LEADING THE WAY OUT OF THE EU

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Friday 2 March 

Theresa May’s speech at 1.30 this afternoon will mark the conclusion of a watershed week in the Brexit saga. Wednesday’s draft withdrawal treaty brutally reminded everyone of how contemptuous the EU is of national sovereignty. On Monday, Jeremy Corbyn called for Britain to remain in the Customs Union, inviting Tory rebels to side with him in the Commons on future amendments and votes, which would threaten to deny the government of a sovereign trade policy.

The flames fervently fanned by irresponsible Remainers – former prime ministers Tony Blair and John Major both gave EU appeasement speeches this week – received a fresh douse of oil yesterday as one of the EU’s presidents, Donald Tusk met with Theresa May to tell her, “there can be no frictionless trade outside the customs union and the single market.”

Today, May has an opportunity to hit back, telling foreign foes and domestic enemies alike that she and her nation are not for turning. Needless to say, she will not take it

The fragments of the speech released last night read very much like a repeat of last year’s Lancaster House address, delivered prior to Article 50 being triggered. Back then, the prime minister was in a position to say what she wanted, rousing the troops for the ensuing battle. Actions, or rather lack of them, since that moment give us no reason to believe that any of her previous pledges of absolute independence, let alone future ones, will be met. May’s deeds have only met her words on one occasion, in Florence last year where she promised the EU £20bn, a gigantic sum which was quickly doubled.

Entitled, “Our Future Partnership”, today’s speech at Mansion House will lay out five key “tests”. Only one and five carry the weight of Brexiteers’ expectation behind them:

“First, the agreement we reach with the EU must respect the result of the referendum. It was a vote to take control of our borders, laws and money,” she will say.

“…and fifth, in doing all of these things, it must strengthen our union of nations and our union of people.”

The other three are fluff: the agreement must endure, it must protect jobs and security, and must be consistent with a modern, outward European democracy. We’ve heard it all before, and none if it means anything.

To say the least, the patronising, “Britain is not an isolationist basket case routine” is now beyond tiresome, embarrassing, not to mention hypocritical. If the Prime Minister is so outward looking, she would be exploring WTO options and investing in additional customs infrastructure, personal and IT so that we are on the strongest possible footing the next time the EU knocks on Britain’s door with yet more outrageous demands. At Lancaster House, we were told, “no deal is better than a bad deal”. We are facing an increasingly appalling deal, yet no signs emerge of the government preparing for the other possibility, one that, it must be said aligns much more fully with the popular will.

This speech, May’s second and final in the “Road to Brexit” series appears to simply be a consolidated version of what Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and David Davis have said thus far. One sentence conveys those collective messages in just eight words. We will be told Britain is a “champion of free trade based on high standards”.

The Brexit “war Cabinet” approved the speech yesterday, but the main messages were hammered out during last week’s eight-hour session at Chequers. The available excerpts carry the hallmarks of a camel designed by committee, watered-down by indecisive bureaucrats and advisers.

In a week when the leader of the opposition called for Britain to remain in the Customs Union, which would force Britain to remain aligned with EUROPEAN Union regulations, and a draft treaty was released by the EU outlining exactly the same arrangement, it is imperative the prime minister assert Britain’s legal independence as explicitly as possible. Instead, we will be told:

“I want the broadest and deepest possible agreement – covering more sectors and co-operating more fully than any free trade agreement anywhere in the world today.

“I believe that is achievable because it is in the EU’s interests as well as ours and because of our unique starting point, where on day one we both have the same laws and rules.

“So, rather than having to bring two different systems closer together, the task will be to manage the relationship once we are two separate legal systems.”

The only hints at separation from the EU’s punishing regulatory machine and overbearing courts is the mention of two separate legal systems – the definition of separate is vulnerable to heavy interpretation – and the word “cooperation”. Downing Street has been working hard to emphasize that the Brexiteers in Cabinet really did win the debate last week. According to the Times, a pledge to make a “binding commitment” to EU rules was omitted from the speech.

The Tories’ previously admirable position on withdrawal from the EU has become so deformed, spin doctors are using what is not being said to convince us everything is on track. This is an extremely sorry state of affairs. Clearly, nothing Mrs May says today will rule out the possibility of an open border in Ireland, which will keep Britain in the EU in everything but name.

From the available extracts, this is, in fact, the more likely pathway. “Test” number two, “the new agreement we reach with the EU must endure…[we do not want to] find ourselves back at the negotiating table because things have broken down”, shuts down the already desperate prospect of the UK remaining in the Single Market and the Customs Union before renegotiating the whole relationship once Whitehall has finally got its acts together and come up with a plan for processing all trade across the Irish border, thereby negating any argument for it to remain open.

The disastrous agreement made with the European Commission in December came back to bite us this week. Its treasonous terms showed May’s gift for backing herself into a corner. She will once again exhibit that weakness today. We will all pay the price.

Nigel was on fire last night on Questions Time, make sure to check out our Twitter feed for more clips.