Esther McVey: How to deliver Brexit from here. We must prepare properly for no deal.

When I tried to focus these concerns by calling for a vote to see if this deal did indeed have the agreement of Cabinet, opposition crumbled – and my colleagues fell silent.

Esther McVey is a former Work and Pensions Secretary, and is MP for Tatton.

Resigning from Cabinet is often described as one of the most difficult decisions that a politician can make, but for me it was entirely logical.

From the outset, it was clear that the Withdrawal Agreement failed to honour the outcome of the EU referendum, secure our long-term economic independence and take full advantage of the UK leaving the constraints of the EU. How could I remain in the Cabinet knowing that?

I could not, hand on heart, sign up to a deal that sells the UK short. So keeping my job paled into insignificance compared to the enormity of the effects that this bad deal will have on the future prosperity of our country. Its effects will last far longer than any of our careers; it will shape the UK’s future for generations to come.

Concerns about the agreement around the Cabinet table were palpable, and the legal advice from Geoffrey Cox was damning.  This was the one chance that the Cabinet had to avert the UK accepting a bad deal.  But when I tried to focus these concerns by calling for a vote to see if this deal did indeed have the agreement of Cabinet, opposition crumbled – and my colleagues fell silent.

In politics, trust is paramount.  Once it is lost you cannot get it back.  Leaving the EU on the terms set out in the Withdrawal Agreement would see us lose public trust on the biggest issue of our age.  And we were risking that trust on an agreement which had zero chance of passing a vote in the Commons.

Even now, I find it hard to believe that my colleagues could not see that this deal was doomed from the outset. Since I left the Cabinet, I have watched with disbelief as events have unfolded – like everyone else.  The attempts to sell this fundamentally bad deal through a full Ministerial tour and PR campaign actually saw opposition harden.  The Government was left with no option this week but to pull the meaningful vote to avoid a defeat of historic proportions.

In her statement on the delay to the vote, the Prime Minister spoke of the need to provide ‘reassurances’ on the backstop for the Northern Irish Border.  This was a major misreading of the concerns which I and many others have over the backstop and of the deal which will see us hand over £39 billion with zero guarantees over a future trade agreement.

The Prime Minister has now won a confidence vote of Parliamentary colleagues, but it is clear there are significant concerns over what remains a bad deal for the UK.  However, rather than using this moment to reassess the Government’s approach to the terms of our exit, the Prime Minister continues to talk about seeking further reassurances.  Mere reassurances fall far short of addressing what is wrong with this deal. We need fundamental changes, including to the legally binding agreement.

The Prime Minister must now do what she should have done when it was clear that the deal she presented to Cabinet did not honour the outcome of the referendum, failed to secure our long term economic independence and risked missing the huge opportunities of leaving the constraints of the European Union.

She must use the clear domestic concerns about the agreement to push for two fundamental changes

  • That the backstop is ultimately unacceptable and must be removed and,
  • That the £39 billion must be linked to a future trade agreement.

The clock is ticking, so we simply do not have the time to pretend that, with a little bit of tinkering, this fundamentally bad deal can be made acceptable to the British people.  The more time we waste on an agreement which cannot meet the wishes of both sides, the more likely it is that we will default to an abrupt departure at the end of March.

t is better to focus our time, resources and energy on preparing a planned Brexit now and to come up with a clear plan for what will follow.  To continue with a charade that tweaking here and there and tacking on assurances will somehow make this flawed agreement better risks the Government failing properly to prepare for what comes next.

With little over three months remaining, we must pursue these two conditions with the EU and, if they are rejected, then we must accept that it has not been possible to secure a deal which satisfies the interests of both the UK and the EU.  In the event of this outcome, we must focus all our resources on securing an orderly exit from the EU.

Moving to a planned Brexit should follow these recommendations to ensure that it is as orderly as possible in the time that we have available:

  • Identify the pragmatic and tactical agreements based upon mutual interest which we can make with the EU and bi-laterally with individual member states to minimise disruption to both parties upon the UK’s exit from the European Union.
  • Put in place the contingency measures that we can begin to implement now, giving clarity to people and businesses. Immediately review all no deal planning conducted to date and scale up planning in key areas before 29 March to allow the UK to mitigate known areas of impact.
  • Negotiate a ‘no deal implementation period’, like the one in place for a deal situation, and pay the EU our membership fee during that time (circa £10 billion a per year net).
  • Identify investments in new systems, such as those in operation at the border which need to be implemented, scaled up or brought forward to support an orderly Brexit.
  • Begin immediate discussions with the Republic of Ireland on the operation of an open border post-Brexit, since both the UK and the Republic have committed to no hard border even in the event of no deal.
  • Start an immediate study of the policy changes needed to ensure the long-term competitiveness of the UK, including the reduction of burdensome regulations on business and, where required, divergence from the EU, while maintaining alignment in areas of national interest.
  • Issue immediate reassurance to all EU nationals residing in the UK to remove any doubts over their future and rights once the UK has left the EU.

