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Analysis

Hey Brexiters, please remind us: what’s the point of Brexit?

by Hugo Dixon | 08.12.2017

Theresa May is promising regulatory “alignment” with the EU for the whole UK to solve the Irish problem. The phrase “take back control” is becoming a bad joke.

The prime minister’s dash to Brussels this morning has broken the deadlock in the Brexit talks. But in the process she has made so many more concessions to add to her ever-lengthening list of climbdowns that there’s precious little left of the dream Brexiters sold voters during the referendum. The red lines the Tories initially set, on the false theory that the EU needs us more than we need it, have turned into one giant blurry smudge.

Today’s u-turns include accepting the European Court of Justice as the “ultimate arbiter” of the interpretation of EU law. That has unblocked the chapter of the negotiations on EU citizens living in the UK. May has also set out lots of detail about how we’ll calculate our divorce bill – ramming home how dishonest it was for Boris Johnson to say we’d get £350 million a week back from the EU and recycle it to the NHS.

Rule-taker Britannia

But it’s the new climbdowns on the Irish question that are the really big ones. May is still pretending that somehow in the next phase of the talks we’ll find a way of keeping an open border in Ireland after pulling out of the EU’s single market and customs union. But her government so far hasn’t produced anything apart from magical thinking on the topic.

Ireland and the rest of the EU know this and, as a result, have extracted a commitment: in the absence of agreed solutions, the UK will “maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future” are relevant for peace and economic cooperation in Ireland.

At the same time, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which is propping up May’s government, has extracted the commitment that in such circumstances the UK will ensure there are “no new regulatory barriers” between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

With these two commitments, the prime minister has imprisoned herself in a tight box. She has agreed to “full” alignment of rules not just now but “in the future” – and because there won’t be any barrier between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, such alignment will cover the whole UK.

Admittedly, May’s Irish climbdown doesn’t cover all the rules of the single market and customs union – only those that “support North-South cooperation, the all- island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement” which is the basis of peace in Northern Ireland. But it would be dishonest to pretend that this is just a small number of issues. Negotiators have identified over 140 relevant areas.

So what this concession means is that, unless May can pull a magical rabbit out of her hat, the whole UK will be following EU rules in a host of areas forever. How does that satisfy national pride when, up to now, we have been among the EU’s most influential members?

Border controls and Global Britain? Come off it!

This promise also makes a mockery of the Brexiters’ “Global Britain” agenda. We will be hamstrung in negotiating free trade deals with other countries if we have to follow the EU’s rules in a swathe of areas.

And what do we get in return? Well, who knows. We won’t get into trade talks until next year. But one thing is certain: we won’t keep full access to the EU’s vast single market that’s responsible for half our trade. So we’ll be bending over backwards and still end up damaging our economy.

And remember “control of our borders”, the soundbite which motivated so many people to vote for Brexit? Well May’s Irish deal has left the door wide open to EU citizens to come to the UK. After all, she has promised no border in Ireland and accepted that Ireland will keep free movement for EU citizens.

Of course, we will be able to say that EU citizens coming here in future will need a work permit if they want a job. But there will be nothing to stop those who don’t get a permit from taking their chances as illegal migrants. If so, they’ll work in the black economy, without paying taxes, and undercut British workers. How’s that in our interest?

The prime minister has done a terrible deal – and we’re not even halfway through the talks. When she gets onto negotiating a transitional deal to cushion the blow of Brexit and a future trade deal, it will become clear that the whole Brexit programme is bankrupt.

Let’s stop the madness. It’s not too late.

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe

5 Responses to “Hey Brexiters, please remind us: what’s the point of Brexit?”

  • We attempted an attack on Europe but the wind changed and blew the gas back on ourselves. We will be coughing up for years while the foreign billionaires who organised the shameful offensive just smirk, for they are far away from the front line

  • The chances of stopping Brexit now have gone from very slim to non exisistant.
    You might as well face the reality, pack up and go home.
    To give honest constructive criticism, remain extremists such as yourself, Campbell and Hesseltine etc. now come across as a bit weird. I don’t mean to be rude, but you do.
    The smart move now would be to accept that the UK is leaving the EU, but campaign for an Efta/EEA settlement that would allow UK citizens FoM at the same time as giving the UK back its ability to diverge outside the EEA.
    The sooner you realise this, the sooner people outside your extreme remain echo box might start listening to you.

    Merry Christmas!

  • @king john

    time to organize the revolution by the proletariat, methink ?
    what say you about a 50% wealth tax on assets owned by non-doms ?