Just as we thought the orchestrated fog of confusion around the Withdrawal Agreement was about to lift, there were reports that Theresa May might even postpone the meaningful vote again while she seeks “reassurance” from the EU about the Northern Ireland backstop.
Whatever fudge is cooked up in Brussels to try to bolster support for her “deal”, it is very unlikely that the EU will delete the backstop. Why? Because it is a crucial element of the Withdrawal Agreement’s “triple lock” structure designed to stop Brexit. “Withdrawal Agreement” is an Orwellian misnomer, of course. This agreement keeps Britain in chains.
Voters may believe we need it in order to leave the EU. We do not. They could be fooled by the Prime Minister’s repeated claims that there might be “no Brexit” unless it is passed – when of course Brexit will happen by default without it under the terms of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act. Voters might also be forgiven for believing that the Withdrawal Agreement settles our future trade relationship with the EU. Not in the slightest. Future trade talks remain just that – in the future – while May’s “deal” keeps the UK legally shackled to a moribund EU economy which it must attempt to revive with vast sums of British taxpayers’ money for an indeterminate number of years.
Project Fear has been in overdrive since the Withdrawal Agreement was published, with spin, misrepresentation and blatant untruths deployed to sell it to a rightly suspicious nation. But once people open the Withdrawal Agreement tin, they seem more inclined to spit out its contents than swallow them whole. It’s rather like buying a can labelled “tomato soup” and finding it contains a concoction of deadly nightshade.
But credit where it’s due: EU officials (ably abetted by their British allies) have produced a devilishly clever draft treaty which, if passed, would end Brexit and get Britain ready to board the express train to a United States of Europe. The political takeover of the UK represented by the Withdrawal Agreement is an audacious attempt to reverse a damning popular vote of discontent with the European Project and provide fresh impetus for the federal superstate that is the EU’s raison d’être.
The EU’s triple lock guarantee is so constructed that never again will Brussels be troubled by an explosion of democracy in the United Kingdom. Parliament has one last chance to escape total eclipse – and it is now, by rejecting the Withdrawal Agreement in its entirety.
The first lock: the transition period
The first lock is the transition period, which lasts until at least 2021. We must hand over an estimated £39 billion for nothing, be bound by EU law and take orders from an unelected Joint Committee operating under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. Will the EU27 agree an equitable free trade agreement before the end of 2020? Unlikely, since all the goodies they want in the “future partnership” are set out in the Northern Ireland backstop, which kicks in automatically on 1st January 2021 unless superseded by a “partnership” agreement. Full ratification by all Member States is required before any such agreement can come into force. Achieving this in time to avoid entering the backstop would be nothing short of miraculous, even if the EU agrees to extend the transition period for one or two years. So it is more pay with no say and a likely doubling of the Brexit bill to £80 billion, to be paid with no reference to British MPs.
The second lock: the backstop
The backstop is intended to be inescapable. It prepares Britain for the final destination set out in the political declaration, as a permanent satellite state of the EU. By which time, of course, it is doubtless hoped that we will be so fed up with our vassalage that we decide to rejoin the EU as a full member – with greatly increased budget contributions and a whole swathe of new EU law to obey. The United States of Europe will have taken shape during our “wilderness years” using our money (“Britgeld” seems to be an appropriate term), but without our political input. No taxation without representation? What a joke.
Not only does the backstop carve out Northern Ireland as an EU province and set a border in the Irish Sea, it creates a partial “customs union” that requires us to implement EU trade tariffs and policy with no decision-making powers. Under highly restrictive “non-regression clauses”, the UK also agrees to implement all EU environmental, competition, state aid and tax harmonisation laws, with the unelected Joint Committee and the ECJ once again able to punish us for any perceived backsliding. British farmers will be locked into a subsidy regime well below support received by EU27 farmers, who nevertheless retain tariff-free access to the UK. British agriculture would be decimated. It means we could not support British businesses, give ourselves a competitive edge in new technologies where we excel, strike independent trade deals or diverge in key policy areas such as goods regulations and tax. Free EU access to UK fisheries is set down as a marker for negotiation in the future “deal”.
The third lock: the “future partnership”
Anyone expecting the EU27 to give up the immense advantages they gain under the backstop is delusional. Retaining tariff-free access to the UK market and effective control of UK trade and competition policy must be nirvana for them. To ensure they reap the full benefit, there is the third and final lock in the Withdrawal Agreement. Unless we agree to a “future partnership” as set out in the political declaration, the backstop will endure in perpetuity.
The Political Declaration replicates all the onerous “non-regression” clauses of the backstop and requires even more surrender of sovereignty via participation in and funding of the EU’s aerospace and defence programmes, free access to UK waters for EU fishermen, a full customs union and common trade policy, free movement by the backdoor under “mobility” clauses, EU control of UK agriculture via the state aid rules and in general full adherence to the acquis communautaire in all policy areas.
Thank you for your triple lock guarantee, M. Barnier. The Withdrawal Agreement cage conforms to the highest EU safety standards.
But could I have my Sovereign Tomato Soup now, please?
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