The EU heads gathered today to sign off on the proposed Brexit deal hammered out over the past two years. All I would say is the whole process has become an omni-shambles of the highest order.
It got off to a promising start when Mrs May gave her LancasterHouse speech which set out the Governments priorities for the Brexit negotiations
The objectives were clear and well received - take back control of our laws, controls over immigration and an end to freedom of movement, leave the single market, freedom to strike our own trade deals and a smooth and orderly transition which would entail a broad agreement on our future partnership by the end of March 2019.
This was January 2017 and it seems it has been downhill since then.
|(I've printed this image on my punchbag...it helps a little)|
Of course he is supposed to be politically neutral but he was president of the Oxford Reform Club which promotes a federal European Union and is therefore a committed Europhile which puts into question just how impartial he could be in the role of negotiations to leave.
He has been assisted by Sir Tim Barrow who took over following the resignation of Sir Ivan Rogers who accused the government of muddled thinking
For the EU, Sabine Wayand has done much of the hard work as deputy to Michel Barnier. She has 25 years experience in trade negotiations and is well acquainted with the UK having studied at Cambridge in the 1980s
Some people suggest the civil servants led by arch remainer Robbins have been working hard to stitch up the Brexit process by skillful manipulation to end up with a last minute 'deal' which is being sold as delivering what we voted for but in reality will mean very little changes. To some it appears that Robbins has been gradually softening up the PM by willingly accepting the EU lines and persuading Mrs May we have little alternative. Of course he would be pushing lines upon which another remainer would not need much persuading.
The NI Backstop
One of the biggest obstacles to progress has been finding a solution on how to avoid customs checks and a hard border between Ireland which will remain in the EU. Obviously whilst the UK has been a member it has not been a problem but now we are proposing to leave the customs union and single market, the two parts of Ireland could have different taxes, tariffs and regulations which would need to be checked at the border.
In 2017, in order to make some progress, both sides agreed to the backstop which means if no solution can be agreed during the future trade negotiations after we leave, then NI would remain in the EU customs union and parts of the single market and would therefore be treated very differently to the rest of the UK.
Scotland who wish to remain in the EU could argue that if it applies to NI why not them? This could be very damaging for the unity of the UK. Obviously the DUP are opposed to any measures which treat NI differently and their leader says they will vote against the current deal.
The WA if accepted, would invoke the NI Backstop Protocol which runs to 175 pages (of the 585) and basically ensures that if no agreement is reached during the transition period (or two year extension), then the whole UK stays in the EU customs union and subjects NI to a raft of single market directives and regulations. If it comes into play we have no way to exit without the consent of the EU so they have a veto. President Macron has indicated he will use the threat of the backstop to get a good deal on fishing and other countries will use this leverage to get what they want in the future negotiations.
We are effectively prevented from striking trade deals around the world whilst the EU hold all the aces in the future trade negotiations knowing that if we do not agree, they maintain access to the UK markets whist keeping us tied to the EU.
We could end up being locked in for many years to come.
The future relationship document (not legally binding) offers warm assurances that both sides are 'determined to replace the backstop' but I fear the EU would say anything to get the WA agreement in place.
The Withdrawal Agreement
On 15th November after much speculation that it was getting too late to reach an agreement...ta daa...the final draft of the WA is presented to No 10 and there is an emergency cabinet meeting called to ensure they are all on board. Bear in mind this is a document stretching to 585 pages of complex legalese text equivalent to reading 'War & Peace'. Ordinary people are not intended to read these documents. I am sure this was intended - keep it complex and deliver at very last minute...
The important point is that if we accept it then we have no way out...we will be stuck with it unless the EU agree to a replacement agreement...there will be no get out clause or cooling off period.
The basic proposals include hand over the £39bn to cover the transition period to end 2020 which may be extended to 2022 without knowing what, if any, trade arrangements will be agreed. Stay in custom union until new agreement on trade is reached failing which we enter the 'backstop' arrangement which ties us into the CU indefinitely unless a 'joint committee' sets us free. Being in a customs union means we continue to pay the EU an additional £30bn for the extra two years and also prevents us from striking our independent trade deals with non-EU countries
NI would be treated differently to the rest of the UK and would be more closely aligned to Dublin rather than London.
The ECJ has jurisdiction over the withdrawal agreement including transition period(s), the potentially permanent backstop arrangement as well as the financial settlement
The deal would undermine and seriously compromise the integrity and sovereignty of the UK and is a far cry from what was set out at Lancaster House. If the Commons vote for the deal, it will bind us to the EU for an indeterminate period, will remove any independent control and hand it to a 'Joint Committee' who have exclusive jurisdiction to implement all aspects of the WA for up to four years after the end of the implementation period and settle any disputes. Any unresolved matters can only be resolved by the ECJ. This JC will alone decide on any extension to the transition period.
Our PM talks about taking back control of our laws and sovereignty...dream on!
The Future Agreement
First question...why has it taken over 2 years to thrash out the WA and just a week to sort out the future relationship?
