NONE of the current members of the Cabinet should be considered as possible successors to Theresa May as leader of the Conservative Party and by default as Prime Minister. Yet they are, several of them. How quickly it is forgotten that they have drunk at the deepest level of needless national surrender, and that they cannot therefore be trusted with upholding a clean Brexit. No matter how brilliant their speeches may sound, however adamant their promises, their past deeds – either their failure to resign from May’s Cabinet as a matter of principle, or their voting for any of her Withdrawal Agreement attempts – speak far louder.

All the main contenders for the Tory leadership at the moment are guilty of one or other of these capitulations. This being the sorry case, why would not any one of them as leader attempt to revivify – or be pressured into so doing – the corpse of the WA, should there appear to be no alternative?

In face of the threats of the determined Remainer Philip Hammond, this looks all the more likely. In what was described by the Guardian as a ‘forthright interview’, the Chancellor of the Exchequer laid it on the line for them. Ignoring party loyalty, ignoring the referendum result, he warned that he would combine with Corbyn, and the most Left-wing Labour Party in history, to bring down the government if led by any recalcitrant Tory Brexiteer leader committed to a No Deal exit on October 31. This, he ‘reminded’, in Guardianspeak, the ‘hardline’ Brexit candidates – Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab and Esther McVey – stressing that Parliament was ‘vehemently opposed’ to leaving the EU without a deal.

Mr Hammond warned on the Andrew Marr Show that the next Prime Minister would be defying Parliament if he or she made Britain leave the EU with no deal.

Mr Hammond added: ‘A prime minister has to be able to command the confidence of Parliament in order to govern.

‘Now, I don’t imagine that any of the candidates . . . will have in their minds that they want to push through a no-deal exit on October 31 and then leave office. How will they govern if they have defied Parliament on such an important issue?’ 

This brings into ever more urgent consideration the status of the three times defeated in Parliament Withdrawal Agreement of Mrs May. It should rightfully be dead and cremated by now. But is it? It was May’s Frankenstein monster, and the national Parliament has spoken against it and its creator, Mrs May. But is it indeed destroyed?

She is still Prime Minister until a new party leader is elected. And the EU are saying the monster still lives, and that it remains the one route out of the EU because it has been agreed by the EU. We have to assume Philip Hammond, the last member of the Cabinet to be closeted with Mrs May before St Graham Brady knocked at Number Ten’s door on Friday, also believes it does – and moreover its agreement would be his condition for backing Boris.

Therefore it breathes, never mind its massive rejection by the UK, Remainers and Leavers. And the chaos and turmoil in the UK caused by May identifiying her very being with it, as if possessed by a Rasputin or Svengali, risks being forgotten. As Matthew Parris, a deep-dyed Tory Remainer, reminds us in his Times column, it is not a deal, it is a two-year delay. It is therefore still a recipe for further internecine political and economic chaos and anger in the UK. And what’s more, Boris could rat on Brexit – he might, Parris says (no doubt, it has to be said, also in an attempt to wind up the Tory grassroots), ‘be capable of ratting on his promise to take us out of the EU — and getting away with it’.

The WA is, if anything, now even more damaging to the economy than before May’s departure. Her disastrous handling of our exit has hardly promoted confidence in the UK. We need settlement and peace but are promised only more war, national humiliation and resentment resulting from a de facto WA.

So what exactly is its legality or adminstrative status, given its thrice rejection by Parliament? How can we make sure it’s dead? Does it need challenging in an international court? Where is its get-out clause?

It shares much content with treaties for nations seeking to apply for membership, such as Ukraine, raising the spectre that it was designed to obviate Brexit and be, as Olly Robbins said, ‘a bridge’ back into the EU.

Surely it can be argued that this treaty, rejected by a national Parliament three times, was negotiated in bad faith by the EU. Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty provides for a member state to leave. But Barnier deliberately set out to impose a treaty that would force the UK to abandon what Article 50 clearly states, and not be able to leave. He said as much to a French magazine, as Dominic Lawson revealed: ‘The French magazine Le Point last week reported a conversation from 2016 with the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, in which the Frenchman declared, “I shall have succeeded in my task if the final deal is so hard on the British that in the end they’ll prefer staying in the EU”.’ 

Then there has been the EU’s, particularly Michel Barnier’s, weaponising of the Irish border issue from May 2017 onwards should the UK leave without a deal picking at wounds that had begun to heal and so demolishing the EU claim to be a peace-bringer to Europe.

Let’s not stop with Barnier. Both parts of the BBC documentary on Verhofstadt concluded with gleeful statements to camera by his aides, saying that ‘you are becoming our trade colony and that was our aim all along, on our terms and conditions’. Sabine Weyand is quoted as saying of the WA ‘we hold all the controls’. The truth is that the EU never was remotely interested in negotiating a fair, honest deal; rather to keep the UK in an Alcatraz to ensure it could never be a competitor, as an earlier piece by Dominic Lawson evidenced. 

Has this not been more like a Mafia operation than a fair ‘negotiation’? ‘The PM might take another reflective hike in her favourite foreign country, Switzerland: a fiercely independent nation outside the EU and the customs union, but which has frictionless borders with multiple EU members. That is partly because it is a member of the Schengen common visa zone’ Dominic Lawson wrote. The UK and Ireland are also in a Common Travel Area (and have been so for almost a century). It is thus a convenient myth – convenient, that is, for Mr Barnier – ‘that Britain’s exiting the customs union would demand an intrusive hard border in Ireland.’ 

The EU also has much electronic customs-checking capacity in place to avoid a border pointed out by Guido Fawkes: ‘This morning the EU announced it has “completed” planning for the event that the UK leaves the European Union on WTO terms, saying that it is “increasingly likely” that the UK will leave without a deal in mid-April. They have hired 2,000 new customs officers and built 20 new border posts.’

When asked if there will be checkpoints at the Irish border, the EU said that they are ‘working very closely with Irish authorities to try and perform controls away from border’. So the EU were happily talking about checks away from the border in the event of No Deal, yet refusing to countenance those sort of alternative arrangements with the UK in the event of a deal.

Barnier had insisted to the UK that electronic customs checks were out of the question in order to rebut the David Davis plan which showed that no hard border was necessary for the EU, and that the UK would not erect one. Davis was right, of course, but the EU deceived a willing UK in its ‘negotiations’ in order to exercise leverage of the Irish issue.

I am not a lawyer but there seems to be much prima facie evidence that the WA is an EU document devised in bad faith and executed in bad faith, in order to keep the UK in Alcatraz. It is true that Mrs May and Olly Robbins caved in from the start, but is that a defence against a ruthless operator pretending to arrange a deal but in fact concocting a way to reduce the partner nation to the status of a trade colony?

Until a competent international trade lawyer puts together a case to render the WA void, the choice presented to a new Tory leader is that he or she has either to swallow this poison or face Parliamentary insurrection driven by traitorous Tories like Philip Hammond who will not ‘allow’ No Deal.

This is Project Fear Mark Three. It can only be dealt with by burying the WA once and for all.

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