire, said on Friday that Brexit is leading Britain into “a nightmare” and called on “lying and irresponsible” Brexiteers to abandon their project, or face economic meltdown.

“The British politicians, who have argued for Brexit, now have a choice between reneging on their absurd political promise or an economic disaster of which the British people will be the first victim,” he said.

His more cautious colleagues may be hoping that the people he is referring to are too preoccupied to notice.

David Herszenhorn contributed reporting.

France calls on ‘lying’ UK politicians to drop Brexit

‘Economically, Brexit can result in a nightmare,’ Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire says.

France’s economy minister on Friday said Brexit was leading Britain into “a nightmare” and called on “lying and irresponsible” Brexiteers to abandon their project, or face economic meltdown.

At an event on global trade in Paris Friday, Bruno Le Maire said Brexit showed “that leaving the European single market simply has an exorbitant cost.”

“Every people is free to decide to leave the single market and the European Union. But what Brexit shows is that the economic cost of leaving the single market is simply exorbitant and that there are many lying and irresponsible politicians, who in Great Britain have explained to the British people that Brexit would result in bright tomorrows.”

“The truth is that, economically, Brexit can result in a nightmare.”

Le Maire said it was time for Brexiteers to acknowledge their mistake and row back on Brexit. “The British politicians, who have argued for Brexit, now have a choice between reneging on their absurd political promise or an economic disaster of which the British people will be the first victim.”

The French minister said that faced with a global trade war, Europe’s single market was a “considerable strength and protection.”

“We have a single market which is the largest commercial market in the world, which is our pride and our strength. And we want to defend this single market.”

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Richard Tice: May’s deal is the worst deal in history

For nothing in return, by way of a guaranteed free trade deal, the Prime Minister is willing to hand over at least £40 billion, potentially £60 billion.

Richard Tice is an entrepreneur, campaigner and co-founder of Leave means Leave

Theresa May had always repeated what I have known to be true in business: “no deal is better than a bad deal”.  But now, even in the face of multiple Cabinet resignations and growing anger among her Parliamentary colleagues at her proposed deal, her actions suggest she believes that any deal is better than a no deal.  The regrettable reality is that her deal is not only a bad deal: it is the worst deal in history.

For nothing in return, by way of a guaranteed free trade deal, the Prime Minister is willing to hand over at least £40 billion, potentially £60 billion.   We will have no say in the EU, but payments will continue until the EU decides we can leave the arrangement.

May’s deal misses the point of Brexit entirely, and will result in losing control of our money and continuing to make massive payments to the EU indefinitely – since they have no incentive to stop, having captured us in their “naughty” chamber.

A UK-wide EU Customs Union would kill off the idea of Global Britain.  We would not be able to strike our own trade deals with old and new friends around the world.  That would means the same protectionist high costs for consumers and, in reality, no access to new EU trade deals with third countries.  We would also have no influence at the WTO, no protection against trade dumping and have our own tariffs decided by the EU.

The EU is terrified of a competitive UK. It’s terrified of our innovation, flexibility and attractiveness to the world.  That’s why under May’s deal, EU competition, environment, employment and state aid rules would apply.

Taxation without representation is not Brexit.  Continued European Court of Justice oversight is not Brexit.  This deal will only succeed in disenfranchising the UK electorate, possibly forever, and result in Dublin having more of a say than London over large parts of the UK economy.

Don’t be fooled by those who say this is only a transitional arrangement.  Once we hand over £40 billion for a transition process that may never end, there is no longer any incentive for the EU to come back to the table to talk trade.  And what kind of maso-sadist Prime Minister would want to re-open negotiations with the EU in the future?

There are just seven pages of non-binding waffle on the “future framework” of a possible trade deal, which the EU has no incentive to finalise; yet there are almost 600 pages of room for EU traps and mischief on everything else in the Withdrawal Agreement.  The backstop, is a backdoor to the EU, with EU regulatory control and no time limit.

Worse still, we could only break this terrible deal with EU approval, which they have zero reason to give.  As Michel Barnier’s deputy, Sabine Weyand, has said to EU Ambassadors, the backstop will be used to lock the UK inside the EU indefinitely as a feeble vassal state.

