A year on from Theresa May’s joint report with the European Commission, which strictly set the terms for the withdrawal negotiation, we find ourselves exactly where we expected to be. 2018 has been tumultuous, but the bigger picture has not altered a jot.
In December last year, Mrs May pledged to avoid any “physical infrastructure” at the border in Ireland. This assurance became known as the backstop. If Britain didn’t find a way of devising a customs system in Ireland devoid of visible checks, the province in the North would effectively be forced out of our historic Union in order to remain in Europe’s dysfunctional one.
With the likelihood of Brussels ever accepting a so-called Max-Fac high tech customs system amounting to less than zero, May’s preliminary agreement with Brussels consigned Northern Ireland to both the EU’s Customs Union and the Single Market forever, or at least until the bloc finally fails.
Upon acceding to the Conservative Party leadership in July 2016 May announced herself a committed Unionist. Even without the DUP propping up her government, she would never agree to splitting off one of the four nations, meaning all of the United Kingdom would have to remain trapped in the two overlapping zones. Twelve months later, this is precisely the arrangement an embittered electorate is faced with.
But as we all know, Parliament stands in the way of her wretched withdrawal deal, and the odds of it moving out of the way are reassuringly long. If the deal fails, Britain will leave the EU on the people’s terms, dictated to the establishment way back in June 2016. This is our constant strength. The Remainers need to score victories to avoid defeat. Ironically, their only win thus far, the meaningful vote, has rescued us from May’s dreadful deal. All we need to do is hold out.
The prospect of a No Deal rose to the top of the agenda for all sides this week as the government burst inboxes across the country with information on how to soften the landing of a sovereign withdrawal while taking the pleasing decision of removing the phrase “unlikely event” from its no deal communications.
On Tuesday, the Cabinet met to step up contingency planning. With a clean withdrawal finally being taken seriously Brexiteers were finally given the opportunity to explain why the irresponsible panic stoked by Remainers is grossly inflated. The charge was led by Dominic Raab. You can read our roundup here.
It mainly drills down to Britain being a mass importer. Whatever happens on the EU side, we have the means to facilitate access to the goods and services we need. The flipside of that relationship is of course European dependency on our demand, a fact blasted out loud and clear by the European Commission on Wednesday with its publication of no deal assurances.
Britain will be able to land its goods exports in the EU, flights will not be disrupted and most humiliatingly, the majority of financial assets will continue to be traded on current terms for at least twelve months – access to the European financial markets has been a regrettably effective stick for the EU to whack our trembling elites with. As suspected, it turns out Brussels was bluffing, those twelve months will be extended interminably.
The other bluff to get exposed was the backstop as the Irish government was forced to admit it would keep the border open in the event of a no deal.
“No Deal means no hard border so no need for the backstop,” tweeted Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Mrs May no longer has an excuse not to revert to her original position of a conventional trade deal, which lest we forget was a manifesto promise. Brussels and Dublin’s positions are entrenched, they are unlikely to dismiss the backstop before March 29, but that’s a blessing. The pathway forward is now clearer than ever: leave without terms, restore the leverage lost by May, strike a deal that serves our interest.
The Remainer argument has collapsed, but you can’t reason with fanatics. The double blow served by their own allies in Brussels and Dublin has only reinforced their resolve to avoid a no deal at all cost. As usual, this is where our insulated parliament comes in.
Labour bears much of the blame for the Commons chaos. The Parliamentary Labour Party want to Remain in the EU, but the leadership want a general election. The former cannot mobilise until the latter’s hopes are extinguished.
Both aspirations rely on at least some Tory support, but Conservative Brexiteers will not betray their party in a no confidence vote, and it appears Remainers won’t either – Nicky Morgan and Jonathan Djanogly have publicly stated they’ll put party before Brexit. But that suits their intentions. As soon as Corbyn fails to muster a majority against the government a second referendum is on.
Unsurprisingly Corbyn’s effort to rock the prime minister with a no confidencevote in her rather than her government at the beginning of the week failed to land a blow. The opposition had run out of motions to table before Parliament rose for Christmas recess meaning they had to call a real no confidence vote or wait until the New Year to put their phoney one to the floor. Naturally, Labour did a May and kicked the can. Eventually, Corbyn will have to do the real thing.
But until then, patriots can approach the Christmas break knowing they’re on top. The party stocked with Brexiteers is the one in government, backed by the hardy Ulster Unionists. Meanwhile, the Remain side struggles to execute their slimming options as the clock ticks down to Independence Day.
Happy Christmas, here’s to a sovereign New Year.