Another day, another cave by Theresa May. Today, it appears that Theresa May is willing to keep the entire UK bound in perpetuity to the EU Customs Union. It also appears the Prime Minister has plans to betray her allies in the DUP and Northern Ireland by having EU regulations being applied to goods and services produced in Northern Ireland, with checks on movements of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. The folly of these plans cannot be overstated.
To keep the entire United Kingdom in the EU Customs Union, until the EU says it is acceptable to leave, as Boris Johnson rightly said on Twitter yesterday, makes the UK effectively a colony. The EU would decide on when and what terms the UK leaves the Customs Union. And even an eventual departure is a big “if”. The EU will probably decide it is in their interest to keep the UK in the Customs Union forever. What incentive would the EU have to allow the UK to make beneficial trade deals such as with the US, CANZUK, or the Trans-Pacific Partnership? New international trade deals would make the UK more competitive than the EU and would surely increase UK international investment at the expense of the EU. The Chequers goods and agricultural submission was bad enough, but blocking deals on services too is a complete betrayal of both Vote Leave and the 2017 Conservative Party manifesto promise to have an independent trading policy. It would show that Dr. Liam Fox’s Department of International Trade is a sham and prove the UK to be a weak and unreliable partner to its allies. Worse still, as both David Davis and Allister Heath have so astutely pointed out, it will encourage betrayed leave-supporting Conservatives to not vote, or vote third party, which ushers into power the Marxist Corbyn-led Labour party.
May’s proposed betrayal of the DUP would almost be equally as damaging to the Conservatives and the nation. First of all, it would show that all of Theresa May’s talk of the “precious union” to be a lie, and likely alienate the DUP from ever being allies with the Tories again. Secondly, it would make this parliament ungovernable, as the DUP have threatened to vote down the budget – which would hasten the demise of the government despite Downing Street’s arrogance about the prospect. Do May and Hammond really think it is feasible to govern without being able to pass a budget or a programme for government? Some have speculated the DUP’s fear of Corbyn would mean that the DUP would never follow through with their threats. Those people obviously don’t know the DUP. The DUP will hold out as long as needed to get what they want (see for instance the lack of Northern Ireland Assembly currently) and today, for the first time, they abstained on a bill instead of supporting the government. Finally, and worst of all, she is effectively giving control to the EU a part of UK territory. No British leader (Corbyn aside), would accept the breakup of their nation, as the Prime Minister has said many times. Why is she open to it now?
The shambles of the Brexit negotiations and craven weakness of Theresa May to the EU is astounding. However, surely when only 12% of people support your Brexit plan any other politician would have U-turned to survive. Most politicians too, out of pride, would have not offered more concessions to the EU after being humiliated and mocked by them in person and on social media. Yet, May keeps caving.
Electorally destroying the prospects of one’s party and making your own nation a vassal state is either stupidity or duplicity. It is either mad or bad. It is certainly possible that Theresa May irrationally trusts Ollie Robbins and Gavin Barwell even to the point of bringing national embarrassment and political oblivion because she is completely reliant on advisers and listens to no one else. That was certainly the charge against her when she blew a 20 point lead to only survive an election with a minority government – it was assumed then that she was in the complete snares of her advisers Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill.
Sadly though, and perhaps more depressingly, maybe the Prime Minister is trying her best to keep the UK under the thumb and in the orbit of the EU. Maybe the Lancaster House speech and the Tory manifesto and the constant pronouncements that the UK is leaving the single market and Customs Union and as one United Kingdom were lies designed to keep the party together and keep away suspicions of her coming betrayal. Maybe May and her advisers knew if they told her party the truth- that they were willing to accept the Customs Union and the continuing jurisdiction of the ECJ- the party would have thrown her out. Most Conservatives surely would not have tolerated her being leader if they knew of the Customs Union betrayal – and the Kippers who voted in masse for Conservatives in 2017 certainly would not have voted Tory.
Frankly, I don’t know whether May is being stupid or sinister on Brexit. I hope too that the outrage from Brexit-supporting Conservatives and the DUP will scare May off her planned Customs Union and Northern Irish caves. But if her stubborn clinging to Chequers is our guide, the prospects of Mrs. May seeing the light and pursuing a Canada +++ style Free Trade deal seem sadly remote. Her stubbornness is all the more preposterous given that the EU and ERG back a Canada +++ deal and the Le Touquet Treaty with France, and the EU border with Switzerland (who are not in the EU, Single Market or Customs Union) show how customs checks in both nations could be easily implemented.
Nevertheless, there is a hope for a real Brexit and the United Kingdom.
The first positive scenario I see is that I doubt Theresa May has the votes to get through a “Chequers -” (the Chequers plan with the above caves) deal through the House of Commons. It is likely the ERG will have 40 or more Conservatives who will not vote for such a deal, and with the DUP that potentially brings the number of government rebels to at least 50. It is unlikely that Theresa May could persuade over 50 Labour MPs to defy the whip and back her proposal. If her deal fell, per the European Withdrawal Act, Brexit automatically happens on 29 March 2019 – but on WTO terms. A WTO Brexit has some drawbacks due to some potential supply chain issues with the imposition of tariffs and customs controls, but it allows the UK to regain an independent trade policy and immigration policy right away. This would be a boon for national sovereignty and has potential enormous economic upsides.
The second positive scenario would be that the DUP votes down Phillip Hammond’s likely statist and un-conservative budget which forces the Prime Minister and Chancellor to resign but with the Conservatives still in government due to the Fixed Term Parliament Act. This would allow party members to choose a leader who, like them, believe in Brexit. Boris would be the obvious choice to me, as the Leave figurehead who has a very positive detailed vision for Brexit and because the DUP has said they will work with him. Under this scenario, the UK leaves on 29 March 2019 but uses the implementation period to thrash out the details of the Canada +++ arrangement both the UK and EU seek.
Theresa May’s performance has been dismal but not all is lost. Brexiteers should hold their nerve and fight against the Prime Minister’s proposed caves and capitulations. Hopefully then May will either prove herself not mad or bad or be replaced by someone who believes in Britain. No Surrender!