Brexit is the opportunity of a lifetime.  But May is determined to rob us of those opportunities by handcuffing parts of our country to the EU Internal Market and chaining us to the EU Customs Union.

With her ministers abandoning ship in large numbers, her position is on the edge. However, she could avoid the current national humiliation and a vote of no confidence if she immediately shook up her negotiating team, removing Olly Robbins first, and bring in competent Brexit-supporters and businesspeople as I recommended on this site last December.  She should then go back to Brussels, and make clear that she’s aiming for a sensible and achievable Canada+ deal, which we know they are happy to do.

Pushing on with May’s current deal would betray not only of the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the EU, but also destroy the idea of Britain as a strong, independent-minded and innovative nation with so much to offer the world.  Should it get that far, Parliament has an obvious decision to make: no deal is better than a bad deal, and this is the worst ever deal in history.

“I cannot reconcile the terms of the proposed deal with the promises we made to the country.” Raab’s resignation letter – full text

“No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime, imposed externally without any democratic control… nor the ability to decide to exit”.

Dear Prime Minister,

It has been an honour to serve in your government as Justice Minister, Housing Minister, and Brexit Secretary.

I regret to say that, following the Cabinet meeting yesterday on the Brexit deal, I must resign. I understand why you have chosen to pursue the deal with the EU on the terms proposed, and I respect the different views held in good faith by all of our colleagues.

For my part, I cannot support the proposed deal for two reasons. First, I believe that the regulatory regime proposed for Northern Ireland presents a very real threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom.

Second, I cannot support an indefinite backstop arrangement, where the EU holds a veto over our ability to exit. The terms of the backstop amount to a hybrid of the EU Customs Union and Single Market obligations. No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime, imposed externally without any democratic control over the laws to be applied, nor the ability to decide to exit the arrangements. That arrangement is also now also taken as the starting point for negotiating the Future Economic Partnership. If we accept that, it will severely prejudice the second phase of the negotiations against the UK.

Above all, I cannot reconcile the terms of the proposed deal with the promises we made to the country in our manifesto at the last election. This is, at its heart, a matter of public trust.

I appreciate that you disagree with my judgement on these issues. I have weighed very carefully the alternative courses of action which the government could take, on which I have previously advised. Ultimately, you deserve a Brexit Secretary who can make the case for the deal you are pursuing with conviction. I am only sorry, in good conscience, that I cannot.

My respect for you, and the fortitude you have shown in difficult times, remains undimmed.

Yours sincerely,

Dominic Raab”

May’s Deal 2) Rebecca Ryan – It endangers Leave. Now the 51 MPs who have pledged to Stand Up for Brexit must keep their promise

I am deeply disappointed by the path that the Prime Minister has chosen. It seems to be the very opposite of what the British people voted for.

Rebecca Ryan is Campaign Director for Stand Up For Brexit.

The Conservative grassroots are feeling betrayed. Over the past year, I’ve had hundreds of conversations with activists at every level of the party who are totally outraged by how Brexit has been handled. The reactions range from utter disbelief to volcanic rage. Membership cards have been cut up. Tools are being downed. Since the Brexit referendum, which so many members were so delighted to finally be offered, and were so passionate about delivering – hence David Cameron’s majority in 2015 – the grassroots have been slowly frozen out. The result is that the Brexit which so many of us thought we were fighting for could be slipping away.

All of this could have been avoided had the membership, the beating heart of our party, been listened to and supported. It’s often said that the cliche about cliches is that they’re true. The cliche about party members is that we’re sometimes over-zealous, but that we believe in the cause, and are prepared to give up vast amounts of our personal time and money to try and keep the Conservative Party in office and advance its interests. To expect the Party leadership to at least attempt to reflect our views should not be too much. In fact, a healthy two-way relationship between the senior Party and the troops on the ground is absolutely essential.