Moving to a planned Brexit will allow us to reallocate the £39 billion to implement contingency measures, introduce new systems to ensure long term success and provide a cushion to those areas of the economy which need more time to adjust to the change.

It will also allow us to move beyond the discussion over the flawed backstop arrangement and look for practical solutions for the Northern Irish Border.  The EU has cynically used the backstop to leverage a deal which will allow them to keep the UK tied into their rules indefinitely.  Shifting the focus to a planned Brexit would give a clear focus on the practical arrangements that authorities on both sides of the border need to take to keep the border open.

The current Withdrawal Agreement does not fulfil our vote to leave the EU, is not in our economic interests and, ultimately, its inherent flaws mean that it increases the chances of the UK defaulting into an abrupt no deal Brexit.

It is increasingly clear that an alternative approach is required.  Some have suggested that Norway, ‘Norway for now’, Norway Plus or EFTA/EEA membership could present that alternative, yet this would keep us even more closely tied to the EU and would genuinely ensure that we remain in the EU in all but name. This is not delivering on the referendum and would destroy the public’s faith in democracy.

Without agreement from the EU that it is willing to remove the backstop and accept that the £39 billion payment must be linked to a future trade agreement, a planned and orderly Brexit as outlined above is the only option which prioritises our economic interests, is achievable within the time frame left and which actually delivers on the public vote to leave.

Henry Hill: The strange Scottish Conservative rebellion against the Withdrawal Agreement

If you’d had to guess which of their MPs would rebel on the deal, Lamont and Ross wouldn’t have made the top six.

Readers of this column will be aware that the Scottish Conservatives have shown signs of strategic confusion in the run-up to the (now postponed) ‘meaningful vote’ on Theresa May’s withdrawal deal.

This culminated in David Mundell and Ruth Davidson both threatening to resign if the Prime Minister gave way on the EU’s demands for differential treatment for Northern Ireland… only to perform a screeching u-turn when she did, in fact, give way after all.

Aside from a nasty barb about ‘carpet baggers’, the justifications offered to support this shift (to the extent that it was acknowledged as a shift at all) were deeply unconvincing. Whilst talk of a ‘union state’ might have served as a reason not to worry about the backstop in the first place, it doesn’t justify dramatically changing one’s mind on it in the space of a month.

Given the paucity of plausible reasons for the change of heart, and the sheer unexpectedness of their initial threats to resign, one possible explanation does suggest itself: pitch-rolling.

By putting down markers about their staunch opposition to the deal on unionist grounds, and then backing it, Mundell and Davidson could use their unionist bona fides to shield May and shut down her unionist critics.

That’s only conjecture, of course, but it is worth bearing in mind as we consider the next strange development in this story: the surprise rebellions of John Lamont and Douglas Ross against the Withdrawal Agreement.

Why is this a surprise? Because both MPs are on the ‘Davidsonite’ wing of the party. Lamont used to be her chief whip in the Scottish Parliament, and was one of the architects behind the Scottish Tories’ now-disintegrating pooled-staffing arrangement at Westminster. Ross, meanwhile, has been talked about in some quarters as her preferred successor, at least before he got into Parliament.

All the evidence suggests that this tendency is backing the withdrawal deal. Adam Tomkins MSP, a constitutional law professor and close ally of Davidson, has been sent out to claim that the unionist case against the backstop has been ‘destroyed’ (spoiler: no it hasn’t) and Paul Masterton, another ally and the MP who helped coordinate the Holyrood powers-grab during the passage of the Withdrawal Act, has joined in Mundell’s attacks on “English nationalists” playing at unionism.

Yet all of a sudden Ross Thomson, who had until now been ploughing a very lonely furrow as the sole Scottish Conservative rebel on the Withdrawal Agreement, finds himself joined not by any of his colleagues who have previously supported European Research Group manoeuvres (Colin Clark, Alister Jack, and Stephen Kerr to name but three) but by these two loyalists.

