Line by line, lie by lie...

The New European - - Agenda -

There was some­thing truly Trumpian in the prime min­is­ter’s ‘Let­ter to the Na­tion,’ the main points of which – “strong and sta­ble”-like – she has re­peated ad nau­seam ever since the na­tion re­ceived it, and is now tak­ing on a na­tion­wide tour.

Trumpian not just in the grandios­ity of the con­cept, or the overblown claims about the “brighter fu­ture” to which she says her ‘deal’ is go­ing to lead us. But Trumpian above all in the half-truths, bla­tant mis­in­for­ma­tion and down­right lies. For a vicar’s daugh­ter, she is a bit cav­a­lier when it comes to the “thou shalt not bear false wit­ness” com­mand­ment.

Not for the first time in the Brexit de­ba­cle, Ni­cola Stur­geon was the leader who best cap­tured what I felt about May. “I don’t say this lightly,” tweeted Scot­land’s first min­is­ter, “but al­most noth­ing in this des­per­ate let­ter is true. This is a bad deal, driven by the PM’S self-de­feat­ing red lines and con­tin­ual pan­der­ing to the right of her own party. Par­lia­ment should re­ject it and back a bet­ter al­ter­na­tive – sin­gle mar­ket/ cus­toms union or #Peo­plesvote.”

May wants us to be­lieve that her deal de­liv­ers on the ref­er­en­dum, and pro­vides clar­ity about our eco­nomic fu­ture. It does nei­ther.

So now she hits the road, as­sum­ing that the more the coun­try sees of her talk­ing about her deal, the more they will like it and so put pres­sure on MPS to sup­port her. This is good news for the Peo­ple’s Vote cam­paign.

Her track record, most no­tably the snap elec­tion cam­paign that led to her los­ing the ma­jor­ity David Cameron had won, sug­gests that far from build­ing sup­port, she might fur­ther erode it.

In­deed, ev­ery time she warns that de­feat of her deal takes us “back to square one”, I sense more and more peo­ple think­ing back to square one might be a very good place to be right now.

Back to hav­ing a gov­ern­ment able to fo­cus on more than Brexit. Back to be­ing one of the most re­spected coun­tries in the world, not some­thing of a global laugh­ing stock. Back to hav­ing the fastest-grow­ing econ­omy in the G7, not the slow­est. Back to be­ing one of the three fore­most Euro­pean pow­ers. Back to hav­ing a seat at the most im­por­tant top ta­bles in world pol­i­tics and eco­nomics. And, of course, back to square one takes you back to the most fun­da­men­tal ques­tion of all… should we even be do­ing this?

If this re­ally is the best deal avail­able, might we not be bet­ter stick­ing with what we have? A few months ago, that ques­tion was an ec­cen­tric whis­per. If Theresa May did not have such a tin ear, she would hear that the whis­per is be­com­ing a loud cri de coeur she and her fel­low MPS would be wise not to ig­nore.

It is time to face the truth… that what we have is bet­ter than any ver­sion of the Brexit on of­fer. A Peo­ple’s Vote, I be­lieve, would con­firm that. Which is why May and the Brex­trem­ists are united in fear of it. The deal is “in our na­tional in­ter­est”. There can be many def­i­ni­tions of the na­tional in­ter­est. But ac­tions which en­hance the pros­per­ity and the power of the na­tion in ques­tion are usu­ally top of the list. This deal weak­ens our power in the world, and by ev­ery sin­gle anal­y­sis, in­clud­ing the gov­ern­ment’s, also harms our fu­ture pros­per­ity.

Hence the queue of min­is­ters who have tried so hard to avoid a straight an­swer to the straight ques­tion “will this deal make us worse or bet­ter off ?” The an­swer is: worse off. Since when did do­ing some­thing which the gov­ern­ment knows will make peo­ple worse off rep­re­sent “the na­tional in­ter­est?” This re­ally is a first in po­lit­i­cal his­tory. The deal works for “all of our peo­ple, whether you voted Leave or Re­main”. Like­wise, there can be many def­i­ni­tions of “works for”. But when both sides have con­demned the deal for dif­fer­ent rea­sons, and when the most ve­he­ment crit­ics ap­pear to be the Brexit sup­port­ers for whom she in­sists she is do­ing this, even if this falls short of the out­right lie cat­e­gory, it is at best a state­ment of the ab­surd. As for her prom­ise that the deal will unify the coun­try, this might have car­ried more weight if she had sought to unify us over the past two-and-a-half years. The deal will put “an end to vast an­nual pay­ments to the EU”. I won­der how many ci­ti­zens of the na­tion saw that and made an as­sump­tion that this “end” will be “put” as soon as we leave? In fact, we will be pay­ing off the so-called ‘di­vorce bill’ well into the next decade, and if we have to ex­tend the process, that bill will go higher and have to be paid for longer. As to what we get in re­turn, this seems to have been lost in the post. “We will be able to spend Bri­tish tax­pay­ers’ money on our own pri­or­i­ties, like the ex­tra £394 mil­lion per week that we are in­vest­ing in our long-term plan for the NHS.” This one is in the pants on fire cat­e­gory, a bla­tant ef­fort to pre­tend there is a link be­tween Brexit and ad­di­tional fund­ing for the NHS, the so-called Brexit div­i­dend, a big black lie spawned by the big red bus, and ex­posed so of­ten it is a def­i­nite and dis­ap­point­ing breach of the above com­mand­ment that she con­tin­ues with the pre­tence. “We will take back con­trol of our laws.” This is a pretty fat one too. We have al­ways had con­trol of our laws, some of which we have cho­sen to pass as part of our sov­er­eign mem­ber­ship of the EU. She is giv­ing that con­trol away, as dur­ing the tran­si­tion pe­riod we have to obey all EU laws – in­clud­ing new ones in whose cre­ation we will have no say at all. Rule-taker not rule-maker. Added to which, she has been forced to con­cede that the EU has a veto on whether and when we can be freed from the re­straints of the ‘back­stop’. This re­ally is the vas­sal state of which the Brex­trem­ists have warned. And in any fu­ture trade deal with the EU (the trade ar­range­ments that in pre­vi­ous it­er­a­tions she said would be clear at the same time as the di­vorce bill was set­tled) the UK will have to fol­low ‘level play­ing field’ rules on tax, the en­vi­ron­ment, state aid, and much else. “We will be an in­de­pen­dent coastal state once again, with full con­trol over our waters.” Hmmm, pres­i­dent Macron clearly didn’t get the let­ter. Sun­day’s sum­mit was barely over when he re­minded the UK that the deal keeps “ex­ist­ing re­cip­ro­cal ac­cess and quota shares” to avoid the back­stop. Far from set­tling these is­sues, the ‘deal’ has left them wide open, but we have di­min­ished our own ne­go­ti­at­ing strength at a time we will need it most.

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