We must reject a bad ‘deal’ to reboot the EU negotiations

We must reject a bad ‘deal’ to reboot the EU negotiations

by Ewen Stewart
article from Tuesday 15, January, 2019

MUCH OF THE COMMENT on the Government’s Withdrawal Agreement has focused on personality and process rather than a full understanding of the detail of the 'deal'.  Then, when there has been consideration of the problems with the Agreement the focus has been primarily on the Irish protocol, generally known as the ‘backstop’.

While the backstop should be wholly unacceptable to anyone who believes in the cohesion of a United Kingdom that wishes to be free to determine its own economic policies, there is a great deal more in the Agreement that should make it impossible to support. see our latest paper launched today 'Ten reasons to reject the Withdrawal Agreement'.

Central to the Government’s approach in attempting to convince MPs to support the Agreement has been to claim at different times that there is either – no alternative for the lack of another deal; – or that there will be economic calamity if the UK leaves the EU without a transitional deal – commonly branded  “No Deal; – or alternatively, no BREXIT at all. In turn these possible outcomes are then linked to the possibility of the Government collapsing. 

The narrative presents the Prime Minister as a dogged and doughty soul doing her bit against tough odds. The messaging strategy hopes that a focus on the non-legally binding Political Declaration rather than the legally binding Withdrawal Agreement, together with any letters of assurance and coupled with either exasperation or boredom in the country as a whole – will enable the Government to pass this legislation in the face of weary opposition. Whether or not the Prime Minister has toiled against an omnipotent adversary tells us nothing about the merits of an Agreement that she did not allow her own Brexit Secretary to be fully aware of until the whole Cabinet was briefed.

At Global Britain we concern ourselves solely with the substance of the Withdrawal Agreement, examining the legal basis of its proposals and not the noise, slur and tactics of politics. We have examined the consequences of ‘No Deal,’ which, far from the dire warnings of Government and others, we believe should be more manageable than anticipated, just as any potential instability in the aftermath of the Referendum vote was –  despite similar dire warnings.

We argue that, even if one takes the objectives of the Political Declaration at face value, which in itself is a heroic assumption, the Agreement severely weakens a future UK Government’s negotiating position with the EU and, even worse, gives the EU a veto on UK withdrawal.  We demonstrate that this proposal removes any UK scrutiny over EU legislation, making the UK a rule taker in almost all areas of EU competence, well beyond simply the single market of goods, as Her Majesty’s Government likes to suggest. 

We believe that if this deal passes then five years from now barely a single EU regulation will have been amended, let alone rescinded by the UK. With a minimum of £39bn and probably much more of UK treasure passed to the EU, and still no exit without EU approval, where exactly does the UK’s future leverage exist? 

It is also revealing to note that the Government’s explanation that the ‘backstop’ will not happen, or if it does happen would not last for long, is predicated on the idea that it would be bad for the EU – not least, as the Prime Minister herself has confirmed on the record on a number of occasions, because the EU would no longer be receiving any payments from the UK. 

This admission should sound very loud warning sirens that the Prime Minister would be willing to enter into a future trade agreement that included the UK making further large annual payments of billions of pounds – yet another red line she is willing to cross. 

Yet for all the many faults of the Withdrawal Agreement it is, however, not too late to change direction. 

The first step must be to ensure that Parliament rejects this proposed international treaty on the grounds that it breaches the referendum result in spirit and fact; it breaches the clear manifesto pledge of the Conservative & Unionist Party during the 2017 election; it potentially results in Northern Ireland permanently remaining in the Single Market – creating a border between it and the rest of the UK; it hands over a minimum of £39bn of UK wealth for a deal inferior to the status quo; and, it grievously undermines the UK negotiating position as the bargaining chips of cash and unilateral withdrawal are squandered. 

Should this pass into law it will bind future Prime Ministers’ hands and reignite public division nationally – and not least within the Conservative Party for at least a generation, almost certainly to its electoral detriment. 

The second step is to reboot the UK’s strategy towards negotiating an optimal trade deal with the EU.The UK should therefore prepare for an immediate arrangement based around World Trade Organisation rules in the short term, with a view to negotiating a tariff-free mutually beneficial trade deal with the EU as soon as the EU is able. We call this managed No Deal a ‘Clean Break’ with the EU – in direct contrast with the messy and dirty deal that is represented by the Withdrawal Agreement and its Political Declaration.

Global Britain has already published ‘Fact not friction – exploding the myths of leaving the Customs Union’ and 30 Truths about leaving on WTO terms’ to provide detailed rebuttals to the scaremongering surrounding ‘No Deal’.

In the longer term the success, or otherwise, of the UK economy will be based on the policy choices the UK makes. There is significant opportunity to improve on the current EU legal framework in terms of finding better solutions to a host of challenges – from agriculture to energy, from fisheries to trade. We believe if a future Government adopts a broadly open – free trade, competitive tax and appropriate regulatory system – the UK can lead the world in terms of opportunity, creativity and wealth. 

By contrast the Withdrawal Agreement severely limits future policy choices, clings to our continental nanny, lacks confidence and misunderstands the true economic drivers and opportunities of our country. Our plea is to believe that the UK is better than this and has nothing to fear except fear itself.

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