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Thursday 31 January 2019

It looks like some sort of compromise deal with the EU is cooking. For the reasons often outlined on this blog a real compromise is highly unlikely – either the Irish backstop is in the withdrawal treaty or it isn’t – however, Theresa May apparently reckons she only needs twenty Labour MPs onside to get a new deal through the House of Commons.

“New deal” is very much the operative word, as the prime minister hopes to entice these twenty pro-Brexit MPs representing deindustrialised Leave-voting constituencies in the North with cold hard cash.

“There’s a willingness to look again at coalfield communities and make good the promises that former Labour governments failed to deliver,” a senior government source told the Times.

“It’s about allowing Labour MPs representing Brexit communities to show that they have extracted something tangible in return for their vote. And, frankly, it’s not an unreasonable ask.”

Twenty-five of the Labour MPs who either abstained or voted against Yvette Cooper’s scandalous no-to-No-Deal amendment represent exactly these constituencies.

Unsurprisingly, the usual offer of continued alignment with EU employment and environmental standards is on the table too. On the eve of the withdrawal deal’s defeat in the Commons, May backed an amendment tabled by Labour MPs to this effect.

“Common sense would say let’s turn that intention [to protect rights] into legal text, legislation,” said obsessively pro-EU business secretary, Greg Clark on ITV’s Peston last night, later adding, “I’ve always thought when you have a 52-48 result in the referendum, you have to have a deal that respects the fact that it was close.” Oh dear.

The EU’s environmental crusade is deeply misguided. The Commission sees an opportunity to lead on the world stage in a way it cannot in other global affairs, its approach from the off has been heavy-handed, dealing with the issue on the domestic front in the only way it knows how, with mountains of regulation.

As pointed out in this brilliant article by Ambrose Evans Pritchard, the liberal consensus has got climate change all wrong, and the EU is no different. Even if electric vehicles take on in a big way, they will only cut new emissions by 1% at most, yet the EU places tremendous faith in them.

Inexplicably, May’s deal looks set to get worse, not better. Environmental regulations might only be the beginning. According to the same Times article, Jeremy Corbyn is slowly getting behind the government, his main preoccupation is making it look like he isn’t. After yesterday’s meeting at Number 10, the Labour leader described the exchange as “constructive”, Labour MPs later claimed there had been “serious engagement”.

This, added to statements made by Tory Brexiteers indicate the PM is not just nudging a little bit over to the Labour side to pick off a few MPs, but is instead making wholesale changes to her Brexit policy, transforming the backstop into permanent Customs Union membership, the only alternative the EU is putting on the table.

“We cannot leave the backstop. A permanent customs union you could leave,” said a said a senior Tory Brexiteer.

Astonishing. There is of course logic to the argument. The backstop is a trap, plain and simple, while a Customs Union membership like Turkey’s is set on even terms. Turkey can unilaterally withdraw. Under the backstop, the United Kingdom would not be able to do the same.

Nevertheless, Britain voted to leave the EU, of which the Customs Union is a huge component. remaining in the CU would be totally unacceptable (it seems ridiculous to have to even say as such). Furthermore, the primary motivation of many Tory MPs for leaving the EU is to regain trade independence, which is not permitted under the Customs Union.

More significantly, both sides are only contemplating the Customs Union (officially that is) because of the border in Ireland that we’re repeatedly told must remain infrastructure-free, but CU membership does not apply to agricultural goods. the Northern Irish economy is dominated by food production, which means staying in the Customs Union really means staying in the EU single market for goods as a whole, which is where most of those job-decimating EU regulations apply. The only benefit of such a deal would be the end of free movement, and that’s a small win considering how much fervour there is to leave the EU without terms (see Tweet of the day). The EU’s only net benefit to the UK economy is in services, not goods.

The only way forward is to push for a conventional trade deal by binning the backstop.

If you haven’t already, we strongly recommend Nigel Farage’s magnificent speech in the European Parliament yesterday (above).

“Many [members of the British public] will say, ‘we’re simply dealing with fanatics who are not prepared to be reasonable and make any sense of compromise’ and of course Theresa May has made compromise after compromise, way too many in my view,” said the former Ukip leader.

It is the European Union that is responsible for this situation. Mrs May has conceded at every turn. She cannot and should not concede any further, it is time for the EU to show it wants a deal. If it does not make a move in that direction it is no-one’s fault but theirs.