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Revoke the Withdrawal Agreement or get Brino


BORIS, you need to make us certain that the EU trade talks have failed – and there’s only one way to do that.

The Cabinet and the party, not just you Boris, must revoke the Withdrawal Agreement, which was written exactly to screw us in the event of our walking away from trade talks. Revoking the WA goes hand-in-hand with no deal.

It’s the Cabinet’s job to take the party with it, so yes, there might be a pause to let the party draw a deep breath after walking away before it absorbs this logical next step. 

But anyone with a grain of common sense would presume that the Cabinet members have gone through the logical consequences of each action, step by step, dozens of times. 

In case they haven’t, let me tell them why they must, why it is too dangerous to leave that pig in a poke lying around to lock us into Brino – Brexit in name only.

More importantly, do not think you can persuade the EU with this to start negotiating again. I can tell Britain’s chief negotiator, Lord Frost, that they don’t know how. Indeed, they may also simply not understand what you’re talking about.

Poor Talleyrand, poor Metternich, poor Castlereagh. What would those diplomatic giants of old make of Mutti Merkel and Monsieur Barnier? Every rule and trick of diplomacy that I was taught by some very gifted and experienced masters of the art, Mutti and Michel either ignore completely. Or worse, simply are ignorant of.

Significantly too, Barnier has to retire in January and he knows he doesn’t have to resolve anything. He’s a civil servant!

Events are often the best teacher! Here’s one that illustrates the abysmal approach of Barnier and the leaders of the remaining EU member states who with our departure lose the largest export market for the bloc. Britain’s exit is the same as the EU’s 20 smallest countries leaving as one – and that’s before we get to a huge portion of its former Atlantic fishing grounds and continental shelf.

The closest ‘like’ negotiation I can remember was in Canada in February 1980, following a day in Toronto, after landing through a blizzard at Ottawa Airport …

A burly character and I reach the cab rank together. We’re both going downtown and quickly share a ride. Staring at the whirling white flakes, my companion launches into a tirade against Canada’s youngest Prime Minister, Joe Clark, whose Conservative government has just lost a vote of confidence on its budget.

He growls: ‘What kind of ******************head would end up calling a ******** election in the middle of a ******* Canadian ******* winter? Ayee?’

‘You don’t sound like you’re too fond of Joe?’

‘You bet I’m not –***************************** I’m his ******* campaign manager.’

By early March, Pierre Trudeau and the Liberals were back. Trudeau was a great politician, wonderful speaker – you’d never heard him until you heard him in French – a man with vision and a brain.

He was also a skilled negotiator, surrounded with a very talented staff.  He wanted to bring the Canadian Constitution back across the Atlantic from London. It had been parked there in 1931 because the federal government and the 14 provincial governments could not agree over who controlled resources.

In Canada this is big money – oil, tar sands, iron ore, timber, land, fish. The wheatfields of the Canadian prairies are larger than France.

Fortunately, Trudeau had a campaign plan. Once the draft constitution had been debated in the federal parliament, it next was debated in all 14 provincial parliaments. Having got that done, the constitution was debated in our Parliament, which had to send it back to the Canadian Parliament.

Now that gave all sorts of pressure groups in Canada a chance to hold things up in London. As the Canadian media put it, the floor of the House of Commons ran red with claret.

As the fellow charged with our relations with the media, my radar was constantly searching for some thick-skinned (headed?) MP who would step beyond the requirement to be an honest broker and take sides in politics they didn’t know enough about to form a judgment.

Let the Canadians do the negotiating, our job is to prove that we are sensible and reliable friends. Needless to say, and it was a bug that bit all parties, a few could not resist the lure of sudden self-importance.

Our job as the British High Commission was to bend over backwards NOT to meddle in Canadian domestic politics and to very clearly be seen NOT doing so. Our task as a country was to make sure that Canadians regarded us as close and reliable friends when all was done and dusted over repatriating their constitution.

All went well in the end. The Queen came and on behalf of her government in Ottawa accepted Canada’s constitution from her government in London. Jim Callaghan was invited and represented us as a former Prime Minister.

Then, at the far southern tip of the Americas, came trouble in another of her realms – the Argies had invaded the Falklands and her Canadian Prime Minister had no doubt who was outside the law.

He offered immediate support. Offers of help poured in from all over Canada, and I mean help. One phone call offered a tanker – full – anywhere in the world. The TV news rivals wanted a Commonwealth pool with the task force.

Now the point I am making is that everyone involved carried out their political and diplomatic responsibilities with the utmost care to the amicable completion of the final task.

We all talked to each other and any bumps were quickly smoothed over. There was goodwill from the start and we all did our duty to keep it that way, despite some politicians on both sides of the Atlantic.

Now look at the way the EU has approached Brexit and behaved throughout. From the start, Merkel placed a German team in charge, but gave them a French face to hide behind.

Straight away that introduces an element of distrust. Were the British dealing with the EU or their paymistress? Were Theresa May and her message boy working for us, or for a political order of Jesuits who spoke German and answered to Merkel?

Moreover, the French are famous for only negotiating what they want. Which stops any movement towards a compromise on anything. I even warned the German Embassy here NOT to do that – beforehand – but maybe no one listened.

In the event, dealing with the remaining countries, Barnier failed miserably. He is no Pierre Trudeau. To arrive at the negotiating table demanding that everything stays as before Brexit was not just incredible weakness, but monstrously idle. Any fool can do nothing at all.

Barnier’s lazy civil servant approach came unstuck when Theresa May went. And still the Germans did nothing. They continued to hide behind Barnier and now Macron. Soon, they’ll hide behind some obscure Belgian in the European Parliament.

Their only activity has been meddling in British politics – Northern Ireland, Scotland – employing a Bismarck approach of divide, grab, bribe, try to rule via the back door.

Dave Frost naturally wants to finish with a deal and put it all to bed. Don’t bother, Dave. We know from the fate of the Swiss that there’s no such thing as a deal with Merkel’s EU. They’ll vote it down somewhere and try to delay even longer. Why is any more transition needed for fishing? They’ve already had over four years.

Just stick to international law. From January 1, 2021, our coastal waters and Exclusive Economic Zone (the larger area of sea beyond the 12-mile territorial limit over which we have sovereign rights) are ours under the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention.

I would have said that if one compared Pierre Trudeau and Michel Barnier, the latter beyond all doubt has not negotiated in good faith; he hasn’t negotiated at all.

Boris and Gove are silent on one essential task. You can’t leave any loose ends. Revoke the Withdrawal Agreement before December 31, 2020.

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Adrian Hill
Adrian Hill
Adrian Hill. Former soldier and diplomat, afterwards member of CBI Council and author.

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