As published in The Telegraph:
By preparing for no deal properly, we will get the good Brexit democracy demands of us
We are told that another decisive moment looms, in the form of the forthcoming Commons vote on the proposed Withdrawal Agreement. Of course, we have been here before.
We have seen many supposedly decisive moments since the 2016 referendum: triggering Article 50, passing the EU Withdrawal Act, the December meaningful vote that never was, to name but a few.
Before we whip ourselves into another frenzy, perhaps it is time to take stock? I have always said that the EU would push and push until finally we reach a resolution at the eleventh hour. Recent events only reinforce my analysis. Indeed, anybody who really understands how negotiations work understands that time is our friend.
We know that the EU is worried about the loss of the £39 billion “divorce” payment if there is no deal. EU Budget Commissioner Gunther Oettinger has said that the remaining 27 member states will face a hefty bill if the UK does not pay. We also know that the UK’s no deal preparations are well advanced. A senior civil servant, writing in The Telegraph last week, said the Government is failing to be frank about the degree of preparation.
So this is the moment to be hard-nosed about these issues. The more we prepare to leave the EU without a deal, the more likely a good deal becomes.
But getting there means ignoring the distractions, such as the briefings that Continuity Remain elements will seek to extend Article 50 or force a second referendum. It is not going to happen without a General Election.
Instead, Tory MPs must remain committed to delivering the referendum result, as repeated in our manifesto, which pledged to leave the Customs Union and the Single Market and which said that no deal is better than a bad deal. To do otherwise would frankly throw our democracy’s credibility into chaos.
And let’s be clear: the Withdrawal Agreement does not respect the referendum result. That is why the meaningful vote had to be delayed and one wonders if even the January vote will go ahead. Attempts to frighten MPs into supporting it are unlikely to work, because voting down this substandard deal will not result in no Brexit. How could it? There is no mechanism for that to happen. The UK will leave the EU on 29 March. That is nailed down in primary legislation and international treaty commitments. There is no wriggle room.
Well informed colleagues also know there is an alternative. Both Donald Tusk and Michel Barnier have offered the UK a Canada+++ option. A Northern Ireland backstop is not necessary or wanted. International trade experts such as Shanker Singham advocate using tried and trusted techniques and procedures so that rules of origin and customs checks are conducted away from the Northern Ireland border, making a hard border unnecessary.
The EU, however, will not commit to a free trade deal until we have left and that is fair enough. So we should press for early talks after March 29 with a generous offer based on tariff-free trade with few barriers. In the meantime, the Government is right to finally be vigorously preparing for a managed WTO Brexit, which holds far less risk than the various fear campaigns have tried to suggest.
Be under no illusions. Leaving without a Withdrawal Agreement is not the same as leaving without agreements. There will be several deals in place, including membership of the Common Transit Convention and the WTO, a trade facilitation agreement, and others as set out recently by the EU. There is a shared interest in a good flow of traffic through our ports, and action is being taken to ensure trade continues sensibly.
I appreciate we all want to get Brexit done to move on, but if we get it wrong, we are stuck with what is agreed and a bad deal will lead to more division and uncertainty. Therefore, it is crucial that we get it right whenever the moment of reckoning comes – be it mid-January or later.
What this country needs now is direction and leadership. When the British people see there is hope and a path to a brighter future, they will urge our leaders to finish the job. We must stop being side-tracked by those who were never reconciled to Brexit, prepare for no deal in the sure knowledge it makes a good deal more likely, and seize the prize of a global future for the UK.