If you subscribe to the ‘cock-up’ view of the Mundell u-turn, this is evidence that this wing of the Scottish Tories is losing its strategic cohesion in a really remarkable way.

But there are also a couple of reasons not to discount the ‘conspiracy’ version: that this is a second round of pitch-rolling, with Lamont and Ross preparing to ‘do a Mundell’ in order to give whatever form of words the Prime Minister comes back with some credibility. Neither declared their hand until after the Government had pulled the ‘meaningful vote’ on Monday morning, nor has either been explicit about what changes they would need to see in order to support the deal.

Whatever the truth of it, however, this decision poses sharp questions for their colleagues. Opposition to the deal on unionist grounds can no longer be presented as a mere flag of convenience for committed Brexiteers.

WATCH: Dodds says Democratic Unionists are “abiding by our side of the bargain”

“We entered into the confidence and supply agreement in relation to supporting Brexit on the basis of our shared priorities.”

Stephen Booth: The backstop. It’s problematic for the EU as well as the UK – whatever you’re told to the contrary.

There is real concern in some capitals that the UK can use the backstop to secure privileged access to the Single Market in goods with, over time, a competitive advantage.

Stephen Booth is Director of Policy and Research at Open Europe.

The so-called “backstop” is understandably the most controversial aspect of the Brexit deal parliament will begin debating this week. It is certainly less than perfect, but it offers the UK far more than its fiercest critics suggest. It provides an exit route from the EU, would free the UK from many of its current obligations, and provides a platform from which we can improve our position in future. It creates genuine problems for Northern Ireland, but also the potential to act as the gateway for securing free trade in goods with the EU.

Although billed simply as an insurance policy against a hard border in Ireland, it is actually quite likely that, following the standstill transition, the backstop will provide the basis for the UK-EU relationship as negotiations over the future relationship continue. So what would this mean?

Importantly, the backstop is a much looser relationship than membership of the Single Market and would turn off the tap of almost all new EU rules. The UK will take on the stock of existing EU legislation, but would be able to amend much of these laws applying in Great Britain in future. Northern Ireland would need to maintain and update the rules set out in the backstop, which might lead to some degree of regulatory divergence across the Irish Sea, but (other than for food and agricultural products where there are already checks) necessary checks would primarily be done in the marketplace and all by UK authorities. Brexit inevitably means some degree of special arrangements for Northern Ireland, which otherwise would either move away from the UK (upsetting Unionists) or away from Ireland (upsetting Nationalists). But, importantly, the UK can veto any attempt by the EU to widen the scope of the backstop by applying new rules to Northern Ireland.

At a stroke, we would be free to set our own rules on the biggest area of our economy – services, which account for nearly 80 per cent of GDP. The free movement of people would no longer apply and the UK could set its own immigration policy for EU and non-EU nationals. The UK would be required to maintain a floor of standards and protections in areas such as employment law and environmental policy, but could achieve these in new ways that better suited its economy. The UK would not be compelled to make any financial contributions to the EU other than for those programmes it chooses to take part in.

By establishing a UK-wide customs union, the backstop would limit the UK’s independence in trade policy. For services, we could potentially do independent or deeper trade deals than the EU, but we would need to align with EU tariffs and agreements for goods. Over the long-term, a customs union is unlikely to be politically sustainable and greater independence would be desirable. The EU has also agreed at political level that the UK will regain independence over its trade policy in future. However, it is also true that the UK’s customs systems are not yet ready and a period of time in some form of customs union after the end of the 21-month standstill transition was likely to be inevitable under a negotiated deal.

While the UK has secured many advantages, some aspects of the backstop are certainly hard to swallow. But the EU has also paid a high price for its insistence on a backstop. The UK’s commitments to maintain EU standards are far weaker than many member states would want and there is real concern in some capitals that the UK can use the backstop to secure privileged access to the Single Market in goods with very few obligations and, over time, at a competitive advantage. This is why, despite the lack of a firm time limit in the backstop, the EU is very unlikely to want to live with the arrangement indefinitely.

It is clear that the Government faces an uphill struggle to get this Brexit deal approved by Parliament. Presumably rejection of the deal on 11 December would set the stage for some last-minute haggling in Brussels and tweaks before Theresa May tries to convince MPs a second time around. However, it is also clear that the EU will not accept a deal without a backstop for Northern Ireland. And, if the UK does seek changes, it could prompt the EU to reopen issues such as fishing rights. Ultimately, the choice remains whether to accept a deal with a backstop or reject it.

