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Terrible sell-out deal must be put to the people

by Hugo Dixon | 17.10.2019

The Prime Minister has agreed a hard Brexit for Great Britain and vassalage for Northern Ireland. MPs must now insist that the people have the chance to stay in the EU in a new referendum.

The good news is that the numbers may finally be there in Parliament to force Boris Johnson to accept a “confirmatory vote”. At the eleventh hour, Jeremy Corbyn has come off the fence and argued passionately that this terrible deal must go to the people.

What’s more, MPs have this afternoon passed an amendment which means the Prime Minister won’t just be able to present the Commons with a take-it-or-leave-it vote at the special session on Saturday. Instead, MPs will be able to amend the motion backing the deal and make it subject to a referendum. 

EU mustn’t connive with Johnson

Victory is far from in the bag. The main risk is that the other EU leaders will connive with Johnson and say there are only two options – this miserable deal or no deal. Jean-Claude Juncker has made some unhelpful comments today to that effect. But they are not categorical and, in any case, the European Commission President doesn’t have a vote on this.

But if the leaders of the other 27 countries (who do decide) rule out an extension, some MPs may feel they have no option but to suck it up – and the deal may squeak through. Hopefully, the rest of the EU will realise that this would be a geopolitical error of historic proportions, as I argued in this column for Politico yesterday.

That apart, the omens are good – not least because the Prime Minister has sold the DUP down the river. Some of the “Spartans” in the ERG may take their lead from the DUP. There will then be no way Johnson’s deal can pass.

Looking at the maths, the MPs whom Johnson expelled from the Tory Party will then be increasingly inclined to back a “confirmatory referendum”. Quite a few of them – such as Amber Rudd and David Gauke – are already comfortable with the idea of taking the issue back to the people. Some others are not. But if they think this is the only way to stop “no deal”, many will decide to back a referendum.

What an awful deal!

The final factor, of course, is just how terrible the deal will be. For a start, it essentially hands over the Northern Ireland economy to the EU. That should worry anybody who cares about the United Kingdom.

Then there’s the fact that Johnson has abandoned Theresa May’s legally-binding promise to maintain a “level playing field” with the EU – giving him the freedom to cut social, consumer, competition and environmental regulations. (The relevant passages of the original Withdrawal Agreement’s Northern Ireland Protocol – Article 6 and Annexes 2 and 4 – have been nixed).

It’s true that the new political declaration sketching out our future arrangement with the EU contains provisions on a level playing field (para 77). But this is not legally binding.

What this means is that, unless Johnson is willing to make hard commitments in the future talks on a trade deal, we’ll get at best a bare-bones trade deal and the Great Britain economy will be thwacked.

What’s more, we will be heading for another cliff edge at the end of next year – when Great Britain is supposed to leave the EU’s single market and customs union. The Prime Minister will be so desperate to do a free trade deal that he is likely to give the EU pretty much everything it wants – just as he has on Northern Ireland.

One of his first concessions will be to sell the fishing industry down the river. The political declaration says the UK and EU should try to “establish a new fisheries agreement on, inter alia, access to waters and quota shares” by next July 1 (paras 73 and 74). Why would the EU move onto the wide free talks until Johnson has given them what they want on fishing? They’ll have him over a barrel.

We are reaching the crunch. We can force a referendum. We must force one. We can then win that People’s Vote and stay in the EU.

In these next few days we must strain every sinew. Lobby your MP, turn up to the mega People’s Vote march in central London on Saturday – and ask all your friends and family to be there too.

Edited by James Earley