Ever-centralising control has not worked. The answer to the Conservative Party’s current and future problems is not for the leadership to hunker down and enclose itself in a bunker, but open its ears and listen. We know that when the leadership works in tandem with the wishes of its members, great things can be achieved: our victory in 2015 is evidence of that. But when it stops listening and goes off in its own direction, problems swiftly occur; our near-defeat by Jeremy Corbyn merely two years later is evidence of that. We should not be afraid of recognising that, at the height of our modern success in the 1980s, associations were far more autonomous and the dialogue between activists and senior party figures was much more open. Messages were sent – both ways.

My Stand Up For Brexit campaign has given me unparalleled access to the Conservative Party on the ground. Our mission is quite simple: to raise MPs’ awareness of the discontent amongst members of the public, Conservative activists, Assocation Chairmen and party members over the Government’s Chequers White Paper. We ask MPs to Stand Up For Brexit by rejecting Chequers, and delivering the Brexit that was promised at Lancaster House and in the Conservative Manifesto. That means leaving the Single Market, Customs Union and European Court Court of Justice overview.

Given Theresa May’s statement last night, and the letter subsequently issued by Jacob Rees-Mogg, I feel confident that the 51 Conservative MPs who have pledged to uphold these key tenets of Leave will stick by their promise. Naturally, I am deeply disappointed by the path that the Prime Minister has chosen. It seems to be the very opposite of what the British people voted for and our Party is committed to deliver. A permanent customs union with the EU, without any guaranteed means of leaving it, is simply unacceptable. It’s hard not to conclude that the current policy is the result of a leadership which has become totally detached both from the Conservative family as a whole, and fro, the wider electorate.

It is time for “the troops” to be taken seriously in the running of the party; we are not just there to deliver leaflets. I know that any mention of ‘party reform’ can be terrifying for senior figures, who fear losing control to curtain-twitching village fete organisers. But that’s a stereotype – it’s not what the conservative membership actually is. Supporters of my campaign come from every part of the party. They’re southern, northern, white, black, gay, bisexual. Everybody is represented, and united in wanting the best for our country through a Conservative Party which is sensitive to the electorate and fulfils its promises.

To achieve this, local associations need to expand their appeal, and in particular, start engaging with 30-55 year olds. We become naturally more conservative when we approach 30 and start looking to settle down. Eighteen year olds are often focussed on in political debate; they are great assets and do fantastic, energetic work. But we need the machinery and vitality to appeal to the “establishing a career”, “just-having-children-and-setting-up-home” demographic. They are our core vote. They need to be harnessed.

Being committed Conservatives, we are worried about damaging the party and, therefore, are squeamish about questioning its decisions and structures in public. As part of our campaign, we had 45 Association Chairmen and senior party members commit to oppose Chequers on the first morning of this year’s conference. They were the brave ones; many more feel nervous about coming forward publicly. A culture of distrust is crystallising between the membership and our Parliamentary representatives. That is unhealthy, and needs to be dealt with. Principles and political careers are not always the happiest of bedfellows – but the grassroots admire those with principles, and are worried that too many of our MPs are abandoning them in favour of possible preferment. 80 per cent of the membership are Brexiteers. 70 per cent of Conservative voters support Brexit. And yet 70 per cent of MPs are Remainers. How has this huge disconnect been allowed to happen? And what can both sides – the volunteer and the professional Party – do to change it?

Ultimately, we need to take the climate of change that delivered Brexit and use it to reinvigorate the Conservative Party at every level. Rather than letting those who leant us their vote disappear off into the disengaged horizon, we must deliver on their expectations, and seize their newfound but rapidly dissipating interest in democracy to remould the Conservative Party into a responsive and engaged vehicle for all. And that happens by re-empowering the grassroots.

May’s Deal 3) Alex Morton – If the Commons rejects it, here are three alternatives

Perhaps the Prime Minister will secure Parliament’s approval. But if she does not, the Conservative Party must choose a direction quickly.

Alex Morton is Director of Policy at the Centre for Policy Studies, and was a member of David Cameron’s Downing Street Policy Unit.

As you read this, MPs at Westminster will be ploughing through the 500-page text negotiated by Britain and Brussels, and deciding whether or not it is something they can sign up to. There is still a reasonable chance that the deal gets through. But if Parliament or the Conservative Party decide that they cannot live with it, something else will have to replace it.

