We all know the problem over Theresa May’s Brexit deal, don’t we. The EU insisted on its red lines, offering nothing that would allow Britain to trade outside the customs union or single market. Hence her deal was botched because she was under the EU cosh.
But what if this analysis were 180 degrees out? What if the opposite were the case?
What if the EU had in fact offered the UK a comprehensive free trade agreement for the whole of the UK with zero tariffs and no quantitative restrictions, with regulatory co-operations and measures to facilitate customs and Irish border controls?
And what if in response the UK had refused to accept this but had itself insisted on some measure of customs union/single market alignment, so that the EU thought all its Christmases had come at once?
Crazy? Impossible? Turning reality on its head? After all, why on earth would the UK turn down an all-but-ideal Brexit agreement with the EU for one which, as Mrs May’s deal does, would keep the UK under the EU thumb but with no influence, thus ensuring it left the EU in name only and remained on terms that would leave it worse off that it is now?
Makes no sense at all, does it?
Yet according to one well-informed observer, that is precisely what happened.
Shanker Singham is an international trade policy expert, a trade and competition lawyer who has advised US politicians and administrations on trade, competition and regulatory issues. Later today, at a meeting with various Brexiteer MPs and the DUP, he is presenting a revised proposed deal which builds on the free trade agreement he says the EU was previously prepared to offer.
According to him, while the EU was prepared to offer an advanced free trade agreement which would work for the complex supply chains in the EU-28, the UK insisted on incorporating parts of the single market and customs union. There would be differences in a free trade agreement, of course, but just-in-time supply chains flourish inside such agreements, particularly very liberalising ones like NAFTA or the Australia-New Zealand deal. But the UK wanted to keep in alignment to some extent with the EU.
Why? There are three possible reasons.
- Utter incompetence and a failure to understand what a free trade deal involved;
- A conspiracy to defy the referendum result and set out effectively to keep the UK in the EU;
- Under enormous pressure from major corporate players such as the CBI, Japanese car manufacturers etc who wanted the UK to remain in the single market/customs union, Mrs May and her civil servant Brexit negotiator Oliver Robbins tried to square the circle.
The EU thus had no incentive to return to its free trade deal offer as long as it believed Mrs May would get her deal through parliament. But if that deal is voted down – and crucially, if it looks like the UK will thus leave the EU without a deal – the EU will need a deal that will get through.
Singham says he knows this to be so because it has already happened. Around two weeks before the Withdrawal Agreement was finally agreed, when the EU thought Mrs May wouldn’t do it, Singham says that in a meeting he had with politicians and technical experts the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, suggested that he prepare an alternative deal and reiterated the EU offer.
So the EU, Singham says, will agree a free trade deal on the UK’s own red-line terms of no customs union or single market or ECJ control – but only if it believes that otherwise the UK will leave with no deal.
Which is why the MPs’ current tactics in doing everything they possibly can to thwart leaving with no deal is utterly disastrous and deeply hostile to the UK’s national interest. All the hysterical talk of postponing the Brexit date, holding a second referendum, seizing from the government control of the negotiations and giving it instead to a committee of MPs – all this tears up the UK’s biggest negotiating card, that it is prepared to walk away with no deal which would be ruinous to the EU.
Only if the UK shows it is prepared to walk away with no deal will the EU make the deal the UK wants. This is negotiation 101. It was obvious from the very start. It is no less obvious now.
But MPs are doing absolutely everything they can to stop Brexit from happening, reportedly including a backbench coup against the government supposedly aided and abetted by the Commons Speaker, John Bercow. Last week, this supposed champion of the House of Commons tore up its own rules in order further to enable Remainer guerrilla activity.
These MPs claim to be ultra-democratic because they intend to remove control of Brexit from the government and hand it instead to backbenchers. But that’s not democratic at all. It is instead a gross abuse of Britain’s democratic compact between leaders and led.
Britain’s system mainly consists of representative democracy, punctuated on rare occasions by a plebiscite of the people on fundamental constitutional issues. In 2016, MPs used their democratic representative power to hand to the people themselves the decision whether to remain in or leave the EU.
The MPs voted to hold this referendum by 544 to 53. They then stood for election in 2017 on manifesto promises to implement the result, which they enshrined in the European Withdrawal Act 2018.
