Friday, 16 November 2018


Throughout the course of the last two years I've had to put up with fellow leavers telling me that "soft Brexit is not Brexit". This is the view that any formal agreement with the EU encompassing the sort of enhanced regulatory cooperation required for the continued functioning of trade as we now enjoy it, is a betrayal of Brexit.

This certainly makes it difficult to take the likes of Steve Baker or Brendan O'Neill remotely seriously when they would say that an agreement of any kind is BRINO. These are people who have in no way applied themselves to the issues and refused to accept the reality that modern trade is complex and that all complex trade accords have ramifications for the exercise of sovereignty.

Were we to conduct all of our future trade relationships according to their narrow definitions then there would be no cooperation on standards and regulations of any kind and we would simply limit our trade to general purpose agreements on tariffs. We would not, therefore, enjoy any of the benefits of enhanced cooperation. We would be one of only a few nations to take such an isolationist approach.

This intransigent wailing, though, is what brings us to where we are today. We could have joined Efta with a view to retaining the EEA. But then according to the Spiked morons and the ERG etc, that's not leaving the EU. Yes, you read that right. Leaving a bloc and joining another one that isn't the EU is not Brexit!

Instead of engaging in the reality of modern trade they instead tell us that we can have either a simple FTA where the EU out of the kindness of its heart agrees to unilaterally relax its third country controls for the UK in defiance of all known WTO conventions, or better still, be can delete all formal trade relations with the EU and consequently the entirely world and everything will be fine.

It's one thing to say this but they then went one further to mount a massive propaganda campaign to convince the general public that no deal is a walk in the park and without grave economic consequence, and of course anybody who says different is just part of the establishment pushing a project fear agenda.

As fundamentally dishonest as that is, to then say that any deal is a betrayal is also a lie. As is the oft repeated assertion that 17.4m people voted for no deal at all. I certainly didn't vote with a view to terminating all formal relations with the EU. So being that Brexiters themselves are not playing an honest game, they can hardly expect the government to do so either.

So then having wailed and bitterly complained about the EEA Efta option, poor old Mrs May was left to reconcile the irreconcilable with whatever tools were left at her disposal, which in this case is a mish-mash of regulatory measures borrowed from the Swiss model along with a form of UK wide customs union not found anywhere else in the EU's external relations. Being that we have ruled out Efta as an independent system of arbitration the supreme arbiter was only ever going to be the ECJ.

By now, most who have applied themselves to the subject have worked out that when you do large volumes of trade with a regulatory superpower, there is an element of rule taking. That is necessary for the functioning of trade and naturally the EU would seek to preserve the integrity of its own regulatory and customs systems.

What matters, therefore, is not especially the type and scope of rules we adopt, rather it is the mode of adoption, the level of consultation, the level of veto and the means of arbitration. Without the EEA Efta system that was always going to be automatic adoption of rules verbatim with direct ECJ effect.

The Brexiteers can't have been ignorant to this. They've been told enough times. The fact that Mrs May's deal is a stinker plays entirely into their hands in that they never wanted a deal to begin with. It has now put even me in the position of preferring no deal at all to the one on offer. Bizarrely I am now urging the ERG to get a move on and oust May.

I do not, though, think this is something to celebrate. If this is to be the outcome of Brexit then it is a spectacular failure of Brexiters, the government and the EU from which nobody wins except for those seeking to to hoover up assets in the ensuing firesale. Leaving in this manner means that Brexit will take a massive toll on the British economy and diminish the UK's international standing. We'll have paid far more for Brexit than we ever needed to and when it happens, reality will very rapidly close in on the "free trade" delusions of the Tory right. It will be a high price for their education.

Of course, it is fair to say that the EU hasn't played this at all well either. They have been entirely rigid as much out of petulance (with a hint of vindictiveness) as concern for the EU frontier in Ireland. even remainers sympathetic to the EUs position are saying this is a dreadful deal.

Now though, the window for negotiation has closed. A detailed agreement had to be worked out, one side had to give in and it wasn't going to be the EU. May capitulated as indeed I expected she would. She doesn't have much choice in the matter. Though it is primarily the fault of the ERG that the deal looks the way it does, it must still be assessed on its own merits.

The purpose of a soft Brexit was to mitigate the economic harm while repatriating political authority and restoring sovereignty as far as is practical and necessary. Here there are a number of entirely legitimate concerns about something like the EEA which goes far beyond trade governance and the flanking policies therein are still highly undesirable. What matters though is the safeguards and ability to veto, which would be greater for the UK as a member of Efta.

Never once did I argue that the EEA was ideal, only that it was tolerable and in the first instance it deals with the primary objective of leaving the EU and its political institutions. We'd get most of what we want while also quelling the resistance from the remain camp. Having set about the hardest Brexit possible, the ERG have done nothing to reassure business while also hardening remain resolve to the point where the balance of opinion creeps in their favour. This is essentially what has allowed Mrs May and the EU to put remain back on the agenda. Another ERG tactical blunder.

Instead of the EEA though, we now have a Brexit deal nobody wants, a weakened mandate and the deal itself is not only not soft Brexit, it is barely Brexit at all. The Brexit deal on offer dilutes the departure while still cutting us out of the EU marketplace and hobbling our ability to trade independently. It's a hard Brexit on us but a soft Brexit for them. It is a monster and nobody sane could recommend it.

The purpose of making the sort of concessions that would be required by the EEA would be to safeguard trade and jobs. This deal does not do that and at the same time does not restore competences back to the UK. This is as vassal state as vassal state gets. We would be a colony of the EU. Though it disgusts me to say it, Boris Johnson is right. There is no question of accepting this deal. By every measure it is bad.

Being that we are where we are, the once pivotal details no longer matter. This has elevated to high politics. The UK cannot and must not dilute its territorial sovereignty. It must not bind its own trade policy. It must not allow our social and environmental rules to be dictated. It must not allow the jurisdiction of a foreign court and it must not allow the creation of a separate class of citizens rights withing our own territory. The deal has to be ruled out because it defies the very purpose of Brexit. The remaining options then are remaining, or leaving without a deal.

But then remaining really isn't an option. Any way you cut it, the 2016 referendum, fought for and won over twenty years, stands as a political artefact. The noise of propaganda cannot erase it. If we do not leave or if we sign a vassal state deal, it will leave a stain on our democracy and there will be bloody hell to pay. If we remain or sign this deal we'll be saying to the people of the United Kingdom, who have waited all this time to have a voice, that their votes weren't worth a damn and they will remain voiceless. In so doing we destroy all trust. THAT is more dangerous than no deal Brexit. Like it or not, we have to leave now.

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