LeaveHQ, 14/01/2019  

Tomorrow MPs vote on Theresa May's withdrawal agreement. Some estimate a resounding defeat for the government of a magnitude not seen for a generation. It is likely, though, that there will be some unexpected late converts who will soften the blow. The scale of the defeat will be the decider on whether it gets a second lease of life.  

In the face of defeat, Mrs May has few options. The EU is adamant that there will be no renegotiation and the most we can expect is an exchange of letters clarifying the nature of what has been agreed. The received wisdom is that she'll jump on an aeroplane to Brussels and come back with a piece of paper in her hand, calling for another vote. That ploy, though, is so transparent and anticipated that it has probably been discounted. She'll need to ask for extra time to let the thing settle down.

She is undoubtedly trying to marginalise the ERG, making it a "my way of no way" contest. If the ERG sees Brexit at risk, the theory is that they will back May's deal. The ERG Tories, however, are such a dishonest bunch that they will have convinced themselves that no-deal is the only way, and they won't listen to May. The whole thing is a bloody mess that's impossible to call.

After much deliberation, the The Leave Alliance has resigned itself to backing the deal. We initially believed that if the deal were to be voted down there would be one last window for a plan B, but for that to happen there would need to be an indeterminate extension and the EU would only entertain starting over were there a new government. Despite the speculation of a coup, this is highly unlikely. The EU has its own timetable and is not minded  to allow any more messing about from the UK.

For all the pitfalls of the deal, it is still a deal, and though there is a bitter pill to swallow, Britain simply is not prepared for a no deal Brexit, and if nothing else, needs the deal in order for there to be a transition.

There is plenty about the deal to complain about, but in the end leavers must accept responsibility. Leave MPs have marginalised themselves throughout, ever clear on what they will not accept, but never forthcoming with a deliverable alternative grounded in realism. At every turn all the big decisions have been decided by circumstance. While the UK devoted all its runtime to negotiating with itself, the EU was writing the script. Had there been a plan before triggering Article 50 things may have been different. That there wasn't is solely the fault of the Brexiteers who had every opportunity along the way to deliver.

A plan would have allowed the Brexiteers to call the shots but instead the ERG united around the unthinkable WTO option, using all of their influence to promote that agenda. Being that there are such enormous costs and risks, rightly they have faced a wave of opposition. Never once have they sought any kind of consensus and have attempted to weave the narrative that any deal is a betrayal of the vote. 

The party faithful may well have fallen in line and grassroots Brexiters are deeply suspicious of theresa May, but the leave vote in 2016 was not a mandate to sever all formal relations with the EU. Were that agenda made clear during the referendum it is doubtful leave would have won. Even the risk of leaving without a deal was enough to convince some to vote remain.

The Leave Alliance warned that a plan would be necessary and that without one we would but the referendum victory in danger. That now seems to be the case where there is a renewed risk of remaining if the deal fails to pass. In effect the ERG tories are gambling with our victory for a game of double or quits. Should we lose the prize, Tory Brexiters will have had a hand in that outcome.

In the end we must be mindful that the nature of international relations is complex. It is inconceivable that two developed western allies have no formal trade relations. Any relationship is going to have binding compromises, some we will not like - but are ultimately necessary. This is the world as we find it. Should we leave without a deal then we are in the position of having to rebuild our relationship from scratch - from a much weaker position and as we restore cooperation it will likely be on the EU's terms.

No deal ultimately risks the UK's ability to recover and also risks us becoming a vassal state further into the future. It may also see us attempting to rejoin in the future. At least with Theresa May's deal we are still in the game. There is another window in which to avoid the implementation of the backstop if we can present a real world alternative in the subsequent negotiations. We must be pragmatic.

Our relationship with the EU is one that will evolve from Brexit. Trade is more than agreements on tariffs. The modern discipline turns on a number of pivotal areas of cooperation from air services to border controls and customs cooperation. What is decided now is sure to be revisited, not least because customs technology is always progressing and the EU will eventually adopt Single Window and other emerging frameworks. Eventually we may find the backstop as it now stands is redundant and once the air is cleared from Brexit, the mood will eventually soften. 

Much of the headlong charge for a no deal Brexit is wholly irrational. It may free us from EU obligations but in a world interconnected rules, nobody is a free agent. Not even the EU. Much of the regulatory measures we receive via the EU are the product of international conventions, not least those on state aid and those regarding the environment. Brexit was never in any form going to be a free for all. We have obligations. 

For those who say May's deal is not leaving, it should be noted that we are leaving the single market and the trade component will be a bilateral agreement much like the EU-Canada FTA, because that's all the EU in the framework of WTO rules can do for us. We dispense with freedom of movement and the regulation that goes with the single market. Of itself that is a seismic change that will bring both costs and opportunities. We have enough to be getting on with.

There are good reasons to oppose the deal but ultimately we have squandered every window to avert it. The Leave Alliance is especially displeased with the customs union aspect and our trade policy will have to be creative to avoid the traps it may create. But we have more to offer than agreements on tariffs which are increasingly of diminishing importance in trade.

The one merit May's deal has is that it gets us out intact and so we live to fight another day. It is the first step on a long road. It was always unrealistic to believe that forty years of political, technical and social integration could be undone at the stroke of a pen. As a beginning, the deal is sufficient. We will in a real sense have left the EU. More work is needed but we have always said that Brexit of itself is not a cure for what ails us. It marks the beginning of a new chapter - and there is much more work to be done. 

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