No Deal is the theoretical default if this deal cannot be ratified, but the parliamentary arithmetic might suggest a softer form of Brexit along the lines of ‘Norway-plus’ is a more likely outcome, although that is far from a simple path. The truth is no one can predict what would happen. This is why both sides of the debate should consider carefully the merits of the compromise on offer before risking a much worse outcome in search of their ideal.

Henry Newman: May’s deal could be saved with prompt improvements – such as a Stormont lock

Giving Northern Ireland a say over the introduction of new EU laws would at least introduce a measure of democracy into the system.

Henry Newman is Director of Open Europe.

Last week, I set out how the Prime Minister should seek improvements to the Brexit deal before Sunday’s Brexit summit. She got halfway there. On the Political Declaration, she succeeded in substantially improving the document – achieving a clear choice between a Canada plus arrangement, and a closer Chequers minus plan, with Canada plus as the default. However, she did not secure changes to the Withdrawal Agreement. The ineluctable problem she now faces is that when Parliament rejects her deal on the 11th December she will have a tough choice: seek further changes in Brussels or prepare for No Deal.

Both the UK and EU will be extremely reluctant to change agreed texts, but they may be left with little alternative if Parliament says no. We have been here before – David Cameron’s deal worked in the theory of Brussels, but fell apart on contact with Westminster politics. Theresa May’s deal is actually better than I had expected in various ways. Yet even in areas where she has secured victories, Downing Street is failing to cut through noisy cries of betrayal. And because MPs have begun to doubt her motives, the Prime Minister faces an uphill battle to explain how the deal would work.

The most egregious part of the deal remains the Northern Ireland backstop. Yet the only path to a Brexit which certainly avoids a backstop is not Norway plus or Super Canada but No Deal. Those demanding that the Prime Minister simply insist that she won’t accept a backstop haven’t paid enough attention to Brussels. And it’s far from clear that changing Prime Minister would make anything easier. It would probably further radicalise the Commission against softening its position.

But without changes the deal seems certain to fail in the Commons. Since the Cabinet meeting which first approved this divorce deal on the 14th November, there has been disagreement amongst May’s inner circle as to whether to seek further changes. Her senior team tell me that the EU is not going to start the negotiations all over again. Yes. But that’s not quite the same as saying that, in extremis, modest but material changes are off the table. European diplomats have no real plan B, but then neither does the Government – other than No Deal.

One of the changes I’ve proposed to the backstop is a Stormont “lock” – a mechanism for consulting the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive, the institutions of the 1998 Belfast (or Good Friday) Agreement, about new regulatory barriers within the UK. Back in December both the UK and EU agreed a Joint Report, paragraph 50 of which noted that in the backstop “the United Kingdom will ensure that no new regulatory barriers develop between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, unless, consistent with the 1998 Agreement, the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly agree that distinct arrangements are appropriate for Northern Ireland”. For some reason, this dropped out of the final text. It should be re-introduced.

How would a Stormont lock work? The purpose would be to create a mechanism to question new EU acts – it would specifically address the flow of new rules, not the stock. It would only apply if the UK was in the backstop, and if the Assembly was restored. It could be designed so it gave an option to vote against a new rule, rather than requiring affirmative votes on every new rule.  You could require a strong majority vote to trigger the lock (although that could entail reforms to the petition of concern process).

There are already areas where there are different rules in Northern Ireland compared to the rest of the United Kingdom – for example on same-sex marriage and abortion (although Northern Ireland could choose to align with Great Britain in those areas). In future, if the backstop was in place, there might be areas where it made sense for Northern Ireland to choose to diverge from Great Britain, and instead align with EU rules covering the rest of the island of Ireland. This would likely be the case, for example, on rules affecting the single energy market or agricultural standards.

What is not acceptable is for new rules and regulations to be imposed over the heads of Northern Ireland’s elected representatives without an ability to say no. That’s not devolution, and it’s not democratic. And it’s not clear how imposing rules on Northern Ireland would be compatible with the European Convention of Human Rights. The landmark Matthews v United Kingdom (1999) case found that people have to have representation in a legislature enacting laws. Karen Bradley, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, recognises concerns about the backstop, saying “rules in Northern Ireland cannot change without rules changing either here in Westminster or Stormont. They cannot be automatically changed by another third party” [i.e. Brussels].

