There is no conceivable way this draft Brexit deal could improve upon the status quoby Jonathan Lis / November 22, 2018 / Leave a comment
On 18th April 2017, Theresa May stood outside Downing Street to announce the snap general election. “We will regain control of our own money, our own laws and our own borders,” she said. Today, having negotiated the political declaration for the UK’s future relationship with the EU, she returned to the microphone to repeat the exact same phrase.
It is no longer a promise. 19 months on, we can prove that it is a falsehood.
First, money. Not only has the government committed to a divorce bill of £39bn, but we will be pouring cash into EU coffers for decades to come. The declaration identifies some of the numerous EU instruments in which we might wish to participate, with the ominous proviso of “a fair and appropriate financial contribution.” That is what we pay now, while gaining a handsome rebate. After Brexit we will give up that rebate, still send money, and lose any substantive control over it.
Second, laws. The declaration is an object lesson in masking the voluntary handover of sovereignty. It pledges to “build and improve on the single customs territory provided for in the Withdrawal Agreement which obviates the need for checks on rules of origin.” The single customs territory is the wording used to describe the “backstop”: it is a customs union in all but name. Even if we did somehow leave it, the agreement commits the UK and EU to forming “single entities” for sanitary and phytosanitary rules, which would block the UK from breaking existing agricultural rules in its trade agreements. The fabled chlorinated chicken and hormone beef will not materialise, and neither will a trade deal with our largest partner outside the EU, the United States.
As for the icon of EU law—the European Court of Justice—the declaration dashes Brexiters’ hopes once again. The document affirms that the future UK/EU arbitration panel should refer questions to the court “as the sole arbiter of Union law, for a binding ruling.” To add insult to their injury, it also commits us to remaining in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)—the source of so much right-wing outrage frequently misdirected at the (entirely separate) EU. May once resolved that the UK would leave the ECHR. It will not.
Brexit’s disappointments do not end there. The declaration makes clear that there should be a fisheries agreement on “access to waters”—which will form the sine qua non of any UK access to EU markets. And Empire 2.0 jingoists will be dismayed to read that the UK might still contribute to the EU’s foreign-policy initiatives and defence missions—just as now—only this time without significant oversight.
There is, in short, no chance that an MP committed to a hard Brexit could ever endorse this Brexit deal.
Which brings us to the one thing May can boast about: borders. Other than the Irish one, which she has pledged to keep open, and the Channel one, which she wants to be frictionless, she can today crow over the gleaming spoils of control: the end to free movement. The declaration proclaims that the two sides will consider “conditions for entry” for purposes beyond short-term travel. Take a moment to marvel at May’s actions—not just towards Poles and Slovaks, but towards her own people. The prime minister leads perhaps the only government in the world that would actively celebrate compelling 27 other countries to rescind its citizens’ rights. Dreamed of having the automatic freedom to retire in France or Spain? Dream again. Those days of “queue-jumping” for British pensioners are over.
May and David Davis used to promise a trade deal ready to sign off and implement on 29th March. The prime minister has instead delivered 26 pages of vague aspirations. A government could use it to take us out of the single market and customs union and split Northern Ireland from Great Britain, or to remain a paid-up member of every key EU instrument. Any comprehensive trade deal will require deep integration with no meaningful UK influence, and still less a vote. The choice thus remains unchanged: Britain can, voluntarily, either devastate its economy, or become a lobbyist pressing its nose against the window of a room it once helped to lead.
Accordingly for this dreaded “blindfold Brexit,” the deal tries to be all things to all people. Brexit will be both hard and soft, the UK both aligned and autonomous. Indeed, you could correctly surmise that after two years, the UK has finally won cake to have and eat. So ask why. The declaration is cakeist because it is meaningless. Brussels is trying to give May all the tools she needs to sell the deal to waverers on both sides of the debate. But the EU is not stupid and is not surrendering its key safeguards on either the single market or Ireland. This deal commits it to nothing. It can sign off on a unicorn-hunt because it knows the unicorns will not be found.
Now, finally, is the time to accept the truth: almost nobody voted for this Brexit and almost nobody displays any enthusiasm for it. There are no circumstances in which it could improve upon the status quo. Leavers will have EU integration; Remainers will lose their seat around the table; the UK will surrender the control it was guaranteed to take back. As we stand humiliated, the empty promises of prosperity and sovereignty will foment fresh decades of resentment in the voters who demanded it.
Before the general election, the prime minister appealed to voters to help “strengthen my hand when I negotiate for Britain in Europe.” She has caved on every EU red line, alienated voters, and replaced the promised trade deal with a series of platitudes that could have been written the day she took office. She pledged a deal that delivered for Britain, and Britain must now judge the result. Theresa May sought the approval of the electorate at the start of this process. She must do so again at the end.