It looked a bad week for democracy. Geoffrey Cox judged that the EU’s legal guarantees were meaningless. In the chaotic fallout out May’s latest failure to get her Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament, it is likely that Parliament’s vote for an extension of Article 50 will be granted. In a surprising twist the EU’s preference may be for a long delay to include the UK participating in EU elections in May. Several ERG members are wavering about opposing the Withdrawal Agreement and the DUP are being offered sweeteners to do the same.
On a more positive note, the Government avoided ceding control of the Parliamentary timetable to Parliament with the narrow defeat of the Benn amendment There were also comic scenes as the so-called People’s Vote campaign tried to prevent the vote on a second referendum taking place (knowing heavy defeat was inevitable). After this crazy week, Brexiteer MPs are faced with a battle to ensure that Brexit is not overturned by the combined anti-democratic forces of extreme Remainers and the EU Commission. Theresa May strains patience and democracy in refusing to recognise that the WA must be abandoned. We hope that the ERG and DUP will hold their nerve, vote down the WA yet again and live to fight another day.
The situation may be less dire than it looks at first blush. The threat of an extension is not what Brexiteers desire, but it is much less damaging than actually agreeing to the Withdrawal Agreement. Even a two-year extension is not much of a threat. These two years would be identical to the WA’s transition period, except (and it is a big exception) that the UK would have a full vote on EU changes and reforms. With potential allies in Italy, Poland, Hungary and elsewhere, and with a pro-Brexit PM the UK’s bargaining power could be transformed. In short, an extension is better than a bad deal.
Professors Verdirame and Ekins together with former first parliamentary Counsel Sir Stephen Laws have written on the Policy Exchange website that the Cox advice was too pessimistic. They argue that the undertaking by the EU to use best endeavours and good faith in agreeing an alternative to the backstop has force in international law. In their view. EU could not simply negotiate a new agreement indistinguishable from the existing backstop.
We are not entirely convinced by this. We note that the negotiations to replace the Backstop have aims drafted by the Irish Government, i.e. to “address the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland, maintain the necessary conditions for continued North-South cooperation, avoid a hard border and protect the 1998 Agreement in all its dimensions”. These aims will no doubt be used constrain UK options especially since the Political declaration accompanying the WA says we should build on the WA’s customs union.
Meanwhile preparations for no deal advance apace. French Customs have developed a new smart borders system using bar-codes and number-plate recognition to avoid stopping HGVs at Channel and North Sea borders. Funny we haven’t heard about this from our own Government. A new report suggests that Dover can cope.
On the website this week
Pulling the Wool: The PM’s Last Gasp, by Graham Gudgin
In what may become to be known as the Strasbourg stunt the PM and EU made a last desperate attempt to push the Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament. This article by BfB co-editor and Cambridge economist Graham Gudgin considers why it had to fail.
“The [legal advice written by the] Attorney General does not expand on the political risks, but they are much greater than has been widely suggested and deeper than suggested in his letter.”
The EU is a major drag on the UK economy, by Harry Western
In an important and wide-ranging blog, economist Harry Western sets out the evidence that the EU’s anaemic economic growth has hobbled UK trade and manufacturing, while UK consumers have suffered by being forced by the EU customs union to buy overpriced EU products.
“Overall, the above analysis shows clearly that the EU has, over the last two decades, failed to provide the kinds of benefits that proponents of EU membership promised from the 1960s onwards.”
An anonymous Civil Servant provides a lively account of the repeated attempts by Theresa May and the EU to persuade MPs to vote for the WA, despite multiple crushing defeats in Parliament. The EU’s Brexit pantomime, written by theatrical wizards Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel (with choreography by Michel Barnier, Tony Blair and Theresa May) is being delivered flawlessly by the motley crew of actors in the Commons.
“Unlike an irreverent and uproarious British panto, it is not funny at all. Instead it’s an insult.”
The backstop: a violation of human rights? By an anonymous lawyer working in government
The attorney general, Sir Geoffrey Cox, is reported to have told Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, that the Northern Ireland ‘backstop’ potentially breaches the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Briefings for Brexit has previously raised this issue. The author, a lawyer working in government who wishes to remain anonymous, explores what precisely underlies the Attorney’s argument.
“The EU’s demands hugely diminish the voting rights of the citizens of Northern Ireland.”
Ignore the nay-sayers – here’s why we’re still on course for a clean Brexit on 29th March, by Christopher Howarth
We republish Christopher Howarth’s article for Brexit Central, who argues that it is already certain that we will leave the EU on 29th March without a deal or without the backstop. He sets out his reasons for this view and the lack of credible counter-arguments.
“In normal times a government defeated on a major policy would show some contrition, maybe even resign, but not this one. MPs are going to be invited to vote again and again until, well, they sign away their right to vote to the EU27. This is an idiotic policy that is bound to fail.”
