Friday 8 December
At the beginning of this fateful week, it looked like the Ulster Unionists would save the nation. In dismissing Theresa May’s agreement with the EU for “regulatory alignment” between the North and South of Ireland the DUP appeared to have zapped a cancer on the verge of spreading to the rest of the United Kingdom. Just before seven o’clock this morning we discovered the horrible truth, over the course of the night the tumour had silently metastasised to all four corners of our great country.
The all-important prefix to the word “alignment” embedded in the Ireland section of the UK’s agreement with the European Commission, which the EU27 will approve at next week’s summit, has been changed from “regulatory” to “full” – from semi-skimmed to full-fat Euro-colonial enslavement if you will.
Full text: “In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union”.
Exceedingly optimistic Brexiteers will hold out hope for the “agreed solutions” to come into being, and in a way that enables us to set our own standards and regulations with considerable freedom. The rest of us will face up to the harsh reality: we are staying in the Single Market until the EU itself collapses. That day cannot come too soon.
This week began auspiciously, if not for the beleaguered Tories. Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker were poised for celebratory handshakes on Monday, but were to be denied by the initial draft agreement’s leak during the morning. The DUP had not agreed to its contents and called May midway through her lunch with Juncker to pull the plug. “Brexit saved thanks to the DUP”, TweetedJacob Rees-Mogg. It turned out to be only a temporary reprieve.
May is reported to have spent all of Thursday night talking to the DUP on one phone and the European Commission on the other. This time acquiring grudging approval from the Ulstermen before making her way to Brussels early this morning for her press conference with Juncker to confirm a settlement had been reached.
Curious then that wording would change to “full alignment”. DUP elder statesmen, Sammy Wilson appeared on BBC Radio 4 this morning to say he did not like the term. His leader, Arlene Foster shared those concerns, warning of “more work to be done”. However, she decided not to stand in the Prime Minister’s way this time. Foster pointed to six “substantial changes”, most importantly, the absence of a “red line down the Irish Sea” together with “clear confirmation that the entirety of the UK is leaving the EU, leaving the Single Market and leaving the Customs Union”.
Foster was to all intents and purposes wrong when she said we were all leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union. The reality is, fearful of a new border separating Northern Ireland from mainland UK, the DUP insisted that if their market were to remain part of the Republic of Ireland’s, the rest of the United Kingdom would have to too.
While it is true that a border dissecting the Irish Sea would have been intolerable, full regulatory alignment with the EU empire is equally so. It brazenly defies the will of the 17.4 million patriotic Brits who voted for Brexit. The only democratic option available was for a functioning Swiss or Norwegian-style land border on the island of Ireland. That opportunity has been dashed, how many more will be missed? How much more of the public’s patience will be wasted?
At this morning’s press conference, Juncker praised May’s “gentle manner”, describing her speech in Florence as “remarkable”. He beamed over “compromises” the British Prime Minister had extracted from his side. Is there anything more unsettling than florid expressions of admiration from an adversary?
And what compromises? May asserted that EU nationals living in the UK would be protected by “British law and enforced by British courts”, but the text of the agreement reveals that to be a lie. UK courts will have to refer to ECJ case law and engage in regular dialogue. The duration of the ECJ oversight has been knocked down from the EU’s demand for 14 years to 8. Naturally, the British media is joining Juncker in heralding this a “win” for May.
A “mechanism” is to be put in place that will enable British courts to ask the ECJ “questions of interpretation”. We should not be surprised when we discover this mechanism is an EU device to keep the British judicial system in check. After all, this is an issue the EU has pursued forcefully from day one, supported by Eurofanatic MEP Guy Verhofstadt. Incidentally, Verhofstadt this week joined the European Parliament’s former President Martin Schulz in openly calling for a United States of Europe. In the quagmire of the Article 50 negotiations, we continue to receive daily reminders of why we need to leave.
Looking forward, a very different breed of MEP, Nigel Farage perfectly captured the mood. “A deal in Brussels is good news for Mrs May as we can now move on to the next stage of humiliation”.
Speaking later in the morning on the BBC, the Brexit legend warned that the transition deal remains un-negotiated, and could easily extend beyond March 2021, opening up the possibility of another general election doubling as a second referendum while the UK remains entirely within the EU structure.
As for the longer-term relationship – should we manage to leave – Brussels will insist on free movement if May is to get her “deep and special partnership”. It remains highly likely that British negotiators will capitulate on this too. If they manage to summon the willpower not to, we will surely revert to an off-the-shelf goods-based agreement meaning EU goods exporters will effortlessly maintain their gigantic trade surplus with Britain, while UK exporters of services find their surplus with the EU pinched.
If that turns out to be the case, there shouldn’t be a deal at all. The EU can then kiss goodbye to all that money, the judicial oversight, and the regulatory stranglehold. The European Union may yet be the loser in all of this, let us hope so.