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Selling a sellout: the truth about the PM’s ‘deal’ with Brussels

theresa may prime minister

The Prime Minister is trying to “sell” her Withdrawal Agreement to the country. But she is making totally false claims about it.

The italicised text is taken from the government’s new propaganda website, ‘The Brexit Deal explained‘.

“On 29 March 2019 the United Kingdom will leave the European Union – fulfilling the democratic decision taken by the British public.

“We have achieved a deal with the EU that delivers on that decision, a deal the nation can unite behind and one that Parliament should back.”

  • NO. The European Withdrawal Act 2018, which is already law, delivers on that decision. In contrast, the draft Withdrawal Agreement binds the UK indefinitely to the EU in a subordinate position.
  • This Withdrawal Agreement is not required for us to leave the EU and regain our status as a sovereign country on 29 March 2019.
  • It isn’t even a ‘deal’. There is no future trade agreement with the EU just a non-binding wish-list, with our fisheries, farming, immigration and economic policies all set down as bargaining chips. The Withdrawal Agreement is in fact the most expensive divorce settlement in history, which we are under no legal obligation to sign.

“It is time to get on with it.”

  • Indeed it is – but by accepting the current “Withdrawal” Agreement, we are unlikely ever to leave the European Union.  It would be more accurately termed the Remain Agreement.

“If we back this Brexit Deal, it means:

  • “We will control our own borders and end free movement once and for all”
    • NO. Free movement remains during the transition period, and rights obtained under free movement laws by EU citizens up to 2021 remain theirs for their lifetime. The UK will be obliged to align its social security rules with those of the EU even after the transition period ends, so benefits will still be exportable to non-resident EU citizens. The Mobility provisions in the political declaration on the future relationship state that free movement will end in theory, but it envisages a raft of measures to facilitate travel for business, study, training and family reasons, which combined will not give us full control over our borders. Free movement is therefore on the table as a negotiating point.  The EU is likely to insist on more labour mobility as a condition the future ‘partnership’.
  • “We will protect jobs with a deal that is good for our economy”
    • NO. Less than 50% of our export economy is linked to the EU, with which we run a £95 billion annual trade deficit.  Only 10% of UK businesses actually trade with the EU.  Economic performance is far more dependent on other factors. The state aid, competition and regulatory alignment provisions in the Withdrawal Agreement and Future Partnership declaration give the EU effective control over British farming and fisheries and a binding say over many key areas of economic policy. Moreover, free trade with the EU is not guaranteed and is subject to continued negotiation with the EU as part of the ‘future partnership’. There is no legally binding commitment on the EU to deliver it. Indeed, the proposed temporary customs union will introduce new trade frictions without the advantages of enabling the UK to set its own trade policies.
  • “We will no longer send vast sums of money to the EU so we can spend more on our priorities, like investing in our long term plan for the NHS.”
    • NO. The Withdrawal Agreement commits us to sending vast sums of money for at least the next ten years to the EU. During the transition period we will have to pay our contribution to all EU budgets as though we were still a member state, with no say in how the money is spent. This is estimated to be around £40 billion pounds in return for absolutely nothing.  And under Article 140 we will have to pay the EU for our share of the EU’s future budgetary commitments, as well as those of its decentralised agencies, even made in 2021, when we have supposedly left the EU. These liabilities may fall due up to and beyond 2029.
    •  Meanwhile, the Withdrawal Agreement allows the EU to commit as much of our money as it wants to as many future programmes as possible for the next two years. We will have no vote on any spending decisions taken but will be legally bound to pay for them. This is clearly not ‘taking back control of our money’, but signing over the UK’s credit card to an organisation which has no incentive whatsoever not to max it out.
  • “We will be able to strike free trade deals around the world.”
    • NO. Although under the Withdrawal Agreement, Article 129(4), the UK can in theory negotiate deals that can come into force after the transition period, the fact the transition period can be extended to 2023, plus the aims of the future UK-EU partnership, make independent trade deals extremely unlikely in reality. The future partnership declaration mirrors the terms of the backstop, which creates a customs union with the EU. This requires us to implement EU tariffs and trade sanctions, mirror the EU’s trade policy, observe close regulatory alignment with the EU and allow the EU to set highly restrictive state aid, competition and environmental laws for the UK. Free trade deals with any other countries could not happen – indeed, under the ‘backstop’ we would lose access to the markets of countries with which the EU has Free Trade Agreements, but those countries retain access to our market.  In other wordsm those countries would have no reason to negotiate with the UK, as they would get access to the UK anyway via a deal with the EU, without having to offer any quid pro quo to Britain.
    • Furthermore, under Article 129(3) of the Withdrawal Agreement the UK cannot undertake “any action or initiative which is likely to be prejudicial to the Union’s interests, in particular in the framework of any international organisation, agency, conference or forum of which the United Kingdom is a party in its own right.”  Therefore, the EU effectively has a veto on our whole foreign and trade policy.
  • “We will take back control of our laws, ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK”
    • NO. The ECJ can continue to impose judgements on us under Withdrawal Agreement for an indefinite number of years to come. And as it has the final say over matters of Union Law and interpretation of the Withdrawal Agreement, it will still have jurisdiction in the UK.
    • Furthermore, the Withdrawal Agreement creates an unelected Joint Committee, bound by European law, which becomes a supranational governing body of the United Kingdom. It has the power to make decisions on vast areas of policy in secret and enforce those policies in the United Kingdom with the legal backing of the ECJ.
  • “We will keep people safe against crime, terrorism and other threats by working closely with European countries”
    • NO. A new security partnership is suggested in the Political Declaration but not guaranteed. Moreover, actions on law enforcement and judicial cooperation will be subject to the ECJ and will depend on how many EU obligations we accept (Political Declaration, para. 83). These obligations would seriously undermine our ‘Five Eyes’ security alliance, on which we are vitally dependent.  So the dangers from crime and terrorism could get worse under this deal.
  • “And we will protect the integrity of our United Kingdom”
    • NO. The backstop is more likely to lead to the break-up of the UK.  It creates a political, regulatory, judicial and fiscal border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, effectively ending the Union as we know it,
    • It threatens to condemn two million British citizens in Northern Ireland to remain indefinitely subject to most of the rules and institutions of the Single Market.  This would impede trade across the Irish Sea. In 2016, Northern Ireland sold £15 billion of goods and services to the rest of the United Kingdom; it exported only £4 billion worth to the Irish Republic. 
    • A major obstacle to the resumption of power-sharing at Stormont will have been created, and the status of the Province will once again be a sticking-point in relations between the UK and the Republic.
    • The backstop is the quickest way to undermine both the Good Friday Agreement and the prosperity of Northern Ireland.
    • The people of Northern Ireland would be left in a state of constant uncertainty, trapped between a UK and an EU mired in negotiations, and the leading pawn in every passing squabble. The Irish Republic would become the only representative of the interests of Northern Ireland, with obvious long-term implications for the Union.

