MPs should re­ject this wretched deal

The Sunday Telegraph - - Letters to the editor -

On Tues­day, we will dis­cover if the courage of Bri­tish MPs is a match for the courage of the Bri­tish elec­torate. As­sum­ing that the vote is not pulled by a des­per­ate Gov­ern­ment for whom the full scale of its cat­a­strophic mis­cal­cu­la­tion is fi­nally dawn­ing, the House of Com­mons will be asked this week to en­dorse the With­drawal Agree­ment and ac­com­pa­ny­ing Political Dec­la­ra­tion agreed by Theresa May with the EU last month. MPs should re­ject this wretched deal, if pos­si­ble by a crush­ing, three-digit ma­jor­ity.

The es­tab­lish­ment has used ev­ery trick to brow­beat Parliament into nod­ding through the Agree­ment. But their warn­ings only re­veal the depth of our political and eco­nomic elite’s de­clin­ism. The UK’s cur­rent trading re­la­tion­ships are per­fect, they have de­cided, as if Europe was not a fad­ing con­ti­nent plagued by political un­rest, an ex­treme demo­cratic deficit, un­com­pet­i­tive taxes and reg­u­la­tion, and a deca­dent be­lief that the world owes it a liv­ing. They sug­gest that noth­ing could be done to min­imise the dis­rup­tion of an al­ter­na­tive exit, as if the UK would pas­sively ac­cept what­ever pun­ish­ment the EU de­cided to mete out. They even con­sider it im­pos­si­ble that a bet­ter agree­ment could have been ne­go­ti­ated. In do­ing so, they be­tray the lack of am­bi­tion, the nar­row le­gal­is­tic think­ing, the sta­tus quo bias, and, yes, the pro-EU mind­set that has gripped the com­mand­ing heights of our political sys­tem.

The deal Mrs May has ne­go­ti­ated was not in­evitable, but the re­sult of mam­moth in­com­pe­tence, an ob­ses­sion with end­ing free move­ment while sac­ri­fic­ing al­most ev­ery­thing else, and a ter­ror of real change. It is the very op­po­site of what the pub­lic voted for. Two years ago, the courage of the Bri­tish peo­ple was clear: they saw through the dis­grace­fully dis­hon­est warn­ings of Project Fear and had faith in the po­ten­tial of the coun­try. The man­date they gave the politi­cians also could not have been clearer: a re­turn to in­de­pen­dent self-gov­ern­ment. How can the Gov­ern­ment pre­tend that its With­drawal Agree­ment achieves that? It would leave the UK locked in the EU’s reg­u­la­tory or­bit, po­ten­tially stripped of any chance of at­tain­ing an in­de­pen­dent trade pol­icy due to the so-called back­stop, split down the mid­dle with a bor­der in the Ir­ish Sea, and hu­mil­i­ated as a com­pli­ant vas­sal state of Brus­sels with no way of uni­lat­er­ally break­ing free.

The Gov­ern­ment says that, if this deal were to fail, there is a high risk of Brexit not hap­pen­ing. It’s time to call its bluff. The shenani­gans of a small mi­nor­ity of Tories should not hold Brexit hostage. The re­al­ity is that their party, and much of the coun­try, will not tol­er­ate the can­cel­la­tion of the great­est ex­er­cise in demo­cratic ac­count­abil­ity in Bri­tish his­tory. If MPs do try to stop Brexit from hap­pen­ing al­to­gether, it would trig­ger a com­plete re­align­ment of West­min­ster pol­i­tics and prob­a­bly force a gen­eral elec­tion. If a rein­vig­o­rated, truly pro-Brexit Tory Party were to win, as would be likely, the con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis, pit­ting vot­ers against their rep­re­sen­ta­tives, would be re­solved.

For all the talk about Nor­way Plus – a mis­nomer that would be even worse than Mrs May’s deal – a Canada-style re­la­tion­ship is the ideal al­ter­na­tive to the PM’s pro­posal, but it has been stymied by the re­fusal of EU lead­ers to con­sider tech­no­log­i­cal so­lu­tions to the Ir­ish bor­der is­sue. One might hope that a ring­ing re­jec­tion of Mrs May’s agree­ment would leave the EU in no doubt that the UK will not ac­cept a back­stop­shaped sur­ren­der. Will it com­pro­mise and re­alise that the machi­na­tions of politi­cians such as Ire­land’s Leo Varad­kar are in­com­pat­i­ble with reach­ing a fair deal based on mu­tual re­spect?

And if Brus­sels puts EU the­ol­ogy ahead of prag­ma­tism and re­fuses to budge? So be it. Un­like many of our political lead­ers, we do not be­lieve that the UK lacks the ca­pac­ity for in­de­pen­dence. Even at this late stage, and de­spite the fail­ure of the Gov­ern­ment to pre­pare for a no-deal sce­nario, we have faith in the cre­ativ­ity and en­ter­prise of the Bri­tish peo­ple. There is time enough still to ne­go­ti­ate a man­aged exit on far looser terms if nec­es­sary. The Bri­tish peo­ple set their politi­cians a test: we have voted to leave, now put the re­sult into prac­tice. Mil­lions sup­ported change, many of whom had never voted be­fore or who had grown dis­il­lu­sioned with the political sys­tem. A stun­ning op­por­tu­nity opened up for the Tories to har­ness the power of the Vote Leave message, to end the dis­con­nect be­tween West­min­ster and the rest of the UK, and to re­new our pol­i­tics and our coun­try. En­dors­ing Mrs May’s deal would be to fail that test, and to throw away that op­por­tu­nity. But will MPs re­alise it? If they do not, with faith in the demo­cratic process al­ready so brit­tle, they will be court­ing a political disas­ter of their own mak­ing.

The deal Mrs May has ne­go­ti­ated is the op­po­site of what the pub­lic voted for

We have voted to leave; now politi­cians must put the re­sult into prac­tice

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