It looks like all our obligations, including payment of £39bn and probably a further £30bn due if we enter an extended transition, are nailed down in the 585 page legally enforceable WA whilst all the potential benefits of our future trading arrangements are set out in this 26 page framework document... which is not binding and has no legal standing whatsoever.
I cannot for the life of me understand why this part of the process has to be left until after we have left on 29th March. How on earth are we supposed to take a view on the withdrawal agreement before we actually have some degree of certainty what our future relationship will be like? This means our MPs are being asked to vote on a 'deal' with only the sketchiest of understandings of the future set out in this political declaration...which is not binding and the EU could easily backtrack on.
The PM must have agreed to go along with this arrangement at the outset so I guess she must take responsibility. This has to be a serious mistake but I have not read much commentary so far.
The framework is full of aspirational words and could be interpreted as giving every party some of what they require. It aims for a future agreement which balances rights and obligations. The more we want to maintain close ties with the EU, the more we will need to accept their rules and submit to the EU courts in the event of disputes.
Importantly, it contains a commitment from both sides to 'build and improve upon the single customs territory' provided for in the WA. This is not of course binding but the EU would have no moral duty to agree a trade deal which permits the UK freedom to pursue its independent trade policy with the rest of the world.
The aim is to start negotiations after we formally leave on 29th March 2019 and hopefully enter a formal agreement by the end of the transition period end 2020. We have the option to extend the transition period by two years to end 2022 (which takes us after the next election in May 2022). If the future relationship is still not agreed then the backstop arrangements kick in which keep us in the CU and tied to the EU without the ability to unilaterally pull out.
This gives the EU a very clear advantage throughout the negotiations.
I think there is no doubt the establishment have deliberately set out to undermine the Brexit process and appear to have succeeded. Having a concerted fear campaign before the referendum vote in 2016 which most people treated with contempt, our Wesminster elite have ramped up the fear factor for no deal to maximum so our politicians are now facing a vote on whether to accept the deal presented by May & Robbins without any clear promises on the future trade agreement or reject the deal which may result in leaving on WTO rules.
To be honest, I would rather take my chances with a clean break and WTO rather than remaining tied to the EU with no say in future policies. The current deal offers the worst possible solution - legal obligation to pay £39bn, not out of the EU, continue to pay more in, split off NI, subjected to EU courts and unable to strike our own trade deals.
The establishment offered the people a vote and when it did not turn out the way they wanted, they have worked hard to find a way to keep the UK so closely aligned that it will feel no different to when we were still a member.
I am left wondering how we could possibly get things so wrong. What do we have after two and a half years? May and Robbins have led everyone along the proverbial garden path and here we are with no time left having to decide on a crap deal which pleases neither leave or remain supporters. For the EU it would be a tremendous outcome.
To be honest, I would not be surprised if Robbins deliberately made the deal so bad that nobody in their right mind could possibly accept it and calculated this would eventually result in a second referendum and the people voting to remain after all...far fetched possibly, but...
The big mistake was allowing a staunch europhile like Robbins to take charge of negotiations...that said, I guess there are probably not many top civil servants who voted leave...
This feels embarrasing and humiliating. We could have said to the EU after June 2016 'Look, we are leaving the EU however we really would like a free trade deal and we are sure you probably would too so lets see what can be agreed. If we cannot find agreement then we will arrange to leave on WTO rules'. The basics could have been established in a couple of months.
I honestly cannot believe our MPs could vote this through...they have set aside 5 days for the debate culminating in the big vote on Tuesday 11th December. This is not so much a bad deal more an atrocious deal. The PM needs 318 votes to get it over the line - a significant number of her backbenchers say they will vote against, the DUP, Labour benches and SNP so my best guess is she will be at least 70 short.
If they vote down the deal, which surely they must do, the default position is that we leave on 29th March on WTO rules. However, they also want to avoid a no deal so they may consider another vote which is made conditional on the outcome of a referendum. Parliament could also ask the EU to postpone this date whilst we had another general election.
The proposed deal would be nothing short of capitulation and surely few people - whether remain or leave - believe Mrs May when she says we have delivered on Brexit, taken back control of our borders, our laws and money, free to negotiate our own trade deals around the world.
We have wasted the past 18 months getting to this point and, as I said in July following Chequers, I honestly cannot see a good outcome from where we are now. We are facing a political and constitutional crisis and our PM and her cabinet colleagues along with senior civil servants should hang their heads in shame (but of course they won't). There will no doubt be inevitable unintended consequences flowing from this betrayal from those in many parts of the country who will be left once again feeling alienated, let down and ignored.
This feels like the end of the beginning - it will run and run...aaagghhh...
Personally, I don't much care anymore - I probably should have known better but feel badly let down by our politicians and the way I am feeling at present, will not take part in future elections. It seems whoever you vote for, the political elites always have their way. It was probably ever thus....
I am sure if you have read this article you probably have a view so feel free to leave a comment below. Should we go along with the deal to bring the uncertainty to an end? What should happen if MPs vote against the deal?