No Deal is A Gentle Slope Not a Cliff-Edge, by Lee Rotherham
Lee Rotherham urges readers to see a Strongly Mitigated No Deal for what it is, rather than the Hieronymus Bosch scene painted by those who want the UK to stay in a Customs and Regulatory Union.
“We should approach our options with less trepidation. No Deal has its speedbumps, and some indeed will buffet the undercarriage. But… in the final analysis, the Project Fear cliff-edge scenario turns out in the end to be less Boxgrove Man, and more like Piltdown.”
Will MPs Give EU a Win-Win Brexit? By Briefings for Brexit
A BfB writer explains why No Deal is still on the table despite the Commons’ vote against it this week. By voting for an extension of Article 50, MPs have handed a double victory to the EU, giving Brussels the chance to demand further votes on May’s Deal or a second referendum, while keeping the UK in for now and liable to future budget contributions. But the extension is still preferable to May’s Withdrawal Agreement.
“If it comes to that, the deal must still be voted down. It’s far worse than an extension, which in fact is akin to entering the transition period but with no deal, thereby allowing the UK to retain a lot of room for manoeuvre.”
Political Declaration: a Brief Analysis, by Briefings for Brexit
Take a look at the reasons for which we think Parliament was right to reject the Political Declaration that accompanies the Withdrawal Agreement. The Political Declaration seeks to keep the UK permanently tied to Brussels. Like the Withdrawal Agreement, it represents a bad deal for Britain and an even worse deal for democracy.
“The Political Declaration accompanying the draft Withdrawal Agreement has been largely overlooked in the furore over the Northern Ireland backstop. However, the two are closely linked.”
Project Practicality – the WTO Deal, by Caroline Bell
Caroline Bell sets out evidence proving that far from “No-Deal” (or as it should more correctly be termed, a return to full sovereignty trading under WTO rules) being a disaster or a “cliff-edge” scenario, a deal based on WTO rules looks more and more like the best deal on offer. This article pulls together some of the many announcements on trade, citizens and other areas that give a clear outline of what this WTO Deal looks like, and shows that they form an attractive package.
“There is nothing whatsoever to fear from leaving the EU without an agreement and reverting to WTO rules. These rules have been long-established, are universally accepted, and present no change at all for the majority of our exporters.”
EU Adds Fourth Lock to Withdrawal Agreement, by Briefings for Brexit
The 11 March 2019 Joint Statement Supplementing the Political Declaration has added to the already restrictive Withdrawal Agreement a fourth means by which to lock the UK in, unable to make important political and economic decisions of its own.
“The Attorney General’s advice today on this new “tweaked” package, that nothing has changed in terms of the backstop, confirms that this Withdrawal Agreement is still a very bad deal for Britain and could see us trapped indefinitely in a quasi-colonial relationship with the EU.”
The Subscribers’ Views page on the website allows subscribers to submit their own articles. Submissions welcome. This week we publish two pieces:
‘The EU Threat to UK Prosperity Post Brexit’, by Ed Robertson
Ed Robertson argues that the Irish Border is being used by the EU as a distraction to draw attention away from their prime reason for introducing the Backstop: to retain control of UK trade post Brexit.
“Once the Backstop is activated, the UK will not be able to levy tariffs on imported goods from countries outside the EU at a level less than those being charged by the EU. This will effectively stop the UK from negotiating free trade deals around the world.”
‘Brexiteers Should Now Prepare to Back Mrs May’s Deal’, by Robert Lee
Robert Lee presents the argument of quite a few Brexiteers that despite being much less attractive than leaving on WTO rules, Mrs May’s deal is now the best we can get.
“Nobody hopes for a WTO Brexit more than me, but hope is not a strategy.”
We are also on Twitter at https://twitter.com/briefing4brexit, posting articles and retweeting the daily events that bring Brexit to the fore in the national news.
Lots of discussion on Facebook this week. Bev Peck approved of the dark comedy of our Brexit pantomime series: ‘You have to laugh or you would cry……what a disgrace!’
How you can help
We urge our supporters to ‘take back control’ in our present confusion. There are thousands of you. Our MPs listen to their constituents. Write to your MPs. Perhaps send them copies of some of our articles (or links to them), especially when they are relevant to your local conditions – for example, in rural areas, on the threat to British agriculture. Better still, make an appointment to see them at their next surgery: they will take notice when people are lining up at their doors. Make you views known where MPs might be wavering, or where they are working to sabotage Brexit, especially in Leave-voting and marginal constituencies, which Richard Johnson listed in his recent article.
Do also keep reading our posts, and tell others about us. Share links to our quality content so that others can understand how leaving the EU can be good for the UK economy and for our own democratic governance. We aim to educate our critics to think differently and more positively about the long-term impact of Brexit.
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An Oxbridge PhD Student
Dr Graham Gudgin
Economist, Centre for Business Research, Judge Business School University of Cambridge
Professor Robert Tombs
Emeritus Professor of French History, University of Cambridge