So by trying to block Brexit, they are not only betraying the people’s decision but are tearing up their own manifesto promises on the basis of which they were elected to parliament in the first place.
Now Mrs May is using those MPs’ aberrant behaviour as a further cudgel to get her way. She says MPs must vote for her deal or parliament may block Brexit altogether.
But here’s what MPs need to have in the forefront of their minds today: Mrs May’s deal does not deliver Brexit but is Remain in disguise. Under its terms, the UK would remain under EU control – but since the UK would no longer have any say in the EU, it would mean remaining under worse terms than now.
In a podcast on the Briefings for Brexit website, Professor Gwythian Prins has revealed that a secret tape recording fell into his hands in which senior civil servants explained how they intended to dupe the public by ensuring that Brexit would be an exit from the EU in name only.
“Now, in this tape … you hear this young man who is two heartbeats away from the Prime Minister saying several things which are constitutionally astonishing. The first is that he explains openly an intention to hoodwink the British public who voted to Leave with pretence, with what he calls ‘fluffy language’ which will seemingly conform to the mandate to Leave. But in the defence area, the language and the technical agreements – which I have just indicated to you in the earlier answer – will all lock us into a subordinate role in defence and security under the emerging military EU. He actually states it.
in name only.
“The tapes are called ‘the Kit Kat tapes’. And the reason they’re called the Kit Kat tapes is that on it you also hear another official, another civil servant, a woman called Victoria Billing, and she says it’s like a Kit Kat bar, you have a shiny label on the outside which seemingly conforms to the will of the people to leave the EU, but inside you’ve got a chocolate bar which is constructed to keep us engaged with . . . it is in fact Hotel California, as I argued in one of my pieces on Briefings for Brexit – and you’ll remember the Eagles’ song, ‘You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave’ – or BRINO as people now call it – Brexit In Name Only”.
Now MPs who are implacably against no-deal are threatening to resign from government or resign the whip if Mrs May, having lost the Meaningful Vote this evening, decides to stick with the default position of leaving with no deal.
These faux-democrats should instead resign their seats and stand for re-election on the basis that they are thus taking a stand against enacting the democratic decision of the people to leave the EU and against their own election manifesto commitment – and then see what their voters make of that.
In practical terms, all mooted alternatives to no-deal are worse than pointless. Putting off the date of leaving would further extend this ruinous uncertainty, and for what?
A second referendum is not just an anti-democratic ruse to vote again and again until the “correct” result is achieved; voters would also be no better informed about the likely results of leaving than they were two years ago.
In that referendum, people didn’t vote to leave under a particular kind of arrangement, or with a deal rather than with no deal. They voted for one thing only: to leave the EU. Every MP who either votes for Mrs May’s deal or tries to thwart the default of no-deal will be thus trying to thwart the democratic will of the people.
The fear of leaving with no deal has been exaggerated to ludicrous proportions. Take the projected crippling queues of road hauliers resulting from new checks at Calais. According to Jean‑Marc Puissesseau, President Chairman of the ports of Boulogne-Calais, however: “There will not be any delay. The trucks will be passing as they are doing today.”
Of course there will be some problems and disruption. But many have made the calculation that short-term difficulties will be worth it for the long-term gain, both economic and democratic.
So why are so many Remainers so frantically against no-deal? First, because no-deal seems to them to be the only way of actually leaving the EU, which in their minds seems to be an act against nature itself. And second, because they really don’t believe that Britain can go it alone.
For among other divides, this is a split between those who believe in Britain and those who don’t. This isn’t just about believing that the world’s fifth largest economy would take the basket-case EU to the cleaners. It’s also about the British people’s visceral love of freedom, the commitment to defend the independence of their island nation which is in their collective DNA, and their deep, deep dislike of being pushed around and told what to do. This lies at the very core of what it is to be British.
Yet the referendum terms being dreamed up by the former Attorney-General and arch-Remainer Dominic Grieve wouldn’t even have no-deal on the ballot paper. This would instead present a choice between Mrs May’s Remain deal and, er, Remain.
Who would ever have thought this supposedly punctilious lawyer would turn into Britain’s very own fanatical Robespierre?
For this is potentially a revolutionary moment. In the 17th century, England was engulfed by a civil war between parliament and the Crown. This is shaping up, scarcely less disastrously, to become parliament versus the people.