It was clear from the moment the Government invoked article 50 that any agreement would likely come about late in the process. This has always been the way the EU has negotiated and whilst Parliament has pulled itself apart rather than coalescing around a single vision, Michel Barnier and his team have felt little pressure to offer the Government enough to get the deal over the line.
Until now we have seen a majority of Parliament working against Brexit. The LibDems and the SNP have wanted to pretend that the referendum never happened using a second referendum as a final throw of the die to undo the 2016 result. The Labour leadership just want a General Election. Jeremy Corbyn could write his own deal and still vote against it because of his single minded party political approach. Thus the Conservatives have been the only party looking to achieve an end in the country’s best interest although clearly there are a range of options as to what that end should be.
So we end up after two years approaching the end game; the crunch votes which will see if we get Brexit at all or not. Having campaigned and voted to leave, I voted for the original Withdrawal Agreement as I was and remain worried about the possibility that those of us who battled to get to this point could end up as heroic losers.
Although the default legislative position is that we leave with no deal in the absence of an agreement, there seems to be a clear majority in the House to avoid no deal at all costs. I’ve been clear that I would much rather leave in an orderly fashion with a deal but would be prepared to leave with no deal as long as we have tried everything to secure one first. The best way to tackle any short term turbulence and prosper after has to be by retaining as much goodwill as possible with our nearest trading partners.
But taking No Deal off the table is madness. That would be like someone trying to negotiate a lower price from an estate agent whilst their spouse is behind them measuring up the curtains and holding colour charts up to the walls in full view of the smirking agent. EU member states would like us to remain, albeit not at any cost, so the prospect of sufficient flexibility on the backstop to get the deal across the line diminishes each time a senior MP talks down the UK’s willingness to walk away from the negotiating table.
Leaving on WTO terms will cause disruption for a number of reasons. Firstly WTO terms by its very definition only covers trade, not security or other areas of co-operation so other deals would need to be negotiated as soon as possible. The government has released its latest impact assessment of a No-Deal Brexit expressing concerns about the serious impacts it will have on the UK. We will overcome these in time, should it go on for long. However I am not convinced we will be in no-deal territory for a protracted period. With the clock running down, both sides are eyeballing each other waiting for one to blink and change position. The UK hopes the EU will learn the lesson of the Cameron renegotiation when their reluctance to give him any more than a fig leaf, probably tipped the referendum result to a leave vote. The EU hope we will back down and not walk away without a deal.
However after March 29th, the EU have nothing further to push if they want to see us pay the full amount of recompense outlined in the Withdrawal Agreement and avoid any mitigating budget changes the Chancellor may consider to keep our economy competitive which will likely come at a cost to the EU, especially our nearest neighbours. A revised deal will likely come back within weeks and agreed. If this should transpire, we will need to be creative to ensure that the UK doesn’t lose out in a war of attrition during this period. But there is simply no need to test this theory. We can keep on the road to securing an ambitious free trade deal with the EU and get on with grabbing the opportunities that I voted for when I put a cross in the Leave box, by voting for the Withdrawal Agreement tonight. The second stage of negotiations can turn an imperfect deal into a good one as long as we show the real ambition that Global Britain is all about.
I wish that the EU negotiating team had made this so much easier by showing just a bit of flexibility, recognising the problematic nature of the backstop and making enough change to get the DUP and Conservative leavers to support it. Although the extra legally-binding assurances about the backstop are helpful. Despite the selective reading of the Attorney General’s legal advice by many which has only focused on the last paragraph rather than taking in the whole document, there are three key points about this latest change.
- The improved deal has a new, legally binding commitment, with comparable legal weight to the Withdrawal Agreement, that the EU cannot try to apply the backstop permanently… and the UK could ultimately suspend the backstop if they did.
- The legally binding text also says the UK and EU will work on Alternative Arrangements to replace the backstop by December 2020… so the backstop need never come into force
- The UK Government will make a Unilateral Declaration that if the backstop comes into use and discussions on our future relationship break down so that there is no prospect of subsequent agreement, it is the position of the UK that there would be nothing to prevent the UK instigating measures that would ultimately end the backstop.
Failure to leave will be a disaster on so many fronts, not least the prospect of any meaningful reforms to the institution that we will have chained ourselves to for years to come.
Having waited for Brexit for decades, the prospect is just days away. Rather than risk losing this prize, we must grab our chance, get through the open door and run towards freedom.