THE commentariat has reached a consensus. The ‘deal’ announced so dramatically by Boris Johnson on Thursday is very little different from Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration.
Oliver Wright and Bruno Waterfield in the Times were not the only journalists to ask: ‘How is it different from May’s agreement?’ or to conclude: ‘Despite the rhetoric before Mr Johnson took office, much of the old Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration remains unchanged. And where there are changes they tend to be ones of nuance rather than substance.’
The Telegraph’s Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, as Kathy Gyngell reported in TCW yesterday, finds the new agreement deeply depressing and resolving nothing: ‘So we await the next Brexit cliff-edge in 14 months. Project Fear will repeat itself.
‘The Withdrawal Agreement merely permits the UK to start talks on a trade deal. It lets us pay £33billion in order to play. Less has been resolved that most commentary seems to suggest. I fear a horrible moment of disappointment when people discover what this means. I fear too that hopes of a post-deal economic boomlet and a surge of pent-up investment will come to little. Businesses still have no clarity. The current state of limbo will cause multinationals to continue unwinding their manufacturing supply chains.’
Boris is found to have focused on the ‘backstop’ issue but left May’s WA/PD virtually untouched; to be making us pay a vast sum for nothing – no good deal guaranteed – yet having to enact all the laws passed by the EU with no veto in the meantime and without the ability to repeal them.
And that is ‘taking back control’?
The City of London is vulnerable to Barnier’s long dream of being a tax cow to pay off the eurozone’s debts. The fisheries are likewise open to Machiavellian europlunder by regulation blackmail: these will be used as levers in getting anything like a fair deal at the end of 2020. How could Boris have set his bar so very low? His Irish solution concedes so much to the EU and Ireland that the DUP cannot stomach it: it looks suspiciously like the precursor to a united Ireland.
We can conclude either that Boris’s negotiating team was third rate or too clever by half – a team that reflects an oikophobic establishment (the term applied by Roger Scruton to political ideologies which repudiate our own culture and laud others) which instructed them. Without doubt, it failed to punch its weight as the world’s sixth biggest economy and Europe’s major military power, a nuclear power of enormous global importance.
From a purely trade point of view, it is astonishing that these civil service and government lawyers were unable to negotiate from a position of strength and were prepared to settle for such a pathetic agreement. There could hardly have been a better economic backdrop against which to put their hands on the EU throat, with the eurozone at its most vulnerable. Instead they continued in appeasing and giving mode.
In his excellent summary of the barely tweaked WA/PD, Martin Howe QC sets out the pros and cons. He fears that UK will voluntarily be under the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for all its time of defenceless purgatory, subject to all the burners of EU hostility, yet with no redress at all to its decisions, however bad. Appeal to the Vienna Convention, he writes, is fanciful. He is astonished that the UK would bow to this demand, and cites a Swiss expert asking why on earth we agreed to the ECJ as final decider of our fate:
‘This clause was originally imposed by the EU on the desperate former Soviet republics of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. It was successfully resisted by Norway and the other EEA States and most recently has been rejected again by Switzerland in the EU’s attempt to impose it as part of a new framework agreement. Dr Carl Baudenbacher, a Swiss lawyer who recently retired as president of the EFTA Court, has said: “It is absolutely unbelievable that a country like the UK, which was the first country to accept independent courts, would subject itself to this”.’
Indeed, it is hard to understand why the UK, which is so much bigger than Switzerland and far less dependent on trade with the EU, should be willing to succumb to this clause.
We must conclude that this stems from more than the sheer incompetence of our officialdom, but from a deep-seated and now long term vacuum of any patriotism; an almost institutionalised repudiation of their country, Britain, by the Westminster establishment. Only that could have allowed the national humiliation Brexit has turned into and this betrayal of our globally powerful nation state.*
Olly Robbins’s replacement negotiator, David Frost, is steeped in EU politics and institutions. His approach, reportedly, is to operate only within what he judged to be ‘politically conceivable to the EU’.
Hardly a recipe for Brexit success.
Is this, then, our deepest problem – an unpatriotic, oikophobic and deeply cynical political class, prepared to sell out the country’s fishing industry and to treat the City of London’s financial services as a ‘poor cousin’; a class who fail to have confidence in or support even the key economic aspects of our national life?
Boris the blusterer is not a steely defender at all. Churchillian? Another Boris joke, and another Boris choke.
Editor’s Postscript: Historian Andrew Roberts writes today that Britain needs an official inquiry into how the elite turned Brexit into a national humiliation, that must not commandeered by the Establishment ‘as it will be very largely the Establishment itself which will need to come under the microscope’. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/textbased/debate/text-7592013/ANDREW-ROBERTS-Britain-needs-inquiry-elite-turned-Brexit-humiliation.html