The first thing to say may sound like a statement of the obvious: the only options that aren’t on the table for the Conservative Party are a second referendum, or simply giving up and deciding to Remain. The 2015 manifesto promised to honour the referendum result, and the 2017 edition promised a hardish Brexit. Just one in five Conservatives think the decision to leave the EU was wrong. To go from a Leave referendum result to overturning it and remaining in the EU would split the party, as the Corn Laws did. It is also disingenuous to claim you are really concerned with EU control in areas such as goods regulation under May’s deal…and should instead return to being one of 28 countries making decisions, and also sign up to ending the financial rebate, open borders, Eurozone membership etc.

This leaves us with three real options, each of which have their own positive and negatives:

  • Co-operative WTO exit.
  • Hostile WTO exit.
  • EEA membership or similar.

Co-operative WTO exit

A co-operative WTO exit would see the EU and UK co-operating to sign various side agreements to keep trade flowing and limit economic disruption on everything from planes to imports in key areas like foods and medicines. In effect, it would be a bit like Canada Plus, in that it would seek to rapidly nail down what was necessary and then over time flesh out the rest. EU nations have various reasons to go along with this rather than see a hostile WTO exit:

  • A major EU/UK falling out would have major implications for the EU economy, and for global trade. Donald Trump is hostile to the WTO, refusing to appoint judges (which is slowly causing chaos in the organisation) and bending the rules. If the EU tried to pursue a hostile WTO exit, this would embolden Trump and destabilise multilateral trade.
  • A EU/UK fallout would also have a strong knock-on impact on NATO. If the EU was genuinely attempting to slow or stop exports/imports to the UK, the UK would almost certainly feel obliged to take retaliatory action, such as removing troops from the East and North of Europe.
  • If there is a Eurozone crisis in the next few years, with the City of London destabilised and alternative centres not yet having emerged, it would be a disaster for the Eurozone’s economy (something that everyone bar France realises).
  • UK support for countries in the Mediterranean on everything from Syrian refugees to Royal Navy helping with the migrant crisis or in Libya would have to end.
  • Potential turmoil in Northern Ireland. While the majority of the blame would fall on the British, it is unlikely that Ireland would welcome having to enforce a hard border.

Most of all, if the EU acts as aggressively as possible it may destabilise the EU itself. Member states are still angry or upset that we voted to leave, but many of them also distrust the European Commission. They will grasp that if it bullies the UK today, it may turn on them tomorrow.

Apart from the impact that even a co-operative WTO exit would have on UK businesses in terms of supply chains etc, an obvious drawback is many of our liabilities seem likely to fall payable regardless. In a Co-operative WTO scenario, we would probably end up paying a large amount to buy goodwill, as well as whatever it takes to help smooth over any costs associated with trade friction in Northern Ireland, in return for fewer checks on small-scale movement of goods and people.

Even with a co-operative EU, there would still be a short-term shock to our economy, even if this, in the long run, is balanced by other gains.

Hostile WTO exit

Despite the points above, the EU may not be able to reach sufficient consensus around a co-operative WTO exit, in which case we face a hostile one.

A hostile WTO deal is not an easy prospect, even if it is not as hard as some ‘stop Brexit’ groups claim. The sloppy claim that ‘the UK is Mauritania’ is incorrectly arrived at by going through the WTO database and seeing which countries have zero additional trade deals on top of WTO rules.

But if country A only has one trade deal with country B, it still trades on WTO rules with the other 190-odd nations of the world. Further, many countries have only limited side deals but manage to trade quite widely with one another under WTO rules around this. There are also general global trade provisions around non-discrimination, and since our framework would be based on the EU’s on day one, we could argue that interpreting the WTO treaty in a way that imposes additional burdens where our rules align is illegal and a hostile act.

That said, we’d have to accept that this scenario is very complicated, hire the best possible (expensive) people, and prepare for a fairly sizeable shock to the economy. A hostile WTO exit also risks spiralling out of control, with both sides reacting to the other’s moves in a chain reaction.

All this is before you even get to practical issues, such as capacity at Dover. The much smaller Dutch economy hired a thousand extra customs staff months ago to cope with the potential consequences of Brexit. We need to press ahead with similar measures, co-ordinate essential supplies like food and medicine, and ensure that, however uncooperative the EU is, the most important goods and services will keep flowing. And time is short.

