Most people will admire the Prime Minister’s personal grit and determination. Some will feel sorry for her that she is being tormented from all sides. But just because she is gritty and continues to march forward doesn’t mean she has got a good deal.
At 585 pages and 103,000 words, the draft withdrawal agreement is 14 times longer than the Magna Carta and 20 times longer than the US Constitution. It is typical of something created by the EU: extremely complex, jargonistic and dense. This in itself should be a warning sign of potential nasties hidden within.
Whichever way you voted in the referendum, most will agree this is not Brexit. The Leave side’s whole argument came down to ‘taking back control’ from the EU and running our own lives. Controlling our laws, borders, money, trade and fishing waters. Taking decisions in the best interest of this country rather than 27 others.
Within the long list of hidden horrors, there is one issue in particular which will ultimately decide whether this deal can get through Parliament or not. It relates to the so-called ‘backstop’ agreement which would come into force if a trading relationship and border solution between Northern Ireland and Ireland cannot be agreed on in time. The problem is that the wording of the withdrawal agreement requires both the EU and the UK to agree that sufficient progress has been made – with the EU giving their scouts-honour promise to use their ‘best endeavours’ to avoid the backstop being needed. This is a backwards step.
While inside the EU, all that was required for us to sever ties was to trigger Article 50. The Prime Minister’s proposals take away our independence to escape the talons of the EU. Anyone who thinks this proposed deal is acceptable is either thinking of their own career, stupid or naive.
After handing over £39bn and being trapped within a large swathe of the EU’s laws and regulations without any say over their formation, why on earth would the EU ever agree to let us escape their cosy trap?
The EU’s greatest worry is the UK making a success of Brexit. Getting out of their protectionist club and taking advantage of the significant growth outside of the EU and making our economy more attractive and competitive for business. These proposals prevent us from doing that and give them the upper hand.
The withdrawal agreement is like being in a fiendishly tricky escape room where you persevere for days, weeks and years on end, but the final puzzle and only way to get out is for your acrimonious and seriously-aggrieved ex to give you the final clue. It’s not going to happen and the EU plan to use it to their advantage. According to documents leaked to The Times, Sabine Weyand, the deputy chief negotiator, said: “They must align their rules but the EU will retain all the controls. The UK wants a lot more from the future relationship, so EU retains its leverage.” It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to work that one out.
Number 10 hope that Parliament will eventually buckle and vote this through. Realistically that’s not going to happen with most of Labour, the DUP, and enough Conservative MPs from both wings of the party willing to vote against it.
So, where does that leave us now? One possibility is MPs trying to oust the Prime Minister in the hope of changing approach. If a vote of no confidence is triggered, Theresa May will all but certainly win. We could have a general election, which would require two-thirds of MPs to vote in favour of it, which isn’t going to happen.
So what then? In my mind, there are two likely options.
The Prime Minister is dead against tweaking the withdrawal agreement. So she puts it unchanged to Parliament for a vote. It’s voted down. The EU then really sees the predicament the Prime Minister is in and compromises on how the backstop works, which will then satisfy a majority in parliament. After all, if no deal is reached there will be no backstop at all, so the EU may be willing to budge.
The second possibility is that the EU continue to be militant and unwilling to compromise.
The legislation already exists for us to exit onto World Trade Organisation rules, which we would do with a small range of bespoke agreements covering things like citizens’ rights and landing at airports, as well as using the £39bn to soften any short-term blow to the economy and introduce business-friendly measures to calm nerves.
From the start, the Prime Minister and civil service have seen Brexit as a risk to be mitigated rather than a self-belief in our ability to govern ourselves.
Starting from there, you can understand why you would end up in this pickle with very few ways out.