It’s not just the backstop!

Fifteen failures in Theresa May’s deal

Theresa May is working on the assumption that the only problem with her Brexit deal is the “backstop” (or safety net) provisions to avoid a hard border in Ireland – something the government agreed to 14 months ago and has been trying to wriggle out of ever since. But that is, for many of us, not the main problem (if indeed it is a problem) with her deal. There are plenty of major problems that she wants us to ignore. Let’s have a look at some of them.

1. Wasting vast amounts of money

The Leave Campaign promised that Brexit would save lots of money that would all go to the NHS. In fact, it’s costing a fortune! It’s not just the £39 billion “divorce settlement”, it’s the much bigger loss of tax revenues to the British exchequer caused by the economic consequences of Brexit which are made even worse by the government’s intention of ultimately leaving not just the EU but the single European market and the customs union too. A report by the NIESR, an independent economic think tank, shows that by 2030, GDP will be around 4 per cent lower than it would have been had the UK stayed in the EU (rising to 5.5 per cent, or £140 billion a year, in the event of a no-deal Brexit). The cost of Brexit will be far higher than any savings from our EU contribution. That contribution – the two per cent of public spending that we carry out jointly at EU level – itself often saves us money at national level by pooling resources or avoiding duplication, such as on research programmes or technical agencies like the air safety agency.

2. Losing any say on EU rules, even though we will still follow many of them

Under May’s deal, our access to the European market will depend on “level playing field” provisions covering “state aid, competition, social and employment standards, environmental standards, climate change and relevant tax matters”. On all of these the UK will in practice have to follow EU rules, while no longer having a say on them. The agreement also specifies that UK participation in any EU programmes, will be “subject to the conditions set out in the corresponding Union [legal] instruments”, set by the EU, not jointly agreed ones. There will no longer be British ministers around the table taking those decisions. Above all, Britain will be completely absent from the place where the future of our continent will be shaped.

3. Losing trade deals with countries around the world that we currently have via the EU

Under May’s plans, we will exit all our existing trade deals, including the one with Japan that entered into force this month creating the world’s largest free trade area. We would have to re-negotiate them all, in a hurry, negotiating alone as Britain without the clout of the world’s largest market that we had when we negotiated jointly as EU. And of course we will not be a part of those those currently being negotiated, such as the EU-Australia agreement.

4. Weakening our security

Under the deal, there will merely be “cooperation” rather than “participation” in Europol and Eurojust, on cyber-security threats, international efforts to prevent money laundering and the financing of terrorism. Our participation in the European Arrest Warrant will end and be replaced by “streamlined procedures” yet to be negotiated.

5. Leaving the Galileo satellite system

We finance this useful technology by spreading the huge costs among 28 countries. Years of UK investment in Galileo will be thrown away, leaving us facing the costly option of setting up a separate system, as the government recently announced with apparent relish.

6. Taking our farmers out of the common agricultural market in Europe

The EU is the destination for the bulk of UK farmers’ exports. The Common Agricultural Policy currently provides the bulk of farmers’ incomes and means there are equivalent levels of subsidy across Europe. Are we going to subsidise less (and see our farmers unable to compete) or more (and see them excluded from European markets for unfair competition)? Is this the beginning of the end for some of our much loved landscapes, such as the Yorkshire Dales or the Lake District, as their farms close down? Read more here.

7. Failing to spell out how to leave the Common Fisheries Policy.

Under international law (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea), we will still have to negotiate with our neighbours on managing fish stocks, agreeing limits and quotas. And if we try to avoid that, other EU countries have already said they will reduce their take of our exports (we export most of the fish we catch). Read more here.

8. Ending Free movement, rather than using its safeguards.

Free movement is reciprocal – so ending it removes rights from nearly two million Brits currently living in other EU countries and from all Brits who might have wanted to benefit from this in the future, especially young people. The rights of UK citizens to live, work, and study in 27 other countries, are being dismissed at a stroke. It’s also a misplaced target: if Theresa May wants to reduce migration to the UK, she should have the honesty to say that most migration to Britain comes from outside the EU, entirely under UK rules, which she controlled as Home Secretary for six years. And perhaps mention that EU freedom of movement is not an unconditional right, it comes with obligations (such as to find work or be self-sufficient) which she never enforced. Read more here.

9. Ruling out continued UK participation in EU Agencies

The agreement removes the UK from the European Medicines Agency, the European Chemicals Agency and the European Air Safety Agency, allowing only for “the possibility of cooperation”. (This is in contrast to the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism, where the UK can be a “Participating State”). These joint technical agencies are not just a way of saving money by pooling resources – their authorisations are crucial for allowing products onto the European market. If we’re outside, our firms will be bottom of the queue.

10. Dropping out of the mutual recognition of driving licences.

There is merely a reference to “the Parties should consider complementary arrangements to address travel by private motorists.”

11. Weakening UK citizens’ rights.

Leaving the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights is a strange way of recognising the UK’s long track record in protecting human rights!

12. Having less say on sanctions against those who violate international rules.

We will be able to join, but not decide on, EU sanctions. EU trade sanctions are a powerful tool, as the EU is the world’s largest market. From outside, we will no longer have a say on how that tool is used.

