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Analysis

We can and must defeat this miserable Brexit

by Hugo Dixon | 14.11.2018

Theresa May’s deal would damage our power and prosperity. It would turn us into the geopolitical equivalent of eunuchs. It is a miserable deal and MPs must vote it down. 

It’s not just Brexiters who are aghast at being turned into a “vassal state” or a “colony” – following EU rules on trade, employment, the environment and competition policy without any say in drafting new ones. Patriotic pro-Europeans are furious too at how our national interest has been betrayed. We are losing control on a vast scale, not taking it back.

Where pro-Europeans part company with the Brexiters is that they see little problem with these EU rules and trade policies. The UK has, after all, spent 45 years helping write them. But it’s quite another matter to follow rules in the future when we will have no vote on them. 

The prime minister’s deal will keep the whole UK in the EU’s customs union for as far as the eye can see. This won’t just mean that we will struggle to negotiate any meaningful trade deals of our own. Depending on the exact text of what has been agreed, other countries could even have backdoor access to the UK market via their deals with the EU, without our companies having access to their markets. 

It’s not even as if this deal will protect our prosperity. It will do nothing for services, 80 percent of our economy. And the supply chains of our manufacturing industry will be partially gummed up because there will be regulatory, although not customs, checks at the borders.

What’s more, the uncertainty that is already killing investment will go on and on – because the government’s deal is only half-baked. This will be bad for enterprise and bad for working people. It will also be bad for public services such as the NHS because the government will have less money to spend, not more.

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demand a People's Vote

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Never-ending backstop

The prime minister will say her plan to stay in the EU’s customs union and follow a huge swathe of its rules is only a “backstop” arrangement that will never be used or, if it is, only on a temporary basis.

The problem is that the EU will have us over a barrel. As a European Commission document leaked to The Times says: “We should be in the best negotiation position for the future relationship. This requires the customs union as the basis of the future relationship… They must align their rules but the EU will retain all the controls.” 

The EU is right. During the first 21 months after Brexit, we will stay in its single market as well as its customs union. The only difference from the current situation is that we won’t have a say on the rules. 

May hopes to finalise a trade deal before that “transition” runs out. Not only is that an incredibly optimistic timetable. Also, because the EU will have the backstop in its pocket, the only way we will get a trade deal is by accepting the bloc’s terms. 

If there is no deal within 21 months, the UK will have a devil’s choice. It could seek to extend the transition. But that will mean paying the EU more money. It will also mean allowing continued free movement of people – which is no bad thing except that Brexiters hate it and would scream “betrayal”.

The other option will be to enter the backstop. But then special provisions relating to Northern Ireland will kick in requiring it to stay in the EU’s single market for goods. There will have to be regulatory checks of some sort in the Irish Sea. No wonder the DUP is furious. 

The prime minister will pretend we can still get out of the backstop even if we enter it. But this will only be so if we can find another way to keep the land border in Ireland open. And short of inventing some magical technology, the only way of doing that will be by signing up to a trade deal that includes the customs union.

Some MPs may be tempted to hold their noses and vote for the deal out of fear that we would otherwise crash out of the EU with no deal at all. But they should not be worried, because only a tiny number of their colleagues would vote for the abyss.

The real choice is not between a miserable deal and crashing out: it should be between the deal and staying in the EU. Parliament should “no” to the deal and then call a “People’s Vote” to check whether the public still wants a Brexit that bears no resemblance to the promises made in the referendum.

Edited by Quentin Peel

4 Responses to “We can and must defeat this miserable Brexit”

  • Every one of us must lobby our MP to reject this lousy deal, especially if they are getting cold feet. Write to them, persuade your friends to write to them. This could be tight and every MP’s vote will count. This could be our last chance to get a People’s Vote.

  • The BBC website is saying (20.00 hours) that 10 cabinet ministers opposed the ‘agreement’ (almost half of them) and she only got it backed by a narrow majority. Only Gove of the original nasty Leavers spoke in support of her. (I would never trust Gove) Hardly a rousing backing! She looked very ‘down’ when she spoke outside 10 Downing Street delivering her usual guff. She knows she has a real battle on her hands. Cannot see it getting though Parliament, although you never know what tricks the Tory whips will pull. But the DUP will not support it and the SNP is hopping mad. Rees-Mogg already stirring up the ERG to reject it.
    It is such a mess that it must increase the surge for another vote. What a crazy, crazy situation.

  • I have written a couple of letters to my MP but I am not raising my hopes too much as MPs records are one of consistent spinelessness, with honorable exceptions.

  • We think the PM is just demonstrating that she has left absolutely no stone un-turned in trying to bring about “the will of the people” before declaring the task to be demonstrably impossible and going on to put “remain” to parliament and, if necessary, the country for approval. End of problem!