Tuesday, June 25, 2024
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Can we trust Boris to lead us out of the WA trap?


THERE are copious detailed tracts on the meaning of the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) and the Political Declaration (PD). The realpolitik is that the effect of these very much depends on the government’s intentions and on not agreeing to the ball-and-chain backstop. There are plenty of solutions to the Irish border question and the whole thing is a fiction, purely a means to block exit for ever, in which the May Government was complicit.

The WA has horrors such as control of state aid and the payment of the fee to go etc. The state aid rules could be argued to be just for arrangements already in place, not future activity. There is also the transition.

However, without the backstop it can be argued that the WA no longer keeps us in for ever, nor arguably can it force the PD upon us. Of course the courts may argue differently, but in principle this gives the government more leverage regarding negotiations on the PD than before, as they can still walk away.

There is no doubt, however, that the transition period agreed in the WA puts us at the mercy of the EU without any say and thus I have always been against it. We have had three years to prepare: why do we need more? But it is also arguable that the government could resist EU trickery by calling upon the clauses around ‘good faith’ and by refusing to play ball should punitive action arise. With the WA and PD approach, the transition is unfortunately thrust upon us as a period in which to settle the final outcome of the PD in a deal of some kind.

The PD itself is full of horrors. Defence integration, fisheries access, the Customs Union (CU) and regulatory alignment, in effect Single Market Compliance (SM), are all based on a commitment to negotiate towards these. The package would be staying in the EU to all intents and purposes without any say in its running – not that we have any say now. However, the PD is not a treaty and a ‘ballsy’ UK government could decide to negotiate away from it provided it was prepared for political conflict.

I am not a fan of politicians. (I am now probably developing self-loathing as a consequence of becoming one myself!) I feel politicians, with some exceptions, are untrustworthy, unprincipled and self-interested. Whether one would be inclined to trust a government to handle the WA and PD in the way I have described depends very much on ‘trust’, or at the very least a careful assessment of what is in their interests.

The previous administration was totally untrustworthy. For me, until the Florence speech, the jury was out. After that speech I decided that May was a devious Remainer, and I wrote about it and the fact that she was an inveterate and repeated purveyor of untruths. It took the Tories a long time for the penny to drop. Thank goodness May did not win an outright majority in her election.

This Johnson administration is different. The Cabinet is packed with the most prominent Tory Brexiteers and in Cummings as adviser, a man who doesn’t like to lose. I mean, he really doesn’t like to lose.

Of course he is quite capable of trying to rewrite future history so as to appear to win – it all depends how one defines or redefines ‘win’.

Does ‘win’ mean putting party above country? Does it mean achieving power rather than Brexit? Does it mean putting appeasement of the establishment above the people?

If it means delivering on the referendum then we are in with a chance.

On the other hand, we have Gove, the person most responsible for the position we are in. A robust Leave government at the time of his regicide moment would have likely produced a different result as the mood of the country was different at the time: the ‘naysayers’ had all but conceded and were scattered.

It is also not yet clear just how principled on Brexit Johnson will be.

Nonetheless, this is the most likely Cabinet to take the opportunity of backstop removal and to renegotiate the PD towards an FTA, or simply to leave if that is not possible.

They may come clean and present a commitment to a WA and PD, in which case the Brexit Party should savage them, even if it is a ticket to Remain, a kamikaze last stand. Remain would be less bad than certain permanent vassalage. Never surrender. To paraphrase Churchill, countries that surrender never recover, countries that fight to the end rise again. Look at France after 1940, locked into Germany but supposedly in control. The EU architect Monnet thought he was in the driving seat of a Citroen but it turned out he was a passenger in a BMW.

I must confess that my trenchant opposition to the WA and PD under the May government was as much to do with our Remainer government as to the contents of the treaty and the declaration. A backstop would have meant binding future governments to permanent vassalage. Even without a backstop, that Remainer Government would have negotiated us back in, or so close and damaged that we would want to be back in.

By contrast, with a Leaver government and no backstop this may be very different. It all depends on whether this administration can be trusted.

This is further complicated by the fragility of the current administration. The agreement might be done in good faith and then they are replaced by Remainers before the negotiations are complete! Therein lies another dilemma.

What is clear, however, is that all the other possible alternative governments are worse and would likely pose an almighty battle to prevent them leading us to becoming a province of a supranational EU state.

We must also face the fact that, notwithstanding the government, the establishment hold many of the levers of power.

The recent ruling of the Supreme Court is not a normal imposition of the rule of law, the exercise of statute or the development of the Common Law. It is by its very nature an interpretation of the Constitution and thereby a change: by its very nature it is political.

The protection of vested interests by multi-nationals as a group impacts upon the opportunities of other businesses: it is by its very nature political.

The institutional bias of the media, where a monoculture prevails in favour of a societal group and thus excludes other groups from the exercise of editorial bias, is by its very nature political.

It’s not as if we have not been here before. The Reformation, the English Civil War, the Glorious Revolution, the Great Reform Acts, the appeasement of Hitler by the establishment, all took decades to resolve. In the end right came out on top.

Whatever the near future holds, the Brexit Party has a critical role to play, holding up a mirror to our failed political class, calling out the serried ranks of the self-serving establishment including the judiciary, the multi-nationals and the media and placing pressure on MPs to do the right thing by threatening the one thing they absolutely get – that they may lose their seat at the next election.

The Brexit Party must in the coming weeks be the purest of politicians.

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John Longworth
John Longworth
John Longworth is Chairman of the Independent Business Network of family businesses, a former Conservative MEP and was previously Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce.

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