So what would happen if Stormont voted against a new EU rule? The issue would be referred to the Joint Committee comprised of UK and EU representatives. Under the existing terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, the Joint Committee already has to agree every new EU ‘act’ which would apply to Northern Ireland. So under Theresa May’s deal the UK can already resist new regulations, directives and decisions from the EU which would have to be applied in Northern Ireland. But an explicit role for Stormont should be added.

If the Stormont lock was engaged the Joint Committee could take several possible steps. One would be just to not apply the new act in Northern Ireland (nor, of course, in the rest of the United Kingdom) while working to resolve any issues this created. Another option would be, with the consent of the UK Parliament, to apply the act across the whole UK (meaning Westminster voting to keep the UK in step with the EU). A third option could be for the the Irish Republic to decide to seek a derogation from the EU for that new act. There are already existing EU precedents for this – for example, Malta has provisions limiting the purchase of second homes.

We are now in the unhappy position where the current deal has satiated the concerns of the nationalist community and the Irish Republic (who nonetheless remain opposed to Brexit), but has left Unionists (the DUP, the UUP, and others) unhappy. This is highly problematic because the deal could put at risk the principle of consent which was at the heart of the Belfast Agreement – precisely the agreement that the EU was claiming to be so concerned to protect by creating the backstop in the first place. A Stormont lock would go some way to addressing these concerns.

WATCH: Foster days DUP would review confidence and supply agreement if May’s deal passes

“The deal was signed to deliver on Brexit, and to do that in a way that had shared principles between the Democratic Unionist Party and the Conservative Party.”

The UK “will leave the European Union. We will then begin a new chapter in our national life.” May’s letter – full text

“I will be campaigning with my heart and soul to win that vote and to deliver this Brexit deal, for the good of our United Kingdom and all of our people.”

When I became your Prime Minister the United Kingdom had just voted to leave the European Union. From my first day in the job, I knew I had a clear mission before me – a duty to fulfil on your behalf: to honour the result of the referendum and secure a brighter future for our country by negotiating a good Brexit deal with the EU. Throughout the long and complex negotiations that have taken place over the last year and a half, I have never lost sight of that duty.

Today, I am in Brussels with the firm intention of agreeing a Brexit deal with the leaders of the other 27 EU nations. It will be a deal that is in our national interest – one that works for our whole country and all of our people, whether you voted ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’.

It will honour the result of the referendum. We will take back control of our borders, by putting an end to the free movement of people once and for all. Instead of an immigration system based on where a person comes from, we will build one based on the skills and talents a person has to offer. We will take back control of our money, by putting an end to vast annual payments to the EU. Instead, we will be able to spend British taxpayer’s money on our own priorities, like the extra £394 million per week that we are investing in our long-term plan for the NHS. And we will take back control of our laws, by ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK. In future, our laws will be made, interpreted and enforced by our own courts and legislatures.

We will be out of EU programmes that do not work in our interests: out of the Common Agricultural Policy, that has failed our farmers, and out of the Common Fisheries Policy, that has failed our coastal communities. Instead, we will be able to design a system of agricultural support that works for us and we will be an independent coastal state once again, with full control over our waters.

The deal also protects the things we value. EU citizens who have built their lives in the United Kingdom will have their rights protected, as will UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU. A free trade area will allow goods to flow easily across our borers, protecting the many skilled obs right across the country that rely on integrated supply-chains. Because our European friends will always be our allies in the fight against terrorism and organised crime, the deal will ensure that security cooperation will continue, so we can keep our people safe.

As Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, I have from day one been determined to deliver a Brexit deal that works for every part of our country – for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, for our Overseas Territories like Gibraltar, and also for the Crown Dependencies. This deal will do that. Crucially, it will protect the integrity of our United Kingdom and ensure that there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland – so people can live their lives as they do now.

It is a deal for a brighter future, which enables us to seize the opportunities that lie ahead. Outside the EU, will will be able to sign new trade deals with other countries and open up new markets in the fastest-growing economies around the world. With Brexit settled, we will be able to focus our energies on the many other important issues facing us here at home: keeping our economy strong, and making sure every community shares in prosperity; securing our NHS for the future, giving every child a great start in life, and building the homes that families need; tackling the burning injustices that hold too many people back, and building a country for the future that truly works for everyone.

