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Analysis

Political declaration is template for vassalage

by Hugo Dixon | 27.11.2019

The Prime Minister claims in his manifesto that we won’t be a rule-taker. But he has agreed the opposite in the draft deal he hopes to nail down by the end of next year.

The manifesto is categorical: “There will be no political alignment with the EU” (See page 5). If that’s not supposed to mean no regulatory alignment, what on earth does it mean? 

And yet Boris Johnson is preparing to follow lots of EU rules. Fairly well known is his decision to turn Northern Ireland into what he used to term an “EU colony”: a de facto member but without any say over EU rules. That’s written into the legally-binding Withdrawal Agreement, as is his commitment to subject huge chunks of our state aid policies to EU law.

But the political declaration sketching out our future relationship is also a rule-taker’s charter.

The Prime Minister may say it is not legally binding – and it isn’t. But he can’t have his cake and eat it. Dominic Raab described the political as a “template” for a future deal. (BBC Today Programme, December 3).

So let’s look at that document. 

You say alignment, I say autonomy

Admittedly, you won’t find the term “regulatory alignment” anywhere. This pig of a deal has been covered in lashings of lipstick. Instead, you’ll find terms such as “compatible” regulation, “level playing field”, “equivalence”, existing high “standards” and regulatory “cooperation”.

You’ll also find the term “regulatory autonomy”. Whenever you see that, be on red alert. Like a magician performing a sleight of hand, Johnson promises to preserve autonomy while preparing for a sell-out.

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The Prime Minister could say that cooperation doesn’t mean we’ll always follow EU rules. They could sometimes follow our rules instead. But haven’t we learnt anything in the past three years? Haven’t we twigged that we need the EU more than it needs us because its economy is six times as big? So when push comes to shove, we’ll more often be playing by their rules – not vice versa.

Let’s strip off the lipstick

Much of the political declaration is written in gobbledygook. But we’ve done our best to identify nine areas where we are likely to be tied to EU rules.

Level playing field

The document commits us to a “level playing field” to ensure fair competition. As part of that, we’ll uphold the EU’s current standards in the areas of “state aid, competition, social and employment standards, environment, climate change, and relevant tax matters.” (Paragraph 77).

Fishy deal

The Prime Minister has promised to try and reach agreement with the EU on fisheries by next July including, “inter alia, access to waters and quota shares”. Access to waters? Quota shares? That sounds awfully like abiding by the Common Fisheries Policy, but without making the rules. (Paragraph 73).

Customs 

Border checks could become particularly intrusive unless we follow EU rules. Johnson has accepted that the extent of our “commitments on customs and regulatory cooperation would be taken into account in the application of related checks and controls”. (Paragraph 26)

Goods

In manufacturing, he has agreed to regulatory approaches that are “compatible to the extent possible.” (Paragraph 23).

Services

Here too the Prime Minister has agreed to regulatory approaches that are “compatible to the extent possible”. (Paragraph 31). There should also be “disciplines on regulation” in sectors such as telecommunication services, financial services, delivery services, and international maritime transport services – suggesting we won’t be completely free to set our own rules. (Paragraph 32).

Financial services

This is our largest industry, contributing £75 billion a year in tax revenue. Johnson accepts that its access to the EU market will depend on maintaining “equivalent” regulation. (Paragraph 36).

Data protection

Modern economies can’t survive without the free flow of data. But for the UK to receive data from the EU, the European Commission has to recognise that our data protection standards provide an “adequate level of protection”. There should be no problem getting and keeping the thumbs up – so long as our standards don’t fall behind the EU’s. (Paragraph 9).

Regulatory bodies

The Prime Minister has agreed to explore cooperation with EU bodies such as the European Medicines Agency, the European Chemicals Agency, and the European Aviation Safety Agency. (Paragraph 23). 

Nuclear energy

The deal promises a wide-ranging nuclear cooperation agreement with Euratom on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, underpinned by “existing high standards” of nuclear safety. (Paragraph 66).

Take control? What a joke.

Most of the EU’s rules are pretty good. After all, we spent over 40 years helping to write them. And why would we want low standards on nuclear safety, the environment, state aid and so forth? But if we quit, we will move from being a rule-maker to a rule-taker – and we still won’t get anything like the access we currently get to the lucrative EU market. 

Johnson may pretend he can negotiate a good deal. But as our former EU ambassador put it, he has “boxed himself” into such a tight timetable that he will be under massive pressure to give the EU pretty much everything it wants.

The Prime Minister gave the EU everything it wanted so as to get his Withdrawal Agreement. If he wins the election, he’ll negotiate another surrender deal or be forced to crash out at the end of next year with no deal at all. 

Far better to kick him out of Downing Street, hold a new referendum and stay in the EU.

The headline was changed on December 3 and the Raab quote used instead of one by Gove.

Edited by Bill Emmott

Tags: Categories: Brexit

One Response to “Political declaration is template for vassalage”

  • I think that 52% of the population in this country haven’t a clue that the white flag is actually being run up. Perhaps someone should take the trouble to try and explain that now, as this may cause a few social ructions when they discover later just how they were taken for a ride.