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