Last week the President of the European Council Donald Tusk tweeted:
“From the beginning, the EU offer has been a Canada +++ deal. Much further reaching on trade, internal security and foreign policy cooperation. This is a measure of respect. And this offer remains in place.”
This was a restatement of his previous comments in March and Michel Barnier’s similar remarks in August this year.
Accordingly Number 10’s stated position that there is only a binary choice between her Chequers Plan and No Deal is not correct. A third way does exist.
This week the European Union is likely either to reject the Chequers proposal as being incompatible with its commitment to the integrity of the Single Market and significantly outside of its rules-based legal order, or to take it as a basis for further significant concessions.
The Chequers Proposal fails to take back control of our laws, money, borders and trade because it proposes a common rulebook, a facilitated customs arrangement and effective subordination to the European Court of Justice. That was always unacceptable as it does not meet the requirements of the referendum or our subsequent promises to the electorate.
It would also delay and undermine our ability to agree third country trade deals. For example the papers are full this week of Prime Minister Abe’s offer of membership of the TPP; this would give us an immediate and significant boost to trade with a number of our most important trading partners. However, I consulted with a leading trade expert and he is certain that the “common rule book” proposal would render such membership impossible.
We should therefore switch strategies to Canada +++ and deliver an outcome that is good for the UK, acceptable to Parliament, and negotiable with Brussels. There is even a detailed plan on the shelf ready to be used; the excellent Plan A+ published recently by the Institute of Economic Affairs. There is a similar plan held in DEXEU.
The prize is on offer and the EU is saying it is ready to make that deal. The Irish border is raised as a red herring to divert us from this path. Nobody wants a hard border in Northern Ireland. Literally, the only person raising the spectre of one recently is the Chancellor in his Conference speech.
There is already a tax, currency and judicial border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. It is today operated in such a way that it is invisible on the ground and that will continue.
It will be necessary to make particular arrangements at the Northern Ireland ports to control goods from the Rest of the World from entering the EU undetected. We already have special arrangements relating to the regulatory control of issues like the Single Electricity market and agri business and in a free trade arrangement there will be no tariffs.
So it is perfectly possible to maintain this invisible border by using and developing existing administrative procedures. We can do this with existing technology although up until recently the European Commission dismissed this as “magical thinking” - that has now changed.
The DUP, two ex-Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland, and David Trimble – the Nobel Peace Prize winner and architect of the Peace Process – have all made clear that Chequers was neither necessary nor effective in dealing with the Northern Ireland border and backed these more practical plans.
The border issue is eminently solvable if the political will is there. In any case, the heads of both the British and Irish customs authorities have told us that a hard border is not necessary. Jean-Claude Juncker, Leo Varadkar and Theresa May have all said that they would never enforce one. There will be no hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. It’s that simple.
The current Irish backstop proposals will see us “parked” semi permanently in the Customs Union and this would certainly break our manifesto commitment made in 2017 to leave the Customs Union after Brexit.
The Cabinet will need to decide its next course of action if Chequers – as seems likely – is rejected by the European Union. It is clear that a deal which honours the referendum result, is negotiable with the EU and which would reunite our party is within our grasp, with political will and imagination. This is doubly important in the face of the threat of the most extreme left wing Labour Party in living memory. There is no need for either preposterous threats, in order to justify Chequers, of ‘losing Brexit’ or using Labour votes to get a discredited “Chequers minus” through Parliament.
If we stay on our current trajectory we will go into the next election with the government having delivered none of the benefits of Brexit, with the country reduced to being a rule-taker from Brussels, and having failed to deliver on a number of promises in the manifesto and in the Lancaster House speech. This will not be a technicality, it will be very obvious to the electorate. The electoral consequences could be dire. So it is in both the Party’s interest, and crucially the national interest, that we reset our negotiating strategy immediately and deliver a Brexit that meets the demands of the referendum and the interests of the British people.
Rt Hon David Davis MP