On 29 March next year, the United Kingdom will leave the European Union. We will then begin a new chapter in our national life. I want that to be a moment of renewal and reconciliation for our whole country. It must mark the point when we put aside the lavels of ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ for good and we come together again as one people. To do that we need to get on with Brexit now by getting behind this deal.

Parliament will have the chance to do that in a few weeks’ time when it has a meaningful vote on the deal I hope to strike today. I will be campaigning with my heart and soul to win that vote and to deliver this Brexit deal, for the good of our United Kingdom and all of our people.”

Keep your eyes fixed on the Withdrawal Agreement, which would be backed by law. Not on this Political Declaration. Which wouldn’t.

A staple of stagecraft magic is misdirection. While his audience is gawping at one thing, the magician is swiftly doing another. So it may be now.

Bobby Locke, the South African golfer, said that “you drive for show but you putt for dough”.  At first glance, what may be true of golf is true of the proposed Brexit deal’s Political Declaration, now expanded from a slim seven pages to a slightly longer 26.  By contrast, the Withdrawal Agreement runs to 585 pages.

This points to the essence of the proposed deal. The Withdrawal Agreement is for dough.  In other words, it means business: it will be legally enforceable, if agreed to.  The Political Declaration, by contrast, is not.  It is, ultimately, for show.  “Ambitious, broad, deep and flexible partnership…common European heritage…shared values…unique context”: all the cliches of official-ese are present, but the Declaration, unlike the Agreement, will not be enforceable before a court.

For this reason, we won’t probe it at the length we afforded to the Withdrawal Agreement.  Instead, we return to a core observation we made about the latter.  The UK has scored some tactical wins in these negotiations, some of them with striking implications, but the EU has won the strategic victory.  From the start, it has offered a choice: between a kind of Norway-plus-customs union option, or a sort of Canada-minus-Northern Ireland option.

In sum, the Declaration reflects this offer.  Considered as a whole, the deal will have the effect, if Parliament approves it, of turning the Conservative Party into a kind of pushmepullyou, as James Forsyth suggests today.  On the one hand, its Eurosceptic instincts will pull it in the direction of the Canadian-type option; on the other, its Unionist beliefs will push it towards the Norwegian-shaped one – since most Tories will not want to widen the customs and regulatory gap which the Agreement opens up between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

True, there is a minority strand in Conservative thinking that would let the latter go its own way.  But it is not possible simply to hive the province off, even were this desirable (which it isn’t): the preservation of Northern Ireland in the EU’s customs and regulatory arrangements, without the province’s elected representatives having a future say in them, would have dangerous knock-on effects on the British Isles as whole.  Furthermore, the implications for Scotland are considerable – and baleful.

British statecraft has kept the Union together for over two hundred years.  No Tory MP should vote for a deal that endangers it, as this one does.  And while the wins for either side the EU in the Agreement are bankable, those in this Declaration are not.  Take fishing as an example.  On the one hand, the Declaration envisages Britain as an independent coastal state, in control of its own waters.  On the other, it envisages a new fishing agreement with “access to water and coastal shares”.

As with immigration, this represents change in principle (though how much in practice is being disputed).  But there is a difference: migration is essentially covered by the enforceable Agreement, not this unenforceable Declaration.  It is otherwise with fishing.  Similarly, the Declaration contains some warm words about finding “alternative arrangements” to the backstop.  But, again, the backstop is set out in the Agreement; this nod to MaxFac is restricted to the Declaration.

We see little in the last to keep alive the Chequers dream of a separation between manufacturing and services.  Nor does it envisage trade arrangements which end friction rather than minimise it.  The implication is that the less friction in trade the UK wants, the more EU alignment and migration it must take: that’s the theology of the four freedoms at work.  The deal as a whole separates these slightly, but the EU will resist them coming apart.

A staple of magicians’ stagecraft is misdirection.  While his audience is gawping at one thing, the magician is swiftly doing another.  So it may be with the Declaration.  Even as politicians, analysts and journalists prod and poke at it, don’t rule out, during the run-up to this weekend’s summit, a sudden flourish on the Agreement – a dramatic concession on the backstop (say), whether substantial or meaningless, aimed at collapsing backbench resistance to the deal.

Finally, we apologise to Locke.  We said that at first glance the Declaration is for show, and so it is.  But on reflection, like the Agreement, it’s for dough, too – all £39 billion of it.

