Friday 27 July
Parliament went into recess this week, but not before Theresa May pulled another stunt to aggravate the 17.4 million. In true Westminster bubble style, the prime minister and her spin-doctors made the announcement she would be taking control of the withdrawal process from the Brexit secretary while the incumbent, Dominic Raab, spoke before the Commons EU Exit Committee.
Raab, who has only been in the job for two weeks, was flanked at the hearing by bureaucrat Olly Robbins, who has developed a mightily cosy relationship between both Mrs May and the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier.
No doubt May’s statement was intended to defuse the little and large spectacle in Parliament where the lumbering Robbins did nothing to dispel rumours he is the man with Britain’s destiny in his hands.
He is the architect of the abysmal “Chequers plan”. When questioned on the accompanying white paper and Raab’s predecessor David Davis’s more muscular alternative, ditched by Downing Street, the government’s Brexit “Sherpa” replied: “It’s certainly not a picture of the days and weeks leading up to Chequers that I, or more importantly the prime minister, would recognise.”
Raab, a soft Leaver, is now in the ludicrous position of leading the UK’s withdrawal in name only (sound familiar?) but Robbins will remain Britain’s man at the negotiating table, reporting directly to May.
“How can [Raab] accept the job when in a week you’ve effectively been demoted to bag carrier?” asked Nigel Farage.
The omens aren’t all bad however. Eurofanatics remain distressed over their failure to close out the possibility of a no deal. A very welcome curiosity of this tortuous negotiation is that the prospect of a clean and true withdrawal has not been diminished by the gifts laid out by Downing Street.
Yesterday, we inched further to real independence when Barnier ruled out the unworkable “facilitated customs arrangement” lying at the heart of the Chequers calamity, having already thrown out the financial services proposal, and thank heavens for that. Staying tied to the EU’s collapsing financial regime is a terrible idea.
Even worse was the customs proposal. Lacking both the technology and precedent to implement, it involves both the EU and the UK collecting tariffs on each other’s behalf. But Barnier is not having it.
“The EU cannot and the EU will not delegate the application of its customs policy, of its rules, VAT and excise duty collections to a non-member who would not be subject to the EU’s governance structures,” said Barnier.
Under different circumstances, Barnier would be guilty of more Brussels bullying, but his criticism of the proposal is shared by David Davis and Boris Johnson, both of whom resigned over the compromise.
In the face of a feckless opponent, Mr Barnier is going for the kill this summer. By the end he hopes to have kept Britain in the Customs Union. He is aided by France’s EU minister Nathalie Loiseau, who threatens a “brutal divorce” while keeping the “door open” for the UK to change its mind. “Sure. Of course” Britain can stay in the EU on the “same terms” she added.
Laughable. It is the EU that will suffer from a no deal. There is an opportunity here to make the case for a WTO arrangement: no courts, no regulations, no payments, no mass migration, nothing. “We ought not to be afraid of a world trade deal based on a World Trade Organisation (WTO) solution which is how we do 60% of our international trade already,” said Jacob Rees-Mogg this week. Indeed, it is not a question of being unafraid, but being excited by rediscovered independence. Europe is declining, that 60% will only get bigger.
But the arguments to be made go beyond the positives of a WTO-based relationship. On our present course we are due to pay at least £39bn and lose all autonomy over trade in goods and how those goods are regulated, meanwhile our courts are poised to be hijacked by EU case law. But more is to come. Mass migration from the EU is “a debate we still have to have in the UK in terms of policy,” said Liam Fox this week ominously, without threatening to resign if that debate was re-opened – and why on earth should it? Migration was a defining feature of the referendum.
He did however threaten to resign if Britain stayed in the Customs Union. What a joke. Whether he were to resign or not is irrelevant, in the event May and Robbins surrender to the CU the job of international trade secretary will cease to exist. Resigned or made redundant, what’s the difference?
Fox’s lame mutterings are also disappointing because there’s ground to be made on customs. The source of optimism? None other than our enemy, the EU. Odious Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has admitted that, in the event of the a no deal, “President Juncker and my EU colleagues have on many occasions said that they wouldn’t require us to put in place a physical infrastructure and customs checks on the Border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.”
Gotcha! Thus far, Brussels and Dublin have insisted a functioning border cannot have physical infrastructure, a bluff Theresa May fell for even though Varadkar’s predecessor Enda Kenny suggested customs controls could be undertaken away from the border with lighter trade, particularly in agricultural goods, exempted of checks entirely. This is the real backstop. When the pressure’s on, there’s always a solution, a universal fact of high politics that May simply does not understand.
The DUP of course do, and it was no surprise that Sammy Wilson MP was the only one to raise Varadkar potentially game-changing revelation at the at the Brexit hearing. Olly Robbins brushed it off. No one followed it up, least of all the media. Scandalous.
Finally, a YouGov poll this week found a resounding 59% of Brits view America as an important ally. France and Germany are way behind, both on 23%. The liberal media continue love to drive a wedge into the Atlantic but they cannot re-write history. The EU is just the latest empire to threaten these shores. Like the others, it will fail.