JANET DA­LEY

This agree­ment was put to­gether by peo­ple who were de­ter­mined to limit the pos­si­bil­i­ties of our exit

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Of course it would be bet­ter to re­main in the EU than to ac­cept this ap­palling “deal” – which is not in fact a deal, but merely a pre­con­di­tion for a pos­si­ble one. This is the place at which we were al­ways meant to ar­rive: the des­ti­na­tion de­ter­mined from the out­set by the se­lect group of peo­ple who de­cide these things.

What­ever “deal” was on of­fer would be guar­an­teed by Brus­sels and its Bri­tish friends to be so un­palat­able that we would all – how­ever we voted in the ref­er­en­dum – agree that it would be bet­ter to stay in. This is why we (and the Cab­i­net, and Par­lia­ment, and even the des­ig­nated min­istry that was sup­posed to be in charge of this process) were kept out of the loop un­til it could be sprung without any ad­vance warn­ing of how much was be­ing given away.

Twice now, Theresa May – or rather, the tiny cir­cle of ad­vis­ers around her who are ac­tu­ally run­ning the show – has used this trick.

Che­quers 1.0, ar­riv­ing last sum­mer out of the blue, com­pletely blind­sided the Depart­ment for Ex­it­ing the EU (DExEU), which had been work­ing on a Canada-plus free-trade plan, thus hu­mil­i­at­ing its head, David Davis, into res­ig­na­tion. Che­quers 2.0 ar­rived last week, hav­ing been kept un­der sim­i­lar Krem­lin-style top se­cret se­cu­rity, thus tak­ing out Do­minic Raab the sec­ond head of DExEU, whose po­lit­i­cal cred­i­bil­ity could only be saved by his de­par­ture. The al­most en­tirely un­known Stephen Bar­clay has now been ap­pointed as the third sec­re­tary of state for this Potemkin depart­ment, whose pri­mary func­tion is to serve as a front for the real ac­tion that is go­ing on in the sound­proof room, and which will now only be in charge of “do­mes­tic plan­ning” – what­ever that is. Good luck to him, who­ever he is.

Even as­sum­ing that Mrs May sur­vives the lead­er­ship chal­lenge – which is look­ing rea­son­ably likely as I write – there is no way this hor­ren­dous “deal” is go­ing to be passed by Par­lia­ment, since ab­so­lutely every­body has gone on record as hat­ing it. The Brexit Gang in the newly re­ar­ranged Cab­i­net, led by Michael Gove, is said to be in­sist­ing on mak­ing changes to it. Good luck to them, too. If the DUP, in its out­rage, aban­dons the con­fi­dence and sup­ply agree­ment, the Prime Min­is­ter will be run­ning a mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment that can­not be sus­tain­able.

Even her ob­tuse ob­sti­nacy (sorry, de­ter­mined re­silience) could not, un­der those cir­cum­stances, give her the vi­a­bil­ity that would be nec­es­sary to push through what will be the most con­tentious pieces of leg­is­la­tion in liv­ing mem­ory. So what hap­pens then? The Gov­ern­ment has seen to it that no deal is not a re­al­is­tic op­tion, so the choice of “this deal or no deal” is a com­plete red her­ring. The tire­less Re­main­ers who re­ally have their tails up will stop bang­ing on about a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum – which is a non-starter – and de­mand in­stead an ex­ten­sion of Ar­ti­cle 50.

This is a re­quest that Brus­sels should hap­pily ac­cept. Push­ing back the dead­line – stop­ping the clock, as Yvette Cooper has de­scribed it – on Brexit is a re­prieve that could so read­ily be made per­ma­nent: “later” could eas­ily be­come never, es­pe­cially if Brus­sels re­fuses to coun­te­nance any deal that isn’t re­pug­nant to the Bri­tish elec­torate. Ap­par­ently, the EU am­bas­sadors are al­ready plan­ning to de­mand more lon­glast­ing com­mit­ments from the UK, ef­fec­tively oblig­ing us to sign up in­def­i­nitely to as yet un­known fu­ture reg­u­la­tions and re­quire­ments of the cus­toms union. This is to be known as “dy­namic align­ment”, a tech­ni­cal term they have pre­sum­ably just in­vented for the pur­pose.

As every­body keeps say­ing (with elab­o­rate sighs of re­gret), we are where we are. So this is where we are: stuck with a pol­icy (a pu­ta­tive pre-con­di­tion for a deal) that is com­pletely un­ac­cept­able to all sides, es­poused by a prime min­is­ter who, as her es­sen­tial DUP al­lies com­plain, “will not lis­ten”. But the prob­lem is that she does lis­ten al­to­gether too at­ten­tively to the tiny group of peo­ple in whom she has de­cided to place the fate of the coun­try, and they are de­ter­mined to limit the pos­si­bil­i­ties of our exit from the EU to what they re­gard as the most min­i­mal in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the de­ci­sion.

If you want to hear the authen­tic voices of the in­ter­ests they rep­re­sent, lis­ten to the CBI. Their spokes­men sound, if not quite ec­static, at least hugely re­lieved. Locked into an ar­range­ment that we can only leave with per­mis­sion from the EU? Sub­ject to any fur­ther reg­u­la­tory sys­tem that

at tele­graph.co.uk/ opin­ion Brus­sels might care to in­vent? No prob­lem. This will just be busi­ness as usual – which is pre­cisely what they were hop­ing for and, amaz­ingly enough, pre­cisely what they got.

When she made her state­ment in the House last week, Mrs May made a point of say­ing that this was not the “fi­nal deal”. This was, pos­si­bly de­lib­er­ately, am­bigu­ous. It could have been in­ter­preted as mean­ing that this With­drawal Agree­ment (mis­tak­enly be­ing re­ferred to as a “deal”) was not yet in its fi­nal form: that it might be amended to ad­dress the crit­i­cisms that were com­ing from ev­ery di­rec­tion. What it re­ally meant was that the With­drawal Agree­ment is not a deal at all: what it does is set out the very lim­ited pa­ram­e­ters un­der which any fu­ture trade deal will be ne­go­ti­ated.

The lim­i­ta­tions on those dis­cus­sions are now crip­pling. due to the Ir­ish bor­der is­sue hav­ing been (sorry, this sounds taste­less un­der the his­tor­i­cal cir­cum­stances) weaponised. The Ir­ish ques­tion that might, with good will and rea­son­able com­pro­mise, have been re­solved tech­ni­cally and ad­min­is­tra­tively has been made into the In­sur­mount­able Ob­sta­cle. This is largely, as this col­umn has ar­gued and the man him­self ac­knowl­edged quite frankly in his Tele­graph ar­ti­cle last Fri­day, thanks to the ef­forts of Tony Blair in re­peat­edly push­ing it to the fore­front of the Brus­sels case and pre­sent­ing it as in­sol­u­ble.

So it’s all gone ac­cord­ing to plan. We are now in a very small log­i­cal box that we have con­structed for our­selves – or rather, that has been con­structed for us by the peo­ple who were de­ter­mined that Brexit, as most of us un­der­stood it, would never hap­pen. The With­drawal Agree­ment is not a “start”, as Mrs May keeps say­ing. It’s the end.

To hear the voices of the peo­ple Mrs May’s ad­vis­ers rep­re­sent, lis­ten to the CBI: they wanted busi­ness as usual, and that is what they have got

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