Generations will look back on this deal as
Resigning was never part of the plan. As a new minister working on the historic mission of withdrawing from the EU – a job I enjoyed and a quest about which I am passionatethe plan was to give it my all. Plough all my energies into securing the best deal with the EU – one that might not necessarily please everyone, but that would be faithful to the referendum.
So I find myself stunned that it has come to this. Resignation. Penning a letter to the Prime Minister setting out why I can’t support her policy. Why I’m unable to support the Government and vote for the deal. How did I get to this point? Am I an extremist? Did I fail to compromise?
I supported concessions throughout – concessions which have, at times, seemed perplexing for such a brave and innovative country. Concessions like the common rule-book, the antithesis of taking back control; a facilitated customs arrangement or rather a customs union in all but name, which will hinder our ability to strike free trade agreements around the world; £39billion paid to the EU for no legally binding future trade agreement in return; an implementation period when the UK won’t ostensibly be a member state but will still be subject to EU rules, free movement and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. I supported these trade-offs in the name of pragmatism and mindful of the need for political unity. Acutely aware of the parliamentary arithmetic, I chose to strengthen the Prime Minister’s hand – harmony over disruption, compromise over idealism. I kept faith in the ultimate destination to justify the uncomfortable journey.
But a line has been crossed. We have reached a point where the concessions bear no reflection to the people’s choice in 2016; people who send us to Parliament, who trust their politicians to do the right thing.
Where did these concessions come from? It was not the Department for Exiting the European Union, or at least their ministers past or present. This negotiation, rapidly acquiring the moniker of “the worst deal in history” is the product of the Civil Service, not of politicians. I must be clear: I have nothing but respect for the men and women with whom I worked at the department. They were indefatigable, talented and dedicated. But the failure of accountability to politicians was astonishing. Civil servants would routinely return from Brussels with the fruits of their endeavours, often having strayed beyond Cabinet mandates or setting policy decisions in legally binding text before ministers had even discussed them. I argued with officials about including a conditionality clause, which would make the payment of the £39billion contingent on a binding future trade agreement and which would give us some security in the event of a failure of talks. But no insurance policy was forthcoming. The approach always seemed to be not to upset Brussels. As a barrister used to the confrontational nature of negotiations, that didn’t make sense. Acquiescence can’t possibly be the strategy? Surely it was for ministers to make that decision? Surely it was for the elected representatives to call the shots?
Another chilling example is Clause 132, which allows the implementation period to be extended. That was never agreed by ministers or Cabinet as far as I know. It never appeared in any draft agreements I saw. Yet the final version of the agreement clearly states the settled position between the EU and the UK to extend the transition period until an unknown date. No wonder this deal cannot command the support of the majority of politicians, Remain, Leave, Left or Right. It has been forged not by those who have a political pulse but by those who are risk-averse, pro-Remain and who do not want Brexit to happen.
And then to the substance of the deal. Simply put, the Northern Irish Backstop is not Brexit. It prevents an unequivocal exit from a customs union with the EU thus robbing the UK of the main competitive advantage from Brexit. Without a unilateral right to terminate or a definite time limit to the Backstop, our many promises to leave the customs union will be broken. While I accept that we do not plan to use the Backstop, it is nonetheless an alarmingly strong likelihood judging by the snail-pace that the EU adopts in agreeing Free Trade Agreements, the lack of incentive for the EU to make such swift progress with the UK and the absence of serious consequences for the EU for failing to make sufficient progress on the Future Economic Partnership. And with EU negotiators making it clear that the Backstop is to form the starting point for the Future Economic Partnership, my worst fears are confirmed – 17.4 million people voted for the UK to leave the EU in our own sovereign way and at a time of our choosing. The Backstop renders this impossible and generations of people will look back on this as a betrayal.
Secondly, the proposals in the Northern Ireland Backstop set out different regulatory regimes for Northern Ireland and Great Britain threatening the precious Union in the west and fuelling the fire of Scottish Nationalist calls for a second independence referendum in the north. I understand the complexities of this issue. I am confident, having met customs professionals in my role at the Department, that such a break-up of the Union could have been avoided with the use of pre-border checks, technology and exemptions for the vast majority of small traders who operate at the border. Sadly the Northern Irish border has been confected into a problem rather than