Brexit update from Crispin Blunt MP

Crispin's Brexit Blog Post: 20/03/19

Back when we were facing the first vote on the Prime Minister’s deal (the Withdrawal Agreement) I received hundreds of pieces of correspondence, covering almost every possible view on Brexit. It is impossible for me to reply to each letter, email or call individually so I set out to update constituents on my views through a Brexit blogpost and gave my assurances that I would update it as matters developed.

As the steep increase in correspondence would point out, the last few days have seen a number of key developments on the Government’s Brexit policy and I would like to once again share with you my views as promised.  

 

What I have covered so far

My first blog post covered in detail the following:

  • my reasons for not supporting a second referendum,
  • my assessment on the Withdrawal Agreement, and
  • the reasons why I believe there is a better way in following World Trade Organisation (WTO) Rules.

You can read this here: https://www.blunt4reigate.com/news/crispins-brexit-blog-post

 

Negotiating ‘Alternative Arrangements’: the Withdrawal Agreement remains the same

The last few months have gone by with lots of discussion over changes to the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement however, it is with regret that both the Prime Minister and my colleagues must accept that continuing negotiations with the EU have produced no substantive change.

In January 2019 I did not support the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement primarily, but not exclusively, due to the inability for the United Kingdom to exit the Backstop unilaterally. Whilst her agreement has serious further weaknesses – not least the flimsy political declaration of the future relationship – I believe I could have supported the Prime Minister had she secured meaningful changes to this aspect of her Agreement.

However, three words remain: nothing has changed. Indeed, the Attorney General has been explicit in confirming this: “the legal risk remains unchanged if through no such demonstrable failure of either party, but simply because of intractable differences, that situation does arise, the United Kingdom would have, at least while the fundamental circumstances remained the same, no internationally lawful means of exiting the Protocol’s arrangements, save by agreement.

It is not right for me to knowingly place the United Kingdom under the unbreakable legal obligations contained in the Withdrawal Agreement. And, let us not forget, that my concerns and those of others go beyond the backstop.

The four key reasons I laid out in my first blogpost remain paramount:

  • First, whilst encouraging words from negotiating partners are always welcome, it is legal, binding agreements that matter. The Political Declaration, with both its advantages and disadvantages is a non-binding, unenforceable agreement.
  • Second, it is not true that this agreement provides businesses the certainty they need. The Withdrawal Agreement is a bridging deal and there is a whole new round of negotiations during the transition period that will need to happen before we get to the economic partnership between us and the EU – and this could go on indefinitely.
  • Third, the agreement puts us in a position of accepting the EU’s demands in leaving whilst preventing us from being able to enjoy the benefits of leaving. During the transition period the UK will be able to negotiate new trade deals, but these will not come into force until the end of the (possibly indefinite) transition period. It is highly unlikely other nations will commit the rare resource of qualified trade negotiatiors in these circumstances.
  • Finally, all of this at a cost of 39 billion pounds. That is, I pause to reflect once again, £1,400 per UK family, or £60m per constituency.

 

The way forward: a WTO Brexit

However, moving beyond this weak and fearful Withdrawal Agreement, what provides a way forward and informs my voting intention was the Prime Minister’s clear and much-repeated commitment that we are leaving on the 29th March, as is enshrined in law. The rejection of the Withdrawal Agreement does not alter the law as it currently stands.

I have carefully examined the viability of leaving the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement. As I have mentioned before, careful preparation for this scenario would provide a more than acceptable outcome for the UK. It is a statement of the obvious that 'no deal is better than a bad deal'.

You can find my reasons exploring the merits of this approach in the section titled ‘A clean World Trade Organisation Brexit providing certainty’ contained in my first blogpost which, for ease, I once again link here:

https://www.blunt4reigate.com/news/crispins-brexit-blog-post.

In Parliament, I have called for preparations for a WTO Brexit to be thorough and effective, and during my time as Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, an evenly split Remain-Leave cross party committee of MPs published in 2016 a report on the manageable implications of ‘No Deal’ scenario. You can read this here:

https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmfaff/1077/1077.pdf

Parliament has authorised the government to spend £4.2 billion, employing thousands of civil servants to prepare for a move to a relationship underpinned by WTO Rules and, as the Withdrawal Agreement was rejected again, it is now vital and of upmost urgency that the Government surfaces, finally, the scale of its preparation. If the Government has done its job of preparing, any unforeseen minor difficulties should be short-lived. Already many many agreements have been made to sensibly manage this change on 29 March. This will all improve the UK’s base position under WTO.

 

The benefits of Brexit will be long-term

It is at this point that I would also urge colleagues and constituents alike to look at this process with our long-term prosperity in mind. Just like families and businesses plan for the long term, there is no reason why we shouldn’t also think about the future of our country in this way either.

Brexit is not a decision whose impact should be measured in the coming months or even the next General Election, but instead it is one that will need to be evaluated through the impact it has on the future generations of our country. There is no need for me to repeat the arguments of the referendum campaign yet to clarify I, along with the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the European Union, believe that this will be for the better.

 

Why other options are not desirable

Those disappointed that the Withdrawal Agreement has been voted down might be arguing in favour of either a second referendum or extending Article 50.

My first blogpost sets out my three key objections against a second referendum:

  • First, both main political parties pledged in their manifestos at the General Election 2017 to respect the EU referendum result and these parties received over 80 per cent of the vote. MPs from across the political spectrum then voted 494 to 122 in favour of invoking Article 50 in 2017.
  • Second, another referendum would not respect the decision of those who voted in the first referendum. Forcing follow-up votes in what could become a ‘neverendum’, until the people get it ‘right’ in the eyes of the establishment, which would be a disaster for the integrity of our democracy. It is also likely the result comes in as close as the first vote which would fail to empower either side and would only bring more chaos, bitterness and division.
  • Finally, the format of the referendum and its questions remains unclear. Some Remainers now want a choice between the PM’s deal and Remain. An out and out establishment fix.

