LEADING THE WAY OUT OF THE EU

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Wednesday 12 June 2019 

Boris Johnson now has twice as many MPs backing him for the Tory leadership, 76 compared to second-placed Michael Gove’s 31. Boris only needs 29 more endorsements to guarantee a spot on the final ballot going out to the party membership.

“I looked him in the eye, I’ve known him 20 years, and said, ‘Boris if you become prime minister, do you give me your word we’ll leave on the 31st of October, come hell or high water,’ and he said, ‘look, we’ve got to leave, otherwise the Tory Party are finished. We’re leaving,’ that’s what swung it for me,” said passionate Brexiteer Mark Francois yesterday.

Combined polling and analysis by ComRes and Electoral Calculus finds that the Tory party under Europhile Rory Stewart would win a measly 51 seats at the next election, to the benefit of the Brexit Party who would bag a staggering 252 seats. The scenario is completely reversed with Boris at the helm.

An important background revelation to the increasing likelihood of Johnson reaching Number 10 is yesterday’s story in the Sun that the EU is making preparations for alternative, technologically driven customs systems at the Irish border.

Ever since Theresa May’s joint report with the European Commission in December 2017, this blog has warned heavily of the dangers of a commitment to an infrastructure free Ireland. We’re not saying the flow of goods between North and South – in and out of the European Union, eventually – is impossible without checkpoints and cameras. The problem is that such a system is unprecedented, and the EU doesn’t like new things unless they fit into its federalist agenda, monetary union without fiscal integration being the obvious, tragic example.

But with the leverage of No Deal Brexit, the EU can of course be forced to reassess its position. Unfortunately, Theresa May, along with almost the entire political class and all of Whitehall has been uninterested in applying that leverage. Rory Stewart is getting a disproportionate amount of media attention because he refuses to countenance leaving the EU on WTO terms.

The EU Commission’s decision to devise IT systems that “can be implemented swiftly” is a sign of the strength of that leverage, even though it is being applied by accident, namely the failure of May’s deal born out of the joint report, the most controversial component of which is the Irish backstop, Brussels’ term for ruling out border infrastructure in Ireland. Delightful to think the EU’s own viciously uncompromising stance could be its undoing.

According to a leaked paper, the EU’s No Deal planners are in “regular contact” with authorities in Ireland, France and the Netherlands to ensure contingencies “are fully functional from the outset.”

“Furthermore, the Commission maintains regular contacts with the most concerned Member States so that a land-bridge route between Ireland and the rest of the EU via the UK can be implemented swiftly in the event of No Deal, including support from the necessary IT systems.”

Again, this highlights the strength of Britain’s negotiating hand. For the Republic of Ireland to continue to trade easily with the rest of the bloc, goods will need to travel through the UK without incurring repeated physical checks.

 For all the valiant defence of Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement by the EU – a transparent and cynical means of pressing the common interest of the EU27 – for Britain to leave the EU on default WTO terms would create more disruption for Ireland’s isolated economy than any other conceivable scenario. Again, leverage.

This is where Boris comes in. If he is as committed to taking Britain out of the EU by the end of October, as Mark Francois believes he is, we now have certainty the likely future prime minister will be in a position to secure Britain’s exit without the vassalage dictated by the current deal. The worst-case scenario is we pay the £39bn implement transition and use that time to prepare our customs systems in Ireland and our roll-on-roll-off ports. Given that the political declaration is meaningless, we can use that time to also negotiate a conventional trade deal.

That’s the least we should hope for. The £39bn remains as unacceptable as ever and a traditional FTA will be big on goods, which the EU exports to us in surplus, and low on services, our export surplus. A fair deal would include services under mutual recognition terms. We cannot remain “aligned” with job-wrecking EU regulations.

Reason for optimism yes, but there are far more dangerous threats to the No Deal WMD than Rory Stewart’s vow to disarm. He won’t be residing at Number 10 any time soon. Labour are up to their usual tricks re-working parliamentary procedure to neutralise EU withdrawal.

Readers may recall their fondness for humble addresses – motions bearing the weight of the crown that the government cannot refuse – which were used to publish post-Brexit economic impact assessments. Today, the opposition is expected to use its debating time in the Commons to schedule a session of backbench legislation for later in the month. On this occasion, they’ll be using a “business of the house” motion.

While it is Labour deploying the strategy, as before, this is a coordinated effort. Oliver Letwin, who collaborated with Yvette Cooper for a similar Commons takeover is thought to be involved, Speaker John Bercow too.

Last week, Bercow ruled out the possibility of the next Tory leader proroguing parliament to stop Remainer meddling. The first priority of the planned Commons takeover by the opposition, led by chief whip Nick Brown, will be to put forward legislation blocking a prorogue. No-to-No-Deal clauses might be tied in as well, but as ever the majority Remainers in the Commons face the difficulty of blocking something that is predestined. Their only sure-fire way of avoiding No Deal is by revoking Article 50 altogether, but even they would concede that’s too farfetched.

Well, some of them would.