LEADING THE WAY OUT OF THE EU

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The prime minister’s last desperate effort to get her deal approved, a 10-point offer to parliament with an additional Customs Union pledge, is largely aimed at Labour. Here, Leave.EU examines her “bold” package that will inevitably haemorrhage Tory votes.

For no obvious reason, Theresa May decided not to include her offer of a Commons vote to remain in the customs union among her 10 inducements, conveyed in a speech yesterday in which she laid out her plan to re-introduce her hated deal to the Commons under the guise of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill. The prime minister aims to appeal to a wider constituency in the Commons, but has only succeeded in alienating even more Tories in the process. Around 70 have pledged to vote against the new deal, double the number of dissenters at the last meaningful vote. Westmonster have a thorough run-through of statements made by various MPs.

Now the Government has already put a proposal which delivers the benefits of a customs union but with the ability for the UK to determine its own trade and development policy.

Labour are both sceptical of our ability to negotiate that and don’t believe an independent trade policy is in the national interest. They would prefer a comprehensive customs union…

If we are going to pass the Withdrawal Agreement Bill and deliver Brexit, we must resolve this difference.

As part of the cross-party discussions the government offered a compromise option of a temporary customs union on goods only, including a UK say in relevant EU trade policy and an ability to change the arrangement, so a future government could move it in its preferred direction.

Observation number one, a customs union is by definition “goods only”, just one example of May trying to sell decomposed mutton as slightly fresher mutton. Her speech is riddled with nonsensical statements. And, in many ways, this particular offer, which shared the headlines with the prospect of a Commons vote on a second referendum (point 9), is the least significant.

The Irish backstop amounts to Customs Union membership. Part of the reason the term backstop was actively fed into the national consciousness was to draw attention away from the reality of Britain remaining in the Customs Union. the deception has now been dispensed with and the word customs is set for inclusion in the newly drafted bill, which will be published in the Commons order paper on Friday, that is unless May doesn’t get dethroned by then.

Points 1-10

One – the Government will seek to conclude Alternative Arrangements to replace the backstop by December 2020, so that it never needs to be used.

Theresa May kicked off her ten points with an appeal to her own backbenchers. Sounds good on the surface, except it’s already been done, which Mrs May made no attempt to hide, referring to “an amendment from Sir Graham Brady – and this gave rise to the work on Alternative Arrangements to the backstop.” However, May failed to remind everyone that this proposal was engineered by Number 10 on the back of the first meaningful vote. Brady performed the job of tabling it. The instruction was rightly criticized at the time for its vague wording. The PM duly avoided asking for a replacement to the backstop in Brussels. This gesture could not be more meaningless.

Two – a commitment that, should the backstop come into force, the Government will ensure that Great Britain will stay aligned with Northern Ireland.

The DUP are understandably worried about Northern Ireland being cut adrift as the mainland tries to diverge from EU rules once the backstop is triggered. But as Unionists, the DUP are never going to consider voting for a deal that consigns Britain to permanent vassalage either. “we will not vote for our own destruction” blasted the Party’s Brexit spokesperson, Sammy Wilson.

Three – the negotiating objectives and final treaties for our future relationship with the EU will have to be approved by MPs.

This refers to an earlier proposal by Lisa Nandy. May name-dropped the Wigan MP halfway through her speech as she began pivoting towards Labour MPs. Nandy has struck a more pro-Brexit line after Wigan voted 63.9% in favour of Leave in 2016. In failing to forge a formal consensus with the Opposition, May has had to seek legitimacy by associating her new deal with pre-existing efforts from the likes of Nandy – and there aren’t many of them – to bridge the divide.

But who cares? Parliament was granted a vote on Article 50, it wangled itself a meaningful vote on the deal, it will therefore inevitably get a say on the final deal, an arrangement that may never arrive as we find ourselves languishing in the backstop. Even then, such is the strength of pro-EU feeling throughout Westminster, the negotiating objectives set by the government would be virtually identical to whatever MPs decide to collectively endorse.

Four – a new Workers’ Rights Bill that guarantees workers’ rights will be no less favourable than in the EU.

Five – there will be no change in the level of environmental protection when we leave the EU.

More rehashed amendments, originally authored by Jeremy Corbyn, and split up by my May to flesh out her dire proposal. Corbyn didn’t qualify for a mention in the speech, but the Labour leader famously tolerates the EU – not the case pre-2016 – because it supposedly provides these protections. In reality, they achieve the opposite by suffocating businesses with piles of extra red tape, killing jobs and stymying innovation in clean technologies and materials.

Six – the UK will seek as close to frictionless trade in goods with the EU as possible while outside the single market and ending free movement.

A catch-all for feckless MPs petrified by a) losing an inch of access to the EU’s increasingly less significant market and b) blind to the ever-expanding opportunities across the rest of the world. More importantly, this is an objective already established in the political declaration. Nothing new here.

Seven – we will keep up to date with EU rules for goods and agri-food products that are relevant to checks at the border protecting the thousands of jobs that depend on just-in-time supply chains.

The sister of point six, you can’t have frictionless trade with the EU without having the same product standards. The agri-food commitment means any future deal would go beyond the EEA agreement, AKA the Norway deal. Norway and three other EFTA countries have agreed to adopt EU regulations for all goods, except agriculture and fisheries. Britain would have to swallow the whole lot – in other words, we would remain in the EU Single Market, ruling out a trade deal with the US with the additional burden of EU red tape.

Eight – the Government will bring forward a customs compromise for MPs to decide on to break the deadlock.

A longstanding and stated negotiating objective. The only way to avoid or untrigger the backstop is to develop an alternative border arrangement in Ireland. The flow of goods would be regulated, but invisible to the ordinary person crossing the border. This is an utterly pointless assurance, and given how great a threat the backstop poses, more than a little alarming that Downing Street should feel it necessary to remind everyone it could one day end – if the deal passes that is.

Nine – there will be a vote for MPs on whether the deal should be subject to a referendum.

The big offer that will have cost May at least 30 Tory votes – she needs more than 30, based on the last meaningful vote – this threat bears some teeth as the vote will be introduced at the committee stage of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, meaning the vote will only take place if MPs first back the deal and all its meaningless extras. A majority of Labour MPs desperately want a second referendum. However, given the sheer number of Labour votes May needs, combined with their red-hot contempt of independence and their arrogance over getting a second referendum on their own terms, the ploy just won’t work.

And ten – there will be a legal duty to secure changes to the political declaration to reflect this new deal.

The political declaration is non-binding, May is wasting our time.