In light of the deal, I asked whether the UK should accept the deal on the table, good, bad and ugly in order to move onto trade talks or reject the demands made by Brussels and signal the UK’s intent to trade with the EU under WTO rules from March 2019.
Over three and a half thousand voted (thank you for voting) - 84% saying the UK should walk away with 16% saying we should accept the deal.
As well as reading the detail of the deal, I also attended the press conference between the Prime Minister and Jean-Claude Juncker last Friday morning.
I welcome the fact that progress is being made, but the devil really is in the detail. After reading the deal, there are some serious areas for concern and I suspect that’s why my poll delivered the result it did.
Firstly, there was a lot of reticent on Friday morning from both the UK and the EU on the precise amount the UK will hand over the UK - the so-called withdrawal bill. We have now been told it’ll be between £35 and £40 billion. This is a colossal sum of money, which we must not forget, comes from the British taxpayer. This is not a legal requirement but rather a sweetener, morally, to help progress the negotiations.
There might be a case for paying a small amount to the EU, to maintain a good future relationship, but £40 billion is too much and very hard to justify to the British taxpaper. The government began with an opening offer of £20 billion as per Theresa May’s Florence speech earlier this year, but I and many others warned that the EU would squeeze as much money from us eventually.
Secondly, the ECJ will continue to be the ultimate arbitrator in upholding the rights of EU citizens in the UK for a further eight years. Many see this as a win for the UK, as it’s not for an indefinite period, but this does undermine our judicial independence and is not compatible with the leave vote last year.
Thirdly, there is still no clear indication for how long the transition period will be after March 2019. This should purely be an implementation period, and not a continuation of further trade negotiations. This is concerning considering the EU Commission will change hands in 2019. If the transition period prevents the UK from capitalising on our Brexit opportunities - including negotiating trade deals with non-EU members, then this is absolutely unacceptable and is a self defeating prophecy.
However, the biggest cause for concern is the crack left in the door way for the continuation of regulatory alignment with the Single Market (See Clause 49 below). Both the EU and the UK have committed to no hard border, but the future of north and south economically will be determined by the overall EU-UK relationship, as the negotiations continue. However, if this is not the case and no specific solutions are found to be acceptable, then the whole of the United Kingdom will stay in regulatory alignment with the EU’s single market.
Even if we wanted to strengthen particular regulations for certain industries, we would be prevented from doing so. It leaves us in a weakened position, fails to take back control of our laws from the EU and most of all, prevents us from taking advantage of all the immense opportunities that Brexit will bestow upon us.
Leave or remain, most people can see this would be a bad outcome for Britain. In fact, I remember remainers criticising the leave argument saying Brexiteers want to put the UK in a similar position to that of Norway, (half in, half out) which was not something advocated by the leave campaign anyway.
So, all in all, yes we’re leaving the Customs Union and Single Market, but many will see this as a ‘softer’, less true Brexit than the one which was voted for last year. And I think many will conclude that the UK has made the most concessions and compromise, while the EU has remained rigid.
Bowing down to every single demand from Brussels is not the only option. The government has consistently said that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’. There comes a time when you need to take your own advice on-board. Yes, this deal is the outcome of the first phase of the negotiations, but it’s certainly beginning to look like a bad deal overall.
David Davis was right to say that unless the trade negotiations were successful, the UK would not pay any sum of money to withdraw which effectively means this deal is not set in stone - so this deal could end up in the bin anyway.