(First published 2 December 2018) – This week British Prime Minister Theresa May will clash with Westminster MPs and stake her personal reputation and political survival on a Brexit plan which has met with protests from both her party and the opposition Labour Party.
The vote, inevitably, isn’t just about approving the Brexit offer as part of Britain’s scheduled and staggered exit from the European Union after nearly half a century.
Labour has seized the chance to cause havoc and sensing the Government’s weakness, is ready to table a motion of no confidence that could trigger an early General Election the centre-left party has a reasonable chance of winning.
Naturally, Labour is putting it’s political ambitions above those of the nation. And Labour has remained vague about whether it would pursue a second, or so-called People’s Referendum, to determine from voters whether they support the deal May has negotiated.
It is not unreasonable to suppose Labour doesn’t want another referendum because the party fears the wider public are, on balance, in support of the deal and have sympathy for the beleaguered May. Calling a second referendum might overturn the mandate given in June 2016.
It’s important to analyse what the negotiated deal involves. It will continue to give British business access to the Single European market. It will curb immigration. It will allow Britain to negotiate Free Trade Agreements with non-EU nations. Approved by all 27 other EU nations – a miracle in itself which shows how much the EU does not want to be blamed for damaging the UK and it’s own exporters market – all that remains is for Westminster to approve it.
But oh no, that would be too simple and give away control in the warped minds of British MPs many of whom have neither read the tome-sized deal or prefer to ignore it for various vested interests.
Labour wants to wreck the deal simply to force a General Election. The pro-european Liberal Democrats don’t want Brexit to happen. The DUP is not happy about terms of the Irish backstop. Tory Brexiteers want far more than the EU is willing to offer. What unites them is the ability to destroy the Chequers agreement of PM May.
It is good to see Brexiteer Angela Leadsom this week throw her support behind May’s deal and even remark the deal does deliver on what Britain voted in 2016.
Indeed it does. And Leadsom has proved to be one of the smarter politicians who doesn’t want blood on her hands if Westminster wrecks the deal. Westminster certainly has the numbers to do that.
But in so doing, lawmakers will be damaging the national interest and likely see the Tories lose power to Labour into the bargain.
Although there is some jockeying over what the Government is willing to reveal about the economic costs of a no deal Brexit vs May’s plan, this week Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, not a fan of Brexit, detailed the economic damage that could be wrought if we leave the EU next March without a deal.
A no deal exit, or Hard Brexit as it is commonly called, essentially means we have no external constitution with the world, not just with Europe. We have no free trade agreements in place as we are still EU members today.
So come April 2019 we would scramble to find trade negotiators and try to figure out deals in a fast-changing technology-driven world. Very unstable and disruptive.
The Brexiteers who claim that Britain will be forced to remain a satellite state of the EU with this agreement are scaremongering. But even were it true, here’s a way to avert such a threat.
Firstly, no one can compromise our sovereignty. So if we felt compromised by the EU we could, without warning, put the border shutters up and hard Brexit at any time! But there is a better way. A far better way.
Think about it: the only two victors of a no-deal Brexit would be dogmatic zealot Brexiteers – and smugglers.
So a hard Brexit, although something we can always threaten, isn’t smart.
HOW TO MAKE THE DEAL WITH EU
Instead, if there is one thing I would add to May’s deal to make it sail through the UK Parliament it is a five-year initial review.
It was my idea as soon as I heard Brexiteers grumbling about the draft – and so far I have not heard anyone propose the same.
We should insist that a clause is included in the deal whereby both sides agree to meet in 2024 to review the first five years of the deal, including the transitionary period which ends in 2021.
Five years is enough time to see how the deal has been enforced and what economic advantage it has brought both sides. What’s on paper never quite translates into the real economy after all.
It would afford both sides to protest issues, irregularities or reforms in the light of reality. There have been plenty of amendments to the functioning of the March 1957 Treaty of Rome which set up the EU after all.
If the Gambia was able to leave the Commonwealth five years ago and decide to return this year, it demonstrates how five years is not only a comfortable period to assess the deal struck with the EU in November, but also to reconsider whether Brexit still fits the British people’s preferences and whether it has any hope of bringing prosperity to everyone in Europe.
It would also allow us the opportunity to tweak and fine tune the 2018 deal while buying us five years in which to thrash out trade deals outside of the EU territories.
The importance of this review is that it could help get the deal “over the line” in Westminster and avoid a cliff fall into hard Brexit disaster.
We should put country before dogma. This isn’t a game or a victory of egos. This is the well-being of real families up and down the country and British interests abroad and harmonious future relations with fellow Europeans.