Turning on to the merits of extending Article 50 I would first and foremost note that we have already had nearly three years to come to an agreement with the EU, including an additional three months after the first attempt at a Withdrawal Agreement. What is another few weeks going to give us that we don’t already have, and at what cost? The uncertainty will only continue and we will risk having to pay more as we remain a member of the EU.

Even though an extension to Article 50 is now apparently Parliament's preferred option, two other issues arise. First whether the EU would approve such an extension and second the negotiating cost this would have, especially if by that point we have weakened our hand by ruling out a no deal. With the EU having already said there will be no third chance, what chances will we have of a better deal in these circumstances?

 

My next steps

I have laid out before the error the Prime Minister made in agreeing to a linear negotiation with the EU, one where the Free Trade Deal follows a bridging Withdrawal Agreement. Given where we are now, I remain clear that we must now leave and then negotiate the next steps with the EU. We must be free from new obligations enshrined in an unbreakable international treaty before even starting and free to do our own trade deals in the meantime.

The Prime Minister has been driven all over the place failing to understand the fundamental strength of the UK’s negotiating hand, however weak her Parliamentary hand happens to be. Her weak Parliamentary hand can always be repaired by a fed-up electorate increasingly anxious to get this done. Once British advantages have been conceded in an international treaty they are beyond recall! Yesterday, the Speaker gave a ruling that may force the Prime Minister to return to the country to seek a clear mandate. That mandate should be true to the undertakings and votes already made and Conservative candidates should be mandated to deliver Brexit as early as possible, either on the basis of her agreement or any improvements that are won to it, or on the basis of no agreement.

I hope this latest update gives you a clear view as to my voting intentions and reasoning for doing so. I shall continue to update this blog as and when necessary. I am now turning to the horrendous implications for our politics of the betrayal of both the 2016 referendum result and the sabotaging of the national interest by removing the opportunities that would have been available outside the EU. Once the scale of this is sufficiently clear to the public, conventional politics as we have known for a century may be blown away in the ensuring whirlwind. The smug self-satisfaction of our right on remain establishment may be about to get rather more than a jolt. 

 

Thank you for reading as ever,

Crispin's signature

Crispin Blunt

 

Postscript

 

The above text was written yesterday and obviously matters are developing fast. My colleague Steve Baker MP has today expressed his views on this issue in the Telegraph article below which I wholeheartedly endorse and share with you.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2019/03/20/must-stand-firm-reject-theresa-mays-brexit-deal-will-live-regret/

The one advantage of the Cabinet’s Withdrawal Agreement is that it would allow us to claim Brexit on March 29. Of course, some colleagues are attracted to it – but the British people have already spotted a dud deal.

According to ComRes polling yesterday, 54 per cent say it does not deliver. Just 14 per cent approve. If we put this agreement through and Theresa May negotiates the future relationship as hopelessly as our withdrawal, we will find ourselves with all the disadvantages of membership and none of the advantages of Brexit.

I understand my Conservative colleagues want to say they have delivered Brexit for fear of voter backlash and I understand the nation is crying out for progress, but this deal would backfire terribly by the next election.

Voting for this deal is not pragmatism. It is the reverse. It would be an understandable but counterproductive surrender for immediate respite.

The pragmatic, realistic response to the deal is to keep clearly in sight what it does, what it will stop us from doing in future and the impossibility of escape from it, once we have locked the door on ourselves.

Leavers cannot be responsible for the actions of pro-EU fanatics determined to overthrow the foundations of our democracy, whether they attack the mandate of the voters, the procedures of the House of Commons or the ministerial code. Some of us will not be forced to share responsibility with them for overturning not just the decision of 17.4 million people, but the legitimacy of our entire system. That is what we will have done if we convert a clear instruction to take back control into a further surrender of our capacity for self-government, forever.

Elected politicians asked the public to choose. All sides said we would honour their decision. They chose independence, despite every horror placed before them, and we stood on manifestos fulfilling that choice. Yet since Chequers it can be seen our fearful Establishment intends us to be a satellite of the EU, locked in a decaying orbit with no way out.

If we vote for this deal, we will have locked ourselves in a prison with no voice and no exit. We will escape only with the permission of those whose authority we rejected. The PM won’t resign if the agreement goes through. She will stay and drag us miserably into deeper political disaster.

Practical politicians looking to the future must resist pressure and stop this deal. And it will not be stopped now or in the future by voting for it. This is reality and foresight. It is not self-indulgence or ideology but a practical grasp of what lies ahead.

Perhaps as some suggest, we are defeated, brought into a clever catch-22 with no good choices. But we were not outmanoeuvred. We were outnumbered. Always. From the start and regardless of the election. A determined minority of Conservative and Labour MPs has fought a sustained rearguard action all the way through. If, in the end, we are beaten by those numbers, there will be no shame in it.

But we are not beaten yet. Soon the EU27 will realise that there are those politicians in the UK who, together with a majority of the voters, will not “come to heel”. The EU will discover a strategy founded on our capitulation has not worked. They will see they cannot afford no-deal as they head into a European Parliament election already bound to undermine further integration. That’s why now more than ever the Prime Minister should change policy. At this European Council, it is time to strictly limit the length of the “Implementation Period” and to replace the backstop with alternative arrangements on the Irish border which can endure indefinitely between our two territories in a spirit of friendship, goodwill and trust.

In the midst of a deep political crisis following naturally from intolerable policy choices, the exit is clear – either revise the Withdrawal Agreement to deliver self-government, or exit on World Trade Organisation terms while offering to negotiate the EU’s proposal of last March. Any other course would be open to political failure.