“However, if we reject this deal, we will go back to square one. This would mean:

  • “Damaging uncertainty which will threaten jobs, investment and the economy”
    • NO. ‘No deal’ plans are in fact well advanced (despite attempts to keep them secret), and could be implemented in very short order. Successful businesses adapt to changing conditions, and 55% of our exports already go to non-EU countries where markets are always subject to “uncertainty”.
    • Chronic “uncertainty” would come if during a damaging ‘transition period’ Britain was trying to negotiate a bespoke deal which the EU is under no legal obligation to agree to.
  • “More division”
    • NO. Accepting this deal would make division worse, because Leave voters recognise it does not deliver on the referendum result and are furious. It would provoke a crisis in our democracy.  Realization of the long-term damage being done to the economy during the long and painful transition period, during which the EU can do as it likes and which we would be powerless to resist or to end, would make conflict over Brexit central to our politics for years to come.
  • “Less time to focus on the issues that matter here at home, like the NHS and our schools”
    • NO. Under the proposed deal, the need to continue to negotiate a future relationship (which the EU is not legally obliged to agree to anyway) would necessarily mean continued focus on Brexit until at least 31 December 2020, possibly much longer if the transition period is extended or we enter the backstop by default in the absence of a future trade agreement.  Only by getting Brexit done in March 2019 by exiting on WTO terms would we be able to focus on matters at home like the NHS and schools

“So this is the choice: Backing the deal in the national interest so we can build a brighter future – or going back to square one by rejecting it.”

  • NO. This is a completely false choice. Brexit will happen on 29 March 2019 without this agreement. There is no need to ‘go back to square one’. An alternative Withdrawal Agreement and future partnership proposal are already in existence (prepared by DExEU under David Davis and rejected by the PM before it could be tabled in Brussels) and this would make a good basis for the rebooting of negotiations so that we actually leave the EU with a trade deal, become fully sovereign and deliver the Brexit people voted for.
  • May’s ‘deal’ would keep us tied to the EU for as long as the EU so wishes, because its punishment provisions, which reduce the UK to a satellite state, would be enshrined in an international treaty. Rejecting it should be considered as escaping from a disastrous trap while we still can, rather than going ‘back to square one’.

“However you voted, now is the time to come together. It is time to get on with it.”

  • A WTO deal would be ‘getting on with it’. Chucking the draft Withdrawal Agreement and negotiating a trade agreement rather than a political union, would be ‘getting on with it’. Keeping us shackled with no say at all to EU institutions and regulations, plus the ongoing uncertainty of continued discussions on the future relationship is not ‘getting on with it’.  This ‘deal’ is nothing but a short-term fig-leaf to disguise the disastrous incompetence of Theresa May and her chosen few in the Article 50 negotiations.

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Briefings For Brexit