A reminder of why Theresa May’s deal is so unacceptable
21 March, 2019
by Will Podmore
We ask about any bad event – cock-up or conspiracy? With the Government’s Brexit negotiations you get both. Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement is no such thing: it is a Remain Agreement, a legally-binding international treaty that can only be changed by the unanimous consent of the 27 EU member states.
This proposed international treaty breaches the referendum result in both letter and spirit; it breaches the clear manifesto pledge of the Conservative Party during the 2017 election; it potentially results in Northern Ireland permanently remaining in the Single Market – creating a border between it and the rest of the UK; and it hands over a minimum of £39 billion of UK wealth for an Agreement worse than the status quo.
The EU/May Political Declaration commits us to ‘an ambitious, broad, deep and flexible partnership across trade and economic co-operation, law enforcement and criminal justice, foreign policy, security and defence and wider areas of co-operation’, which would be membership in all but name.
It obliges us to ‘create a free trade area’, a ‘single customs territory’, ‘provisions to enable free movement of capital’, ‘a liberalisation in trade in services well beyond the Parties’ World Trade Organization commitments and building on recent Union Free Trade Agreement’, and ‘a level playing field for open and fair competition’.
The Declaration proposes an ‘overarching institutional framework’ which ‘could take the form of an Association Agreement’. Association means Associate membership, which effectively means staying in the EU.
Paragraph 89 of the Declaration obliges the police to arrest people deemed to have committed ‘political offences’ – a kind of crime not known in our law. Remember, the EU’s Attorney-General has said that “Criticism of the EU is akin to blasphemy.”
Oddly, the Declaration proposes ‘developing alternative arrangements for ensuring the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland’, so they accept that we can avoid a hard border in Ireland with no need whatsoever for a backstop or a customs union.
The Agreement purports to give the EU a veto on UK withdrawal. If the current Withdrawal Agreement is passed into law, the UK supposedly cannot unilaterally withdraw from the Agreement! The EU can keep us in forever by refusing to revise the Agreement. It is a sham negotiation by both sides: the EU has got exactly the Agreement it wants. Why would they it change now?
It makes us a rule-taker in almost all areas of EU competence. Should it be agreed, Parliament would effectively be forced to accept, apply and obey whatever regulations the EU proposed and be bound by all rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Contrary to the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech and manifesto pledge, the European Court of Justice retains de facto primacy over the UK, remaining the final arbiter of the Agreement and of the EU laws that affect us. Thus, the Agreement is remaining in the EU in all but name, but no longer having a say, thus breaking the spirit of the referendum result and the election manifesto promises.
The Agreement requires us to keep in regulatory alignment with the EU on matters such as agriculture subsidies and tax policy. This would effectively give the EU control over the UK’s economic policy. The UK would not be able to lower taxes and increase subsidies where necessary to vital parts of our economy.
We would be listed as a ‘participating state’ within the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism, paving the way for us to having to contribute money to any Eurozone bailout. (The EU Civil Protection Mechanism was how we were forced into giving the Eurozone money after the 2008 economic crash.)
The Agreement stipulates the ECJ and the European Commission would be able to set the legal levels of our financial contributions to fund EU bodies which the Agreement commits us to be part of. In effect we would be handing the EU a blank cheque.
It aims to retain some preferential treatment towards citizens from the EU27 member states – specifically in areas of education and work. Why should ‘EU citizens’ get preferred over those from the rest of the world?
The Agreement commits us to contribute towards funding and supplying troops for any future EU military operations and commits us to sharing sensitive intelligence data with the EU after Brexit.
It commits us to sharing the sensitive data of our citizens with European databases.
We would hand over a minimum of £39 billion (and possibly as much as £60 billion) of taxpayers’ money to the EU without agreeing any future deal on trade, other than being tied to the current acquis communautaire in its near entirely. This is like paying for a house before you have seen the title deeds.
The Agreement includes future negotiations on the Common Fisheries Policy. At the last minute and against all promises to the contrary the May government has guaranteed that in the transition period (transition to what? Penal servitude?) access to UK fishing grounds will become a bargaining chip to be traded away, as President Macron confirmed immediately after the Withdrawal Agreement was signed.
By treating Northern Ireland differently to the rest of the UK, the Agreement raises the question of introducing a different deal for Scotland.
Article 18 of the Protocol says, “If the application of this Protocol leads to serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties liable to persist, or to diversion of trade, the Union or the United Kingdom may unilaterally take appropriate measures.” So, in the event of any disturbance, of any kind, the EU has the right to act unilaterally in any way it sees fit.
Annexes 2 and 3 set out the core rules governing the single customs territory. The UK commits to align with the EU’s Common External Tariff, and with the Common Commercial Policy on trade in goods with third countries to the extent necessary give effect to these provisions. The text provides for the UK to remain within the EU’s trade defence regime for the duration of this Single Customs Territory regime.
Will Podmore campaigned for a Leave vote in 2016 and is the author of Brexit: The Road to Freedom.