Henry Hill: Hammond and Johnson set to appear at the DUP conference

Also: Jones criticised for shielding ministers from independent scrutiny; and Mundell’s bizarre pop at ‘carpet-bagging’ colleagues.

Hammond and Johnson set to appear at DUP conference

One of the big stories this week has been the apparent disintegration of the Government’s working majority in the House of Commons, with the Democratic Unionists vowing to ‘fight dirty’ to defeat the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal.

In turn, Theresa May has appointed to the Northern Irish Office a new minister whose only rebellion in this Parliament was on the question of abortion in the Province just last month. Clearly, relations with Downing Street are fraying.

Yet the Ulster party have made pains to stress that their arrangement is with the Conservative Party, rather than Theresa May, and despite the mounting tensions it appears that at least two senior Tories are scheduled to address the DUP conference this weekend.

The Belfast Telegraph reports these to be Boris Johnson and, much more surprisingly, Philip Hammond. The Chancellor will surely face questions about his remarks this week that the backstop, upon which the Government’s deal appears to be foundering, is not “a good arrangement for our Union”.

Meanwhile Leo Varadkar, the Irish leader, has accused the DUP of prioritising the integrity of the United Kingdom even at the expense of “a lesser world”.

Jones criticised for shielding ministers from independent scrutiny

Carwyn Jones has come in for more criticism over his handling of the Carl Sargeant scandal this week, after deciding that complaints against his top team “shouldn’t be treated like complaints against normal AMs”.

Wales Online reports that the proposal was one of a number of recommendations from a report into how the Welsh Assembly can improve its handling of complaints.

At present, complaints against regular AMs are investigated by the Standards Commissioner. But as the BBC explains, when the individual in question is a minister it is up to the First Minister to decide whether or not they have breached their code of conduct.

Defending the decision, the Welsh Government claimed that involving the Standards Commissioner in the oversight of ministers would lead to “ambiguity of accountability”.

Oversight of the executive has come under scrutiny in Cardiff in the aftermath of the Carl Sargeant scandal, during which the First Minister was alleged to have misled AMs and presided over a “culture of bullying” inside the government.

Mundell’s strange attack on unionist ‘carpet baggers’

One of the stranger sub-plots of the ongoing pile-up that is the Government’s withdrawal deal is the strange tale of David Mundell and the ‘carpet-baggers’.

The Scottish Secretary used this phrase to attack Dominic Raab and other former ministers who resigned in protest against the backstop. As The Times reports: “In an extraordinary statement, Mr Mundell said that he was “not taking lessons on standing up for our United Kingdom from carpet-baggers” who had a new-found concern for the integrity of the UK.”

If this were just one of the Cabinet’s higher-profile unionists attacking converts to a cause which needs as many as it can get, it would be strange enough. But in fact, both Mundell and Ruth Davidson actually threatened to resign themselves if the Government’s withdrawal deal involved differential treatment for Northern Ireland – and just last month, too.

As I set out on Twitter, no adequate explanation for this u-turn has been forthcoming and the very thing the Scottish Conservatives were most concerned about – Scottish (and Welsh!) nationalists using the backstop to bolster the case for independence – is underway

If the Scottish Secretary really did share Raab et al’s concerns about the backstop, and has since had those concerns assuaged, he would surely to greater service to the Government by explaining his reasoning – and reassuring anxious colleagues – than mounting over-the-top, ad hominem attacks on people who have, after all, only done what he himself said he’d do in response to the deal we face.

In happier news, a new poll on Scottish independence – using the same wording as the 2016 referendum on EU membership – found Scots would reject separation from the United Kingdom by a wide margin, according to the Scotsman.

This comes as Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, met with both her Welsh counterparts (institutional, and political) to discuss Brexit strategy ahead of the upcoming crunch vote on the Withdrawal Agreement.

David Shiels: Technological solutions. A greater role for the Assembly. How May could yet win over the DUP.

Rather than going over the heads of the Unionist parties, the Government needs to find a way to address their concerns.

Dr David Shiels is a Policy Analyst at Open Europe and also works on contemporary political history.

It is not a happy time for the relationship between the Conservative Party and the DUP. The latter’s decision to abstain on a number of amendments to the Finance Bill and to vote for one Labour amendment on Monday was intended to send a ‘political message’ to the Government. The DUP has stopped short of formally withdrawing from the Confidence and Supply arrangement, but has arguably broken it. The party’s MPs make no secret of their desire to see a change in the Government’s direction – hence the declaration that the agreement is between parties, rather than between leaders. At a time when many Conservative MPs are in a rebellious mood, DUP MPs may feel that they have some leeway in terms of their commitments under that agreement anyway.

