I remain convinced that only two kinds of exit would be consistent with the vote to leave the EU.
Either we should leave with a deal of the kind the EU offered us in March 2018, or we should leave and trade on WTO terms whilst tabling a set of treaties to deliver on that offer of security cooperation, participation in institutions and a comprehensive advanced free trade agreement.
Other suggestions – such as remaining in the EU, the EU’s Customs Union or the European Economic Area (EEA) – would not be consistent with leaving and taking back the power to make legislation in our Parliament.
It is true that I have reservations about the Prime Minister’s deal but these are not small matters to be brushed lightly away. If the deal did unequivocally restore sovereignty to Parliament, liberate our fishermen and farmers and take control of UK trade and domestic economic policy and migration, then I would be able to support it.
As a minister for Exiting the EU, I was willing to make compromises which I would still support. These include the creation of a superclass of EU citizens with 8 years’ voluntary reference to the CJEU on questions of interpretation of EU law. In exchange for a sensible future relationship, I remain willing to support paying the financial settlement, notwithstanding the House of Lords demonstrating that legally we owe nothing. I would also support the “Implementation Period”, despite its dreadful construction, if it led to independence after a short, limited period.
However, the proposed Withdrawal Agreement would leave us trapped indefinitely as a satellite of the EU, obeying its laws without a vote, voice or exit unless the EU and its members gave permission for us to leave. Democratically, we would be in a worse position than EU members, potentially forever, with no lawful means of escape.
The Political Declaration is so weak and ambiguous as to leave us paying £39bn – that is, £1,400 per UK family, or £60m per constituency – and getting nothing in return. This is despite the EU’s lead negotiator, Michel Barnier telling Parliament he was willing to link payment with progress towards a free trade agreement.
On the interpretation of the Political Declaration made by the Prime Minister, we would be heading into a trading arrangement based on a “single customs territory” and a high degree of mandatory alignment to EU rules. A single customs territory is the product of a customs union, which would eliminate our capacity to conduct an independent trade policy. Entering one would be a direct breach of our recent manifesto pledge to leave the EU Customs Union. A high degree of mandatory alignment to EU rules would not only leave us vulnerable as rule-takers, but it too would eliminate our capacity for an independent trade and regulatory policy.
The Union of the UK would be damaged by differential treatment for Northern Ireland. Since the DUP are simply unable to tolerate threats to the Union, the confidence and supply arrangement could end if the deal were passed, leading to a general election.
In order to find a way through these issues, I participated in the creation of the Malthouse Compromise, designed to make the Withdrawal Agreement acceptable to a majority in Parliament, and to throw three safety nets around exit without a Withdrawal Agreement, if that proved necessary. The Compromise rests on the “Brady Amendment”, which required replacement of the backstop with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland, and which enjoyed a majority in the House of Commons.
My colleagues and I have made many compromises in an attempt to secure our exit from the EU with agreements in place but a limit has been reached.
- A summary of the flaws in the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration, the ERG’s Right to Know: http://bit.ly/ERGRightToKnow
- How to proceed following the first House of Commons rejection of the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) and Political Declaration (PD), A Better Deal and a Better Future: http://bit.ly/BetterDealPDF
- Why the Commons was right to reject the WA and PD for a third time, Why Brexiteers were right to reject Theresa May’s deal, and why it’s right to reject it again if it is brought back, by Lawyers for Britain: http://bit.ly/RightToRejectDeal
- The Malthouse Compromise explainer, seeking to find a way to deliver a majority in Parliament for a deal: http://bit.ly/MCExplainer