I’ve been debating with myself since last night whether to write this, but in the end I have to, otherwise I become just as supine as those Cabinet ministers who will no doubt find yet another reason to cling onto their jobs today and not do what their consciences tell them they ought to.
I went to bed last night thoroughly depressed at the situation the country has been landed in. Theresa May is trumpeting an EU deal which people on both sides of the Brexit debate can see leaves Britain in a state of total vasselage to the EU - having to abide by EU regulations, with no say over them. This morning that is laid out in stark terms by Michel Barnier’s deputy, Sabine Weyand. The Politico London Playbook describes her comments in this way…
Sabine Weyand has briefed EU27 ambassadors in the past few days that the “temporary” customs union May is signing up to will in fact form the basis for Britain’s long-term relationship with Europe. EU officials tell POLITICO they believe the backstop deal “will set a precedent” for future relations, and that Brussels does not intend to allow Britain to loosen this relationship as part of a future trade deal. It’s precisely what Tory Brexiteers have been warning about, and the timing could hardly be worse for Theresa May. The Times front page carries the same stark warning from Brussels, but with the added drama of an actual leaked note of Weyand’s comments at the meeting. She apparently told those present that by agreeing to EU rules and regulations as part of the “level playing field” arrangement, Britain has ceded significant power to Brussels. “We should be in the best negotiation position for the future relationship,” Weyand merrily told those present. “This requires the customs union as the basis of the future relationship. They [Britain] must align their rules, but the EU will retain all the controls. They apply the same rules. U.K. wants a lot more from future relationship, so EU retains its leverage.” The note adds that Britain “would have to swallow a link between access to products and fisheries in future agreements.” It will go down like a cup of cold sick on the Tory backbenches.
And we are supposed to sign up to this? It’s a constitutional outrage and reduces Britain - which is still the 5th or 6th largest economy in the world - to the state of an EU controlled province.
This is not what I voted for on June 23 2016. I am pretty sure it’s not what 17.4 million other people voted for. We now have the worst of all worlds, a Brexit In Name Only - commonly known as BRINO. Not in Europe, but still run by Europe, as William Hague might not have said.
Cabinet ministers are being urged to support this deal on the basis that it’s the best deal Theresa May can get. That’s not good enough. It’s a deal which is not sustainable, it’s a deal which no one is happy with, with the possible exception of Brussels, and it’s a deal which can’t possibly get through the House of Commons.
I feel I ought to be angry, but all I feel is a profound sense of melancholy. A sadness that it could have come to this. A sadness that our political leaders have proved to be totally incompetent. A sadness that a Prime Minister who promised too much has proved not to be up to the job. A sadness that she is being advised by people with a basic lack of balls. A profound sadness that history will judge this period as one in which instead of taking back control, Britain was relegated to the status of minor power. It is no exaggeration to say that this period will go down as the one in which Britain ceased to become relevant.
And yet it could have been so different.
It still could be.
I’m often asked if I regret my Leave vote. I most certainly do not. The reasons why I voted Leave are as valid today as they were two and a half years ago. There is no one to blame for the fact that the negotiations have ended up in this sorry way except for those who have been conducting them.
People say it was inevitable that things would end up like this. Poppycock, as John Major might have said. I do not subscribe to the view that our negotiating position was always weak. I do not subscribe to the view that the Northern Ireland issue was always bound to scupper things and mean we’d have to stay in the Customs Union and/or the Single Market. I could go on.
But we are where we are.
I started writing this article early this morning. I’m finishing it at around 5pm while the Cabinet is still meeting. I imagine this ‘deal’, if you can call it that, will get through the Cabinet because not enough cabinet ministers will have the balls to oppose it in any meaningful way. Yes, I’m looking at you Liam Fox, Michael Gove, Andrea Leadsom, Liam Fox, Penny Mordaunt, Esther McVey. I hope I’m wrong.
Given what we know, and given what we know has been briefed out to RTE and others, I doubt very much whether there is anything the Prime Minister can say which would encourage me to support this deal.
I do not subscribe to the point of view that we should just get out on March 29 2019 and take things from there. Tim Montgomerie is a much bigger critic of Theresa May than I am, but he begs to differ…
May has come back with inferior deal but it’s* better than no deal (for which we are not prepared), better than Remaining and better than a second referendum which would only open new wounds. It’s why, reluctantly, I’d vote for it if I were an MP.— Tim Montgomerie (@montie) November 14, 2018
* Assuming no nasties in text.
I totally understand the logic, but I don’t agree. I think if we sign a legally binding deal we can’t just go back on it a few months later, and that’s what Tim and Michael Gove are implying.
As I’ve said I have zero regrets about voting Leave, and I don’t resile from my vote in any way at all.
I regard this deal as so damaging to our country both in the short and long term that if I had to make a choice between voting for this deal or remaining in the European Union, I’d do the latter.
That does not mean I am advocating a second vote. I am not. It is the government’s job to get us through this mess and parliament’s job to hold them to account for it. If they can’t, then there will have to be a general election. I say that knowing full well what could happen. But this is the way a parliamentary democracy has to work. I don’t for one minute think Labour would have negotiated anything better, but they could hardly negotiate anything worse. We must let democracy take its course.
UPDATE: For the avoidance of doubt, I’d prefer no deal to this deal.