There are countless flaws in the Withdrawal Agreement, says a former ambassador to the EU. Here are fiveby David Hannay / November 1, 2019 / Leave a comment
Now that the die is cast, with both Houses of Parliament having endorsed a polling day of 12th December, it is no longer particularly useful to set out the arguments in favour of having a confirmatory referendum on Boris Johnson’s deal before any general election, compelling though they are. Time rather to look in some detail at that deal, because the outcome of the December election is likely to determine whether or not we leave the EU on those terms.
It is striking that neither Johnson himself, nor his supporters, have said virtually anything to substantiate their claims that the deal is “brilliant,“ “magnificent“ or any other superlative you like to think of. It is enough that it exists, and thus avoids the disaster of leaving without a deal—a course which the government was happy to embrace until it realised, rather late in the day, it needed to be avoided at any cost. That was why so much baggage from the government’s own proposals in early October was thrown overboard on the last stage of the voyage and why the deal struck bears not the slightest resemblance to the one it earlier put forward.
No wonder, therefore, that the government sticks to a high level of generality and will no doubt continue to do so during the election campaign. Here are five reasons why it should not be allowed to get away with that:
(1) Economically it really is a rotten deal. Now that think tanks—but not the government itself, which refuses to produce an impact assessment on it—have run a ruler over its terms, it transpires that we will, within a few years, be foregoing substantial amounts of economic growth. Around £70bn every year on the estimate of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research. A worse outcome even than Theresa May’s deal, which many in the cabinet voted against; worse than anything except leaving without a deal;
(2) It does not in fact take the risk of no deal off the table, it merely postpones it until the end of 2020 when the transition period runs out, unless it is extended, a decision the government has kept entirely to itself and away from parliament. The notion that Britain’s necessarily complex future relationship with the EU can be negotiated, agreed and ratified within 11 months after 31st January next year, let alone within five months when notice has to be given by the UK if it wishes the transitional period to be extended, is fanciful, to put it mildly;
(3) Nor is it even remotely true to assert that the deal “gets Brexit done.“ The negotiations on Britain’s future relationship with the EU will dominate politics throughout 2020 and probably for several years beyond if the deal goes through;
(4) The Johnson deal puts the union of the United Kingdom seriously at risk. Not only does the customs and regulatory border down the Irish Sea, between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, constitute a step which Johnson previously denounced and May said no prime minister could ever contemplate; but it revives the prospect of a border poll. And, by leaving Scotland out in the cold, it gives a shot in the arm to the SNP’s campaign for another independence referendum;
(5) And then there is the little matter of a level playing field between the UK and the EU, which the government’s latest deal seriously weakens compared to what was earlier contemplated. This involves everything from workers’ and consumers’ rights to environmental standards. The more we insist on the right to diverge, the worse will be the trade deal the EU will be prepared to sign up with us.
There is plenty else which is wrong with this deal; great stretches of decision making which the Withdrawal Agreement Bill leaves the government to determine with little or no parliamentary oversight. So much for “taking back control.”
It is quite understandable why so much of the electorate is sick and tired of the debates over Brexit which have consumed our politics for the last four years, and long for an end to it. But this deal does not offer an end to it. What it does offer is a deeply flawed and disadvantageous outcome which will shape many aspects of our national life in the years ahead; and one which will leave us less prosperous, less secure and less influential than we would otherwise have been.