14 November 2018

No deal is better than this deal


Just as the fine print can make an apparently good deal into a bad one, it can also do the reverse. The Cabinet apparently has a few hours to read through 500 pages of fine print, without any outside scrutiny or analysis, before today’s cabinet meeting. The chances they will have the foggiest idea what implications May’s Brexit deal fine print has to be slim to none. But since, at the time of writing, UK commentators have not seen the fine print, there must be the tiny chance it changes everything.

However, let us assume it does not, and that the Brexit deal does indeed take the form the leaks suggest: Great Britain staying in a customs union and Northern Ireland staying in a customs union and Single Market unless and until the European Court decides some future agreement with the EU meets the EU’s requirements for the Irish border, the EU setting the UK’s social, environmental, competition and state aid policies without any UK influence, indefinitely, plus a few pages of waffle that commits to neither Chequers nor Canada+ as our future trade deal in exchange for the UK paying £40 billion.

Was this what Conservative MPs entered politics for? So they could gift Northern Ireland to the indefinite jurisdiction of a foreign power and have the rest of the United Kingdom’s social, environmental, economic, competition and state aid laws made for it in another land with our having no influence over the key laws that govern our everyday lives, until that power graciously decided it didn’t fancy doing so any more? When they are old and their great grandchildren ask: “So, when you were an MP, what was the most important thing you did?” do they want to say: “I voted to break up my country and make the remains subject to laws set by others”?

And Labour MPs, are you content to vote that, in a treaty — not a trade deal, but a core treaty with no mechanism for withdrawal or revocation — you will commit that the UK will surrender its control over state aid and competition policy to the European Union? Are your commitments to a new socialist agenda really so paper-thin, so much empty rhetoric, that you are willing to give them all up?

And for what? When did our government and our MPs become so cowardly that they feared the consequences of the UK setting its own laws, picking its own destiny and making its own new geopolitical partnerships in the world without some “deal” from the EU to help us more than they hated the prospect of surrendering the right of the British voters to pick the laws that govern them?

Even if the Withdrawal Agreement were not such an abomination, the fact that the Future Framework declaration is so thin and ambiguous should be grounds, alone, to reject the deal. Why are we paying £40 billion for five pages of waffle that does not even commit between a Chequers deal and a Canada+ free trade deal? Think, Labour MPs, of the schools and hospitals and public sector pay rises that could be paid for with that money? Do you want to go to your constituents and say to them: “You could have had a pay rise / your kids could have had a better schools / your grandma could have had that operation, but instead I preferred to give the EU £40 billion for nothing in return”?

If the reports are correct, and yet this deal nonetheless makes it through Cabinet, it can only pass the Commons if the SNP and large numbers of Labour MPs back it. There will be 60-80, perhaps even more Conservative MPs who vote against it. Theresa May will now surely face a no confidence motion. If she somehow survives that and then passes her deal through Parliament with Labour votes against the votes of up to a third of her MPs, that is surely the end of the Conservative Party. If Labour’s front bench votes against it, as they surely will, then if the government is saved by 100 Labour rebels, that will surely be the end of the Labour Party as well. British politics will be overturned, utterly and completely.

This path is madness. Everyone can see it, yet we hurtle on.

Reject this foul deal. Everyone must see that even if we were to accept it — to pay obeisance and kiss the EU’s ring — it could not last. As with Robert the Bruce, an intolerable surrender could only ultimately lead to our forswearing our oaths. In ten years’ time a Brexit 2.0 would finally free us, but at what cost in the interim? Do we really want to be debating nothing but Brexit for another ten years? Enough of this. Let us be gone and about our own business. We do not need a withdrawal agreement with the EU. It is our sovereign right to leave the EU and we do not need anyone’s permission to do so.

The EU offers only intolerable terms, so we should embrace the thing we can tolerate: no deal and the choosing of our own destiny. Of course that will mean change. Of course that will involve short-term transitional costs. Of course not everyone will like it and not everyone will benefit from it. But we will be true to ourselves, we will make our own laws and set our own path. We will not, for fear of what comes next, drive our political traditions and political parties laughing off the cliff to annihilation.

No deal was always better than a bad deal. This is, without doubt and by near-universal acclamation, a bad deal. So no deal it must be.

Andrew Lilico is an economist and political writer.