While the DUP’s opposition to the existing Withdrawal Agreement at Westminster is steadfast, the party is coming under increasing criticism for its attitude towards Brexit in Northern Ireland. Business leaders there have taken the almost unprecedented step of coming out against the party on a major policy issue, indicating their support for the Withdrawal Agreement. Importantly, the Ulster Farmers’ Union has also come out in support of the Agreement, whereas it had stopped short of taking a Remain position during the referendum in 2016. This is particularly significant, given the perception that many Unionist farmers privately supported Brexit.

After many months of saying as little as possible about specific arrangements for Northern Ireland, the Government also seems to have found its voice. Karen Bradley’s speech in Belfast on Monday – her first major intervention on Brexit – was a robust defence of the Agreement, and a signal that the Government is prepared to bypass the DUP and appeal directly to public opinion. If anything, the DUP is likely to harden its opposition to the Agreement in the coming weeks, but there is a growing sense that the party has been caught on the back foot over the issue. The Ulster Unionist Party leader, Robin Swann, has accused the DUP of being ‘asleep at the wheel’, and has suggested that the party has ‘failed in their primary duty to protect the integrity of the Union and its people.’

Meanwhile, the pro-Remain parties in Northern Ireland have put forward a convincing case in favour of special treatment for the region. Although Sinn Fein MPs do not take their seats at Westminster, the party has claimed that they are standing up for their constituents where it matters – in Dublin and in Brussels. The Government’s preparedness to breach the DUP’s ‘red lines’ over the backstop helps Sinn Fein to make their point, which is that Northern Ireland’s MPs have little influence anyway.

At the same time, there are many other voices in academia, the media and business who argue that the DUP has been inconsistent in its opposition to special treatment for Northern Ireland – pointing to different rules on abortion, same sex marriage and a range of other issues. The argument that ‘Northern Ireland is different anyway’ is persuasive. By seeking to make any GB-NI checks as unobtrusive as possible, the EU has persuaded many that it has gone some way to meeting Unionist concerns. The view that the backstop offers Northern Ireland the ‘best of both worlds’ is widely held and, according to reported comments by the Prime Minister, the EU is concerned that the arrangements would give Northern Ireland a competitive advantage.

The Irish Government also insists that it is not seeking to open up the question of Northern Ireland’s status as part of the United Kingdom – even though Unionists believe the backstop threatens to undermine Northern Ireland’s relationship with Great Britain within the United Kingdom. The latter’s objections to the backstop also revolve around the democratic and constitutional implications of Northern Ireland potentially being subject to EU rules in the longer-term, without the ability to amend or refuse them. This point has been hard to get across to audiences in Great Britain and there is a feeling that the party had taken for granted that its objections to the backstop would be understood.

There remains, of course, a possibility that the DUP’s opposition will see off the backstop, either now by helping to defeat the Withdrawal Agreement in Parliament or at a later date, during the negotiations on the future relationship. Although the party is unhappy with things as they stand, its persistence has at least ensured that some of the more objectionable aspects of the EU’s February proposal have been removed. There may yet be some way that the Government can secure further assurances for Northern Ireland, either in terms of beefed-up commitments to find a technological solution for the border, or by securing a role for the Northern Ireland Assembly as a democratic lock on the backstop. For the DUP, there remains the ‘nuclear option’ of triggering a confidence vote in the Government, or coming as near as they can to doing so in order to persuade Conservative MPs to change their leader.

It may be that the DUP will be proven right in the end – that influence at Westminster does matter and that Unionist objections to the backstop cannot be overridden. At the same time, it seems unlikely that Theresa May or any other Prime Minister could secure any fundamental changes to the backstop. Rather than going over the heads of the DUP and the other Unionist parties, the Government needs to find a way to address their concerns and bring them along as far as possible. This is necessary not just to deliver the Agreement through Parliament, but also because any deal that is seen as a defeat for Unionism will make it harder to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland. At this stage, too, DUP MPs need to think about what sort of arrangements they can live with, rather than re-opening the whole negotiation. They have grounds for complaint against the backstop as it stands, which remains objectionable from a Unionist point of view. But the alternative of No Deal would be extremely hard to defend in Northern Ireland, given the short-term consequences of such an outcome.