Morning Briefing: Now we have 3 options - May's deal is miserable - few friends, many enemies
Today looks set to be a day of political crisis for the prime minister, having spent five hours trying to sell her Brexit deal to her Cabinet last night. Dominic Raab - the Brexit secretary who actually helped negotiate this deal - has already resigned, saying he doesn't want to "submit to the blackmail of my country", and raising concerns about the threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom and not being able to unilaterally leave any "backstop" locking us into a customs union with the EU. A junior minister for Northern Ireland, Shailesh Vara, has also quit.
But this turmoil threatens to overshadow something very important Theresa May said last night: the choice facing the country was her deal “or leave with no deal, or no Brexit at all”. Previously she was insisting that the country faced a choice between her deal or no deal. This is the first time she has put “no Brexit” on the table.
These, indeed, are the only three options. All the other ideas being tossed around - such Boris Johnson’s “Super Canada”, Nick Boles’ “Norway for Now” and Labour’s scheme to stay in a single market and customs union but without the bits it dislikes - are mirages.
But the three options the prime minister spoke about after yesterday’s marathon Cabinet meeting are not equal. Crashing out of the EU with no deal at all would be extraordinarily destructive. Only a tiny number of MPs think this is sensible. So it is not politically viable.
May’s deal is miserable. It damages our power and our prosperity. It would mean following EU rules on trade, labour standards, environment, state aid and competition policy without a say on them - and paying into the bloc’s budget without a vote on how the money was spent. The hardline Brexiter critique - that we would be turned into a vassal state - is correct.
And it’s not even as if it would protect our economy. The deal would do little for services, which account for 80% of our industry. It wouldn’t give fully frictionless trade for goods either. And the uncertainty about our future relationship would go on and on - sapping confidence and investment, which are the lifeblood of future prosperity.
This deal has no real friends and lots of enemies. The chances of MPs passing it are slim.
But Parliament can’t just cancel Brexit, because two and a half years ago the people voted to leave the EU. If MPs don’t want the deal and won’t agree to crash out of the EU with no deal at all, the only option will be to ask the public what they want in a People’s Vote. The prime minister’s statement outside Downing Street has opened the way to such a vote.
This lousy Brexit deal is one that will please nobody and that across a series of difference tests, people have worked out that it will leave them poorer, with worse public services and fewer opportunities. Theresa May last night, in an effort to force her party's headbangers into line, said if the deal gets voted down there might be "no Brexit". Today we will be pressing her for confirmation that means a People’s Vote with an option to stay in the European Union. The real choice facing Britain is one between this dodgy deal that no one is buying and the deal we’ve already got inside the EU.”
Quote of the Day
“This deal, which delivers on the vote of the referendum, which brings back control of our money, laws and borders, ends free movement, protects jobs, security and our union – or leave with no deal, or no Brexit at all.”
Theresa May puts no Brexit back on the table
Tweet of the Day
In her statement outside 10 Downing Street last night, Theresa May went further than she ever has before in suggesting Brexit still might not happen.
And then this follow up from HuffPost's Paul Waugh was very interesting too.
Vassalage as far as the eye can see
The prime minister’s deal - set out in 585 pages released last night - is riddled with defects. It will take days to unearth them all. But they all point in the same direction: loss of control and damage to the economy. There are 100 pages of “level playing field” provisions - designed to make sure our firms don’t undercut EU businesses.
While the deal would be enforced by a joint committee and an arbitration panel, any issues of EU law would still be resolved by the European Court of Justice. So much for taking back control of our laws.
At the heart of the problem is the “backstop” Theresa May has agreed which will allow the EU to call the shots. As a European Commission document leaked to The Times yesterday says: “We should be in the best negotiation position for the future relationship. This requires the customs union as the basis of the future relationship… They must align their rules but the EU will retain all the controls”.
The EU is right, as I wrote for InFacts. During the first 21 months after Brexit, we will stay in its single market as well as its customs union. The only difference from the current situation is that we won’t have a say on the rules.
May hopes to finalise a trade deal before that “transition” runs out. Not only is that an incredibly optimistic timetable. Also, because the EU will have the backstop in its pocket, the only way we will get a trade deal is by accepting the bloc’s terms.
If there is no deal during the transition, the UK will have a devil’s choice. It could seek to extend the transition - for a so far unspecified period which lasts until 20xx (ie theoretically until the end of the century). But that will mean paying the EU more money. It will also mean allowing continued free movement of people – which is no bad thing except that Brexiters hate it and would scream “betrayal”.
The other option will be to enter the backstop. But then special provisions relating to Northern Ireland will kick in requiring it to stay in the EU’s single market for goods. There will have to be regulatory checks of some sort in the Irish Sea.
The prime minister will pretend we can still get out of the backstop even if we enter it. But this will only be so if we can find another way to keep the land border in Ireland open. And short of inventing some magical technology, the only way of doing that will be by signing up to a trade deal that includes the customs union. There is no way for Britain to pull out unilaterally without collapsing the whole house of cards.
Video of the Day
No wonder the deal has no real friends and so many enemies
The opposition is attacking the deal. The DUP is fuming. At least 10 Cabinet ministers spoke up against it. A junior minister, Shailesh Vara, has resigned.
Backbench Conservative MPs are split four ways. Boris Johnson and the hardline Brexiters are apoplectic. Some are muttering about launching a leadership challenge against the prime minister. Pro-Europeans including Jo Johnson are also angry about the loss of control. Scottish Conservatives have written to Theresa May saying they could not back a deal which didn’t give the UK full control of its fisheries policies by the end of 2020. And then there are the rest who are uneasily backing the prime minister for now.
The Conservative press is split in three ways. The Telegraph and The Sun have both gone for the deal with all guns blazing because it isn’t hardline enough. The Mail and The Express are supporting the prime minister. The Times says the country has only two real options: a bad deal or a People’s Vote.
Given the deal’s lack of support even among Conservatives, a People’s Vote may soon be the only option left standing.
Tweet of the Day 2
For our Future's Sake have been having a fun time using ctrl + F to find any Brexiter promises in the draft withdrawal agreement - starting with that £350m for the NHS. Other highlights from the full thread include any mention of "dividend" or a "jobs first Brexit".
Video of the Day 2
More Brexit news…
Philip Stephens: Parliament should reject Theresa May's rotten Brexit deal (FT)
Philip Collins: A deal that pleases no one was the best she could get (Times)
Martin Kettle: Theresa May has made her move. Now MPs must take back control (Guardian)
Today, Thursday 15th November
|09.30||ONS: Retail sales|
|09.30||International trade questions in Commons|
|10.30||Prime Minister's statement on Brexit Withdrawal Agreement in Commons|
Tomorrow, Friday 16th November
|09.30||ONS: Business Investment (July-September 2018)|