There is an understandable desire among some Brexiteers to accept Boris Johnson’s deal. Everyone is battle weary. But it is precisely at this point that Brexiteers must, at the very least, be wary of what is presented to them – and vote down the deal.
Why? First, the Withdrawal Agreement has been altered, but only in one substantive way, with respect to Northern Ireland. The backstop is gone and has been replaced with a protocol which theoretically brings NI into the UK’s new customs area but, in all practical aspects, leaves it within the EU’s customs union. The result is that NI would be subject to swathes of EU laws, including full regulatory alignment and with the ECJ as its supreme court. There would, in effect, be a border down the Irish sea. This is something Johnson had previously said would be intolerable.
Unlike the backstop, this is envisaged to be a permanent arrangement, terminable only by a vote, to be taken at four-year intervals. While this might be democratic, the divisions and acrimony these ongoing votes are likely to cause would be awful for the people of NI.
Apart from that, there are no other significant changes to May’s shoddy deal. Everything that was bad about it before remains bad. The payment of £39 billion. The UK stuck in the Single Market and EU’s customs union, subject to all its existing and new laws, through the transition period, with no say, veto and ability to enter into new trade deals. And some of the provisions of the WA go on for years after the transition.
Second, some changes have been made to the Political Declaration which sets out the framework for the UK’s future relationship with the EU. The document is now much more readable. It is also more vague in places, which is helpful given that Article 184 of the WA commits both parties to use best endeavours to give effect to the terms of the PD. The PD is not just a wish list; it has bite.
But there are problems. Some key provisions of the original PD have followed through. These are deal breakers. I have set out some of these below but this is most certainly not an exhaustive list.
The UK is bound to operate a regulatory “level playing field” with the EU. This, together with NI’s commitment to regulatory alignment, would neuter the UK’s ability to compete as an independent nation and would make establishing new trade deals problematic.
The UK would be bound to align itself with EU state aid, competition, and tax laws, to name a few other obligations. These too serve to neuter the UK’s ability to freely govern itself.
The UK would be obliged to cooperate with EU defence projects and military interoperability. No sovereign state could agree to such commitments, which would be made under EU law and subject to ECJ supremacy.
Another thing of big importance is that the UK would have to go on allowing access to its territorial waters for EU member states’ fishing. British coastal communities have been badly damaged by the over fishing of our waters by these states and the practice has to be stopped.
What’s more, there are no stated termination provisions for these future arrangements which would be implemented as a treaty. In the absence of express termination provisions, terminating treaties must be undertaken in accordance with the Vienna Convention of 1969. The grounds for doing so are extremely narrow. This could potentially commit the UK to this new treaty in perpetuity.
These are just a few objections and the list of deal breakers is long. But if you want one overarching reason to reject Johnson’s deal, it is this: David Cameron supports it.
Ben Habib is a Brexit party MEP