By David Davis
On Wednesday, the Prime Minister presented to Parliament the outcome of eighteen months negotiation with the European Union. Unsurprisingly, she received a dusty reception in the House of Commons.
The proposed withdrawal agreement is frankly a capitulation. The British people voted overwhelmingly in the 2016 Referendum to take back control over borders, laws and money. It does not deliver on these demands.
The proposed Withdrawal Agreement means the UK will not really be leaving in March. In reality the UK will remain inside the Customs Union for as long as the EU chooses to keep us there in contrast to the pledge given in the Conservative 2017 Manifesto. The European Court of Justice will continue to have control over our laws and Michel Barnier’s deputy Sabine Weyand has summed it up when she said: “They must align their rules but the EU will retain all the controls.” I understand this was why Dominic Raab and resigned as Brexit Secretary. Quite simply this is beyond the pale.
So we are trapped in the backstop and trapped in connection to EU institutions. The agreement keeps us effectively ruled over by the European Court of Justice.
This isn’t simply my opinion but that of Carl Baudenbacher, a former president of the EFTA court, which oversees the EEA agreement, who has criticised the UK’s decision to accept such a level of ECJ oversight.
He said: “This is not a real arbitration tribunal – behind it the ECJ decides everything.This is taken from the Ukraine agreement. It is absolutely unbelievable that a country like the UK, which was the first country to accept independent courts, would subject itself to this.”
We will have to pay £39billion to the EU as a divorce bill with next to nothing in return. When the EU has us locked into the backstop with a commitment to match their rules on the environment, on workplace regulations, on competition law, on state aid and competition law. Who is to say what else they will demand? The Chequers plans volunteered that we should subordinate our own industries to the EU Rulebook and the phrasing in the declaration means that we must expect such demands in this direction to come very shortly. As such, we will deliver none of the referendum demands or manifesto pledges.
Unsurprisingly this has produced an angry response from MPs, Conservative party members, and the British public. Rather than acknowledge these concerns and reset negotiations to achieve the Canada style free trade arrangement that almost everybody wants for the UK, the Government has embarked on a course – in collusion with the EU – to hoodwink the British people.
Everything the EU wants is written in the Withdrawal Agreement which is legally enforceable and has the force of an international treaty. Now a few crumbs are being given to the UK in the political declaration which is not binding on anyone.
This is fooling nobody. Everybody knows the political declaration has no legal status concerning international treaty obligations. It is merely a political declaration which is likely to be changed. Effectively it has cost £39billion of UK taxpayers money and the UK Government has failed to demand incremental payments in return for progress on trade talks. Why have we not made the £39billion conditional on achieving such a deal?
Instead we have thrown away the opportunities for our future UK economy, preventing ourselves from lowering trade barriers to help poorer countries and restricting ourselves from establishing new trade deals with the USA and emerging markets across the world. How will we deliver exports, trade-led economic growth, jobs, prosperity and smarter regulation which our country needs as an engine for growth?
The declaration does not match the promises of a comprehensive and ambitious future framework promised by the Prime Minister in numerous speeches. We could have and should have included a draft trade treaty and legal wording in the political declaration.
So this means that the EU has secured almost all of its strategic objectives in the legally enforceable Withdrawal Agreement whereas the UK’s key objectives are only contained in the legally unenforceable Political Declaration. Worse, the declaration commits the UK to establish a new fisheries agreement on access to waters and quota shares.
In plain English we have to fetter our control of our own fishing waters or extinguish all hope of a trade deal.
This is why I criticised the sequencing of negotiation from the beginning after the invocation of Article 50. We’ve been outmanoeuvred by the EU in a way which was too predictable from the very beginning.
The British people are tired of subservience to the EU and tired of this one-sided negotiation process. They are looking for us to deliver an imaginative and ambitious future for our country free of the unnecessary constraints of EU control.
If this declaration is allowed to stand and the Withdrawal Agreement is passed we will not be easily forgiven and we will inevitably be sleepwalking to electoral defeat at the next General Election.
David Davis is the former Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and Conservative MP for Haltemprice and Howden