Boris Johnson’s new Brexit deal is as good as it is going to get. We won’t get everything we want this time round, but we live to fight another day, says Leave HQ editor Pete North.
I made the case that there wasn’t a sincere attempt to secure a deal. And for a time I don’t think there was. Amber Rudd was right.
The leave vote looked to be galvanised in favour of no delay and no deal. But with the Benn Act breathing down Johnson’s neck, a deal became the only way (and may yet fail) to avoid an extension.
And of course, Johnson needed to save face after all the promises made.
Bizarrely, the media, not least the FT and BBC, are falling behind the narrative that the backstop has been done away with – which it hasn’t.
It seems to have been rolled back to the Northern Ireland-only proposal which was the EU’s opening offer.
Then, as I understand it, the level playing field provisions have been shunted into the political declaration.
From what I gather, there are a few bolt-ons to the Northern Ireland arrangement which is described as ‘Schrodinger’s backstop’ where it is has the effect – give or take – of being in a customs union with the EU, while legally part of the UK customs territory.
It’s an inelegant fudge which is politically more acceptable than May’s whole UK quasi-customs union. In most respects, though, it is still the same dog.
If, then, there were any intellectual consistency, those who opposed May’s deal shouldn’t budge – and by the looks of it they aren’t budging, save for the Tory tribe who will fall behind Boris Johnson because Boris Johnson.
It looks to me like the EU have done just enough for Johnson to save face – claiming two victories – the ‘abolition’ of the backstop, and reopening the withdrawal agreement when everyone (including me) said it couldn’t and wouldn’t happen.
How the EU now squares that with the breach of its own rules remains to be seen. I think we are in ‘phantom veto’ country.
If there is a victory on reopening the deal, it’s certainly not because of Johnson’s opening offer.
The EU was never going to agree to that.
More likely, the EU has set out the only conditions which could qualify as ‘legally operable’ and the parties have worked together to row back to where we were before May lost her majority.
Make no mistake, this is a major UK climbdown. Johnson was supposed to be the conquering hero who could handbag the beastly EU, scrap the backstop and come away with a better deal.
This is just tinkering around the edges. But it will have to do.
We should note, however, that the devil is in the detail. The small print says the texts are ‘subject to legal revision’, so we’re not even dealing with the final drafts.
Then, the drafts are not to be approved today. They wait for the European Parliament’s ‘consent’ – presumably next week, whence there must be another European Council formally to conclude the agreement, which will only happen if the swamp dwellers have ratified.
So will it pass? Again, your guess is as good as mine, but with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab falling into line, Johnson stands a good chance of taking some of the ERG with him.
Securing the deal is the easy bit. Getting it over the line is the real political accomplishment.
Johnson may well find he has it no easier than Theresa May – especially since Labour are opposing the deal for its own sake and the DUP will oppose it because that’s what the DUP does.
I’m not sure how this now goes, but I think if the deal doesn’t pass then we’ll have to go for a General Election to replace this zombie Parliament.
A new majority means Johnson can safely throw the DUP under the bus.
Leavers will probably tolerate an extension for that and then one hopes a new Parliament will pass the deal. We’ll have to wait and see.
The assumption is if there is an extension, leavers will be so enraged they’ll vote for the Farage Party. I don’t think so.
The Brexit Party tops out at 14 per cent in the polls, which is roughly where UKIP was before it imploded.
With Brexit on the line, it won’t do that well. Leavers know full well if there’s any hope of leaving, then they have to vote Tory.
Farage being Farage, though, will make the case that the Johnson deal is a rehash of May’s deal, thus is not leaving.
That narrative has worked since the Tory Brexit blob have also massaged it, but if the Tory blob moves away from the hardline position (BrexitCentral is the one to watch) then Farage is out on his own looking like he’s just after saving his own gravy train.
The Brexit Party won’t break the 11 per cent marker.
As to the respective merits of the deal, the argument remains the same. We are investing way too much energy over the withdrawal agreement, failing to recognise it is only the instrument of departure and in all likelihood the backstop will never see the light of day.
The deal provides a framework for a managed departure where most of the provisions within the agreement will be replaced by the future relationship.
My hunch at this point is if the deal passes, the Tories will go in cack-handed, as ever they do, with an idea of what they want, only to be gradually strangled by reality the same way Mrs May was.
They’ll want a bare bones Free Trade Agreement with customs protocols, but that will leave too many gaping holes, so there will be further concessions on regulatory and customs cooperation and we will see a high level of coordination on tariffs.
I suspect the EU will seek to recycle much of the work it has done with Switzerland so we end up with a shadow EEA – or nine tenths of it.
As an outcome it’s suboptimal, but certainly preferable to going the long way around by leaving without a deal and then being bludgeoned into making concession after concession.
In short, this deal, or virtually any deal, is preferable to no deal.
I’ll back this deal for the same reason I backed the last one. We won’t get all of what we want this time around, but we live to fight another day.
Pete can be found tweeting at @PeteNorth303
This article was originally published on his blog.