With the vote of confidence behind her, the Prime Minister can now take a different approach to negotiations with the EU. Yesterday, I was on a panel including David Davis MP, DUP leader Arlene Foster, Shailesh Vara MP, customs expert Hans Maessen to launch ‘A Better Deal, an alternative Withdrawal Agreement’. Retaining the vast majority of the draft Withdrawal Agreement, it identifies and removes the poison pills that have prevented the draft Withdrawal Agreement from finding cross-party support.
‘A Better Deal’ consists of four main elements. First, there is no “single customs territory” between the UK and the EU, allowing the UK to regain control over its tariffs and regulations which is required to carry out negotiations for trade agreements with other countries.
Secondly, a new, extendable backstop replaces the Northern Ireland Protocol. This maintains the territorial integrity of the UK and allows the UK to regain control over its tariffs and regulations. It would not in itself be a negative outcome and it could quite legitimately become the frontstop. It includes:
- a free trade agreement in goods: zero tariffs and no quantitative restrictions, providing for tariff-free trade in goods plus UK-EU regulatory cooperation.
- a Customs and Trade Facilitation Chapter with an Irish border protocol: an agreement to deploy advanced customs and trade facilitation measures, including specific solutions for the Irish border.
- no infrastructure on the Irish border: a commitment by all parties not to place infrastructure on the border.
- regulatory recognition based on deemed equivalence because we will be identical on day one of Brexit: on sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) and animal health measures and mutual recognition of conformity assessment, with measures to ensure that the animal health and disease control zone on the island of Ireland can be maintained.
Third, the removal of Geographic Indications provisions (GIs). These are more appropriate for a trade negotiation and are a controversial aspect of trade policy for the UK’s other trading partners.
Lastly, we have removed language on WTO collaboration in the UK’s modification, to ensure that the UK can operate independently in the WTO.
What is remarkable about ‘A Better Deal’ is the support it has gathered from across the Conservative Party and beyond it. Former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab MP described it as “modest and reasonable changes that could help salvage the proposed deal with the EU”. While former Northern Ireland Minister Shailesh Vara MP (who voted remain in the referendum), calls it “a concrete proposal which meets the needs of the Northern Ireland — Ireland border and preserve the integrity of the United Kingdom”.
Our reformed Withdrawal Agreement builds on the offer made by the EU itself in March 2018 and reiterated only this week by Michel Barnier, commands support in Parliament and honours the referendum result. A better deal with the EU – and for the UK – really is possible.