In a previous article in these pages (Battle of Britain, Mk II, 1 Dec 2018) I argued that the European Union, as past masters of the art of whipping up demand for re-runs of referenda decisions not to its liking, had successfully narrowed down public debate in the UK to just three Brexit alternatives; the joint EU-UK withdrawal agreement; ‘crashing out’ on a No-Deal basis; or no Brexit at all. Their strategy would then be to knock-out the first two alternatives, leaving ‘no Brexit at all’ as the sole option.
I described the joint EU-UK withdrawal agreement as a shockingly bad deal for Britain; so unreasonable as to fall within the Wednesbury definition of that term; and indeed so bad that it raised suspicions that its content had been deliberately drafted by the parties with the intention of being unacceptable to the UK parliament.
This was confirmed six weeks later when on the first ‘meaningful vote’ on 15 January the House of Commons rejected the agreement by the massive majority of 432 votes to 202.
Since then Mrs May has been on another of her peripatetic tours around Europe, this time including Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt, begging EU leaders for baksheesh in the form of a few crumbs that she can dress up as the full sandwich to put before her parliament.
She is due to to submit this revised version to the House for a second meaningful vote on 12 March. It is highly unlikely that any ‘tweaks’ she might announce will be sufficient to avoid another heavy defeat. For the EU this will mean ‘one down, two to go’.
The main reason, and there are many others, that the withdrawal agreement is so unacceptable to parliament is, of course, because of the terms of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland (‘the Irish backstop’). The agreement wholly reflects the EU’s red-line position that it ‘be the insurance policy that guarantees that whatever the circumstances there will be no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland and that the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement 1998 will be protected in all its dimensions, as well as North-South co-operation and the all-island economy’.
It then uses that position to require that the EU and the UK be a Single Customs Territory in which the UK will align its tariffs and rules to those of the EU (why bother leaving the EU at all?); that there be no tariffs, quotas and checks on rules of origin between the EU and UK (but seemingly not the reverse), except for fishing (so EU fleets can continue to over-fish UK coastal waters); and level playing field regulations to ensure fair competition (or to prevent the UK from gaining any competitive advantage). It further provides that in order to ensure that Northern Irish businesses can bring products into the EU’s single market without restrictions and without checks at the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland there would be a need for documentation and checks on goods travelling from the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland.
This is no mistake, this means that a ‘movement certificate’ would be required to move any goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. The arrogance on the part of the EU to dare to demand that the UK introduce internal customs controls is positively breathtaking. And, short of Quisling and Laval, can there be any more craven act of subservience than that by the UK government in even considering such an outrageous demand, much less accepting it?
Meanwhile, those determined that the result of the ‘people’s vote’ of June 2016, to leave the EU and become once more a self-governing nation, will never be allowed to happen, have switched their efforts to their next objective; that of ensuring that the option of leaving on a No-Deal basis is taken off the table.
There has been an unrelenting campaign of propaganda designed to discredit the very idea of ‘No Deal’. They have even coined the pejorative term ‘crashing out’ to describe such action.
As if the idea that the act of a sovereign nation leaving a supra-national club, after having given it two years’ notice in writing of its intention to do so, could ever be seriously described as ‘crashing out’.
Nevertheless all the ‘useful idiots’ from the ranks of international big business and Remainer politicians have been harnessed in support of the campaign to such effect that there is now believed to be a majority of MPs prepared to vote against leaving on a No-Deal basis.
Significantly, Mrs May gave an undertaking to the House on 26 February that if her withdrawal deal is rejected for a second time on 12 March, members would have the opportunity on the following day to vote on whether to leave with No Deal. Thus the EU is getting very close to being able to say ‘two down, one to go’.
However there is considerable push-back from those advocating that ‘No deal is the best deal’, including the excellent article by Tony Abbott in last week’s Speccie (‘No deal? No problem’, 2 March 2019) in which he says ‘A disorderly Brexit would mean, at most, a few months of inconvenience. Perhaps some modest transition costs. But these difficulties would quickly pass’.
It would also mean that the UK would not have to serve out any part of the minimum 21-month transition period in which it would otherwise be required to remain within the customs union and the single market, subject to all EU law, prohibited from initiating any international agreements with third countries, whilst all the time making payments to the EU as if still a member-state but with no representation.
If Prime Minister Theresa May wishes to discharge her responsibility to deliver Brexit as she has promised on so many occasions, she must reject the draft withdrawal agreement as being an unacceptable instrument of unconditional surrender, and must take immediate and irrevocable steps to leave the European Union on 29 March 2019 regardless as to whether there is an agreement with the EU or not.