London: “The worst deal in history,” was Nigel Farage’s assessment.
“Profoundly undemocratic,” added Jacob Rees-Mogg.
‘Profoundly undemocratic’: Jacob Rees-Mogg.Credit:Bloomberg
The Brexiters now hate Brexit – or at least, the one they’re most likely to get, with the revelation that a deal has been struck between the EU and UK.
“A terrible mistake,” said ex-transport minister Jo Johnson.
“Atrocious for Britain,” said Labour’s David Lammy.
The Remainers still dislike Brexit – in all its potential forms, but certainly including this one.
‘Atrocious for Britain: David Lammy’Credit:Screengrab/Channel4
So who does that leave? Anyone?
It leaves, incredibly, a government led (at the time of writing) by a woman who campaigned against Brexit.
Prime minister Theresa May has doggedly pursued what she insists are the country’s best interests.
Those interests, she says, are to respect the spirit of the referendum vote from 2016, but also not to hurt business and the economy too much, but also not to screw up the Good Friday Agreement which guarantees peace on the island of Ireland.
Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), gestures whilst speaking during a news conference to announce his resignation as UKIP party in July.Credit:Bloomberg
There's not much overlap in that Venn diagram, even before the EU's own negotiating aims (such as maintaining the intergity of the single market) are added in. The deal was, inevitably, going to be a compromise on one or more of these aims.
And the government isn’t pretending otherwise. Its language is grim: accept this deal because it’s the best we can get, we know it’s not great but it could have been worse, is the narrative tone out of Downing St.
“The choice before us is clear,” May said on Wednesday. “This deal … or leave with no deal; or no Brexit at all.”
That last option was a surprise. Until now, May has always insisted it was a binary choice between her deal or no deal.
Some Brexiters now say Britain must take option two: reject the deal entirely and go its own way.
This is dangerous bravado. ‘No deal’ would see short-term economic chaos, even food and medicine shortages. In the longer term it would mean a hard border in Ireland, and the EU would take legal action to reclaim the billions the UK had previously agreed it owed.
Britain would have alienated and infuriated its biggest and closest trading partner – hardly a recipe for economic success.
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May Credit:AP
Only the most foolhardy want this option.
It’s unclear how May envisions there being no Brexit at all, because she didn’t elaborate.
The government could just give up (possibly after the parliament rejects the deal next month, which is a very good chance), and ask the EU if it can cancel the whole thing. It’s hard to see May's prime ministership – or indeed the government – surviving this decision.
Or parliament could insist on a new referendum, something May has repeatedly, unambiguously ruled out, and which would exasperate much of Britain. Or May could call an election. Either of these two options might not have their intended effect anyway, because it’s hard to see how to get them done with time left to avoid a ‘no deal’ Brexit, due by force of EU treaty on March 29.
So that leaves May’s deal.
The deal describes what Boris Johnson and others have rather old-fashionedly but not inaccurately called “vassalage”.
For the whole of the ‘transition period’, set to end in December 2020, the UK will obey all EU rules but will no longer have any votes in any EU bodies. If a new trade and customs partnership is not signed by its end, the transition period could be extended to a date described in the deal text as “up to 31 December 20XX”. Well, at least the UK can know its vassalage won’t last beyond 2099.
Once the transition ends the UK has agreed to a ‘backstop’ that would keep the UK in a customs union with Europe, following EU customs rules, and force Northern Ireland to keep following many single market rules and regulations, unless and until a trade deal is done. The backstop may never come into effect, because both sides say a permanent customs and trade arrangement can be negotiated before it’s required. Many observers take this with a grain of salt, noting how many years previous EU trade deals took to negotiate.
And in the end the UK may still stay subject to EU rules, perhaps forever, because of the problem of the Irish border and the only solution that has yet been found to keep it seamless: see above.
One wonders how Australia will negotiate a trade deal with a country like this. Maybe you just go to Brussels, and then let the UK know what’s left to sort out.
So where does that leave Britain? With a deal widely regarded as odious and with obvious, admitted flaws, pushed by a minority government plagued by ministers who hate what they’re doing.
Yet this Brexit is still the most likely endpoint. Because the alternative, at this late stage, is mayhem.
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