This is not an ideal situation. It would have grave drawbacks for the EU, but would also cost the UK substantially.

The EEA and a temporary, partial customs union

The third option is the EEA – either formal membership or, more likely, just replicating the relationship. This also probably entails at least a partial temporary customs union membership.

Those such as Nick Boles argue for an EEA option by claiming that it would take us out of the growing political project while maintaining economic ties. No Eurozone. No European army. No common refugee policy. No fisheries and farming. Above all else, an end to ‘ever closer Union’.

EEA and a parallel reduction in non-EU migration could have been enough for many Leave voters in 2016. In addition, some argue that this option could be a stopgap while we consider others. Yet for some Leave voters, it might not be enough to feel the vote in 2016 has been honoured, and it might not entirely resolve the Brexit issue for some Conservatives either.

For the EU, this option would have the benefit of removing a troublemaker without the UK gaining total freedom. The UK would be mostly out rather than mostly in, but it would be hard to see it as a total victory for Leave. Immigration could be restricted (EEA is focused on workers’ movement, not all citizens), but not for most workers. Nor would we have control over areas covered by EU goods and services regulation – as long as we were part of the regime we would be a rule-taker in some areas rather than a rule-maker, with restricted freedom to operate an independent trade policy.

So where will we end up?

None of these options are perfect – and it may well be that the Prime Minister’s deal gets through and attention turns back to domestic politics.

But fairly soon, those opposing the deal need to nail their colours to the mast rather than just continuing to claim we can have the best of all worlds without May’s deal. They need to choose a direction – even if, as the joke goes, they wouldn’t start from here. And they need to be confident they can hold a Government together until March 29th, and persuade the Conservative Party and the wider country to back their proposal. We wait to see if enough MPs believe that to be the case.

Why the Scottish Conservatives feel so strongly about fish

Losing both them and the DUP will send a very strong signal to every Conservative MP about its implications for the Union.

Earlier today Theresa May was handed a letter, signed by all 13 of her Scottish MPs, threatening to vote down her Brexit deal if it doesn’t match her promises on fishing.

Fishing is a very big issue in north-eastern Scotland, a newly re-captured bastion of Scottish Toryism, and the party is determined to make sure that the UK is outside the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy by the next set of Holyrood elections in 2021.

This move has been prompted by reports that the Prime Minister “will park the controversy over fishing rights until the negotiations on a future trade deal, which won’t start until next year”, and that EU negotiator Sabine Weyand had told European ambassadors that “would have to swallow a link between access to products and fisheries in future agreements” over market access.

As for their specific demands, they want all powers over fishing repatriated and then for the UK to be able to negotiate access and quotas “the EU and other third countries independently on an annual basis, without any pre-existing arrangement being in force”. That means no deal on fishing baked into the future partnership.

It isn’t yet clear how much of a problem this actually is, not least because we don’t know the precise details of the deal yet. Sam Coates reports that David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, and his colleagues might be satisfied simply with the Prime Minister confirming that Britain will be an ‘independent coastal state’ by 2020. So it could be a face-saving or PR exercise.

However, May’s problems with the Scottish Conservatives run deeper than fishing. According to the BBC both Mundell and Ruth Davidson both indicated only last month that they might resign from their roles if the Government proposed an exit deal which undermined the territorial integrity of the UK by imposing ‘special status’ on Northern Ireland. If the Democratic Unionists’ response is any indication, that seems to be the Prime Minister’s intention.

Ross Thomson, the arch-Brexiteer MP for Aberdeen South, has said this afternoon that he’ll vote against the deal – is May about to lose both her party’s leading Scots? Neither will be keen to leave, but both will lose credibility if they simply accept what just weeks ago was beyond the pale.

If they do go, the parliamentary arithmetic gets very tricky. Losing all 13 of the Government’s Scottish MPs, as well as all ten of its Northern Irish foederati, would do more than just bolster the ranks of the committed anti-agreement Brexiteers. It would also send a very strong message to every Conservative MP of unionist conscience about the implications of the deal for the future of the United Kingdom.