After promising a sovereign Brexit at Lancaster House in January 2017 Theresa May has conceded ground at every turn. Two years on, the British public is faced with a £39bn payout, an ill-advised transition period that will inevitably lead onto a lengthy “backstop” the country cannot unilaterally extricate itself from, and an eventual trade agreement that will “build and improve on the single customs territory” that lies at the heart of the transition period. Summed-up, this is not what the public voted for.
The EU signed up to the withdrawal agreement and political declaration, which together set out the terms for these arrangements, with relish. Once Britain finds itself trapped in the backstop – a device to ensure a “physical” border in Ireland does not re-emerge – it will only have fisheries and hard cash left as leverage to free itself. Don’t bet against the government expending these precious resources.
But which government? May has staked her reputation on a deal which pleases no-one. A dysfunctional Labour party senses the opportunity of an election the leadership thinks it can win. Momentum on the left is building behind a second EU referendum too. Meanwhile, Brexiteers on the Tory benches are agitating for someone faithful to the popular will to emerge and unite the party once Mrs May finally exits the stage. That moment looks imminent.
LEAVE.EU INSIGHT AND ANALYSIS
Theresa May’s plan faces a great deal of resistance. Leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn has branded it “The worst of all worlds”. Grassroots conservatives hate it even more, 100 Tory MPs have said they will vote the deal down. The DUP, which props up May’s minority government despise it for treating Northern Ireland differently.
The situation for the prime minister gets worse and worse. Concerns Britain will not be able to legally escape from the Irish backstop have led to a showdown in the Commons, where a historic ruling was made against the government for holding Parliament in contempt. Mrs May’s hopes diminish by the day. Her deal will fail the first “meaningful vote” in the House of Commons by a margin of 200 or more. It will be then impossible to run a second parliamentary motion on the same deal. Brussels says it won’t change it, but that won’t put off the overwhelming number of Remainers from further meddling.
NO DEAL VS NO BREXIT
If Parliament doesn’t approve the withdrawal package or any last-minute alternative – an EFTA-plus-Customs Union arrangement is being heavily pushed by an increasing number of MPs – Britain will once again become independent on 29 March as Article 50 expires. However, the fact remains, in spite of Theresa May’s “no deal is better than a bad deal” pledge, the prime minister and her cabinet have done the utmost to avoid restoring anything but a token amount of sovereignty.
This is unfortunate, Britain’s massive trade deficit with the EU is a major tactical advantage, yet in choosing to not properly invest in no deal preparations May has adopted the opposite tactic, stolen from the Osborne-Cameron playbook: make independence look unpalatable and whatever deal the establishment thrusts upon the electorate appear marginally better. Project Fear has returned. It didn’t work before, it will not work this time around either.
The EU has weaponised the border separating Northern Ireland from the Republic, successfully leveraging an all-too-willing British establishment to Remain in the EU’s Customs Union, which bars the UK from an independent trade policy. If the prime minister’s deal somehow makes its way through Parliament, Britain will remain in the “backstop” until the EU agrees to an alternative border solution. The new customs system dividing the island’s two markets would have to be free of physical infrastructure.
The WTO says that doesn’t mean both zones need to be in the same customs union, but don’t bet on Brussels agreeing to whatever London proposes over the coming years and perhaps decades. Turkey joined the Customs Union in 1996 and is still languishing there.
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