13. Losing out in dispute arbitration

The agreement accepts that disputes between the UK and the EU on the agreement will be settled by an independent arbitrator, whose decisions will “be binding” and must defer to the Court of Justice of the EU, the “sole arbiter of Union law” (despite Theresa May’s previous red line), whenever it is a matter of interpreting the EU’s rules. So, the UK will still be subject to the Court’s judgements, but there will no longer be a British judge helping to make them.

14. Jeopardising Gibraltar’s status

Gibraltar’s position will be under threat as the necessary further negotiation puts Britain in a vulnerable negotiating position where Spain has a veto on our future trade deal with the EU.

And, last, but not least:

15. Accepting a “Blind Brexit”

We will be leaving without any clarity or guarantees on a host of crucial issues which will only be settled after we’ve left, when we have far less leverage in the negotiations. There is no binding agreement yet on any of the following:

  • access to the EU market for our financial services (insurance and banking). Loss of the current high level of access will cost us jobs, income and therefore tax revenue.
  • digital rules and access, crucial for e-commerce and to reduce barriers to trade by electronic means. Even if we do eventually get full access, it will be conditional on following EU rules and is no substitute for jointly running the system, as we do now
  • arrangements allowing data to continue to flow freely, vital for our economy and for our shared security
  • the right of UK citizens to practice their profession elsewhere in Europe. At best, we might simply maintain the current right for our citizens to do that. It is, however, more likely to result in less ability to do so, given the government’s intention to restrict freedom of movement
  • specific arrangements for gas and electricity interconnectors and supplies
  • air transport
  • access for freight operators, buses and coaches
  • arrangements to take part in EU programmes like Horizon 2020 and Erasmus
  • cooperation with Euratom, which we’re also pulling out of for no good reason. Read more here
  • visa-free travel to the EU for holidays and business trips
  • continued sharing of security data like DNA, passenger records and fingerprints to fight crime and terrorism
  • the “Framework Participation Agreement” yet to be negotiated, on UK participation in civilian and military crisis management missions abroad.

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  1. My husband owns a small bus company which relies on cycling holidays by coach into the EU for more than half of its turnover.
    We have a 2019 programme all set up, booked in and ready to go. Just one little snag – we have no idea whether or not we will have a valid operating licence in order to fulfil our bookings.
    My husband and I have worked hard for more than twenty years to get where we are. Now we’re watching it potentially failing through absolutely no fault of our own. We know we’re not alone in this. But that doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking.

    • I’ve yet to meet anyone who runs a business who supports Brexit. After nearly three years of writing letters to MPs, marching, signing petitions, posting on facebook and Twitter, generally making a nuisance of myself, I have pretty much given up. I despair of those I speak to who don’t give a sh*t about the money my husband’s business has already lost (he imports goods from mainly Belgium, the post-ref tanking £ has hit him hard, and now he also needs to pay a consultant to handle his imports paperwork), and in my business the loss of confidence in construction has had a major impact. And there’s my planned retirement to Spain probably gone…

  2. The role of government is to make sound decisions for the people and the country. (That’s why we voted for you) With the knowledge we now have about leaving the EU the government should step up to the plate and be honest with the people, they should explain that it is not a good for the UK leave the EU and revoke article 50. The the referendum vote was based on misinformation and false promises, We already have the best deal. Don’t throw it away

    • He understands just fine. A referendum, however ridiculous, is the Tory party’s baby. They initiated it. They carried it out. They ‘negotiated’ withdrawal.
      They involved the whole UK in the Tory party’s internal feud. Her Majesty’s loyal opposition are merely continuing their version of something that has nothing to do with/been forced upon them. They must do so, however distasteful to you. If you want to get angry with anyone, chose the engineers whose sewer-farm this is.

      • It’s obvious he doesn’t understand, otherwise he wouldn’t say things like poverty and the environment are more important than constitutional issues (!) He is way out of his depth.

  3. Missed out lower investment in UK, continued business uncertainty, destruction of some exporting businesses, risks to our Union, lesser power leverage and threat to our UN Security Council seat, continued divisiveness in Britain, and many more.

  4. Most excellent piece, Richard.

    I have given up hope that the UK government is capable of acting rationally. It uses the flawed referendum as a means of expressing an orgy of atavism to the despair of its friends and international colleagues. There is no strategy except to indulge in wishful thinking of a Brittanic dominance that was already out of date 100 years ago. We excoriate Maduro for ruining his country, but cannot see how the same disregard for facts and the same choking embrace of ideology is ruining ours.

  5. Excellent article. Just such a shame Corbyn is acting the mad midwife to Mays right wing brexit disaster. And thus forcing millions of Labour voters to green, Lib Dem or SNP. This probrexit stance is going to destroy a once great and decent party

  6. Just wondering if Jeremy Corbin has seen this ?

    Asking for a friend who can’t understand why England is doing this.

    Quite an unbalanced article saying nothing of the benefits of leaving the EU .

  7. Brilliant summary, thanks.
    But to convince the unconvinced, these points need to be written as if we’ve already left (eg we will be able to use our driving licences).
    This is for two reasons
    1 Positives sell
    2 Brexiters are already living in their moment.

  8. Well it’s too late for me. I’ve moved my company to Estonia. 95% of my turnover comes from EU-financed contract work, plus I cannot deal with the contradiction of working on EU free trade agreements (which I do) while not being an EU citizen. Regardless of my voting persuasion, there is no for of Brexit that works for me – so how could the Prime Minister promise “a country that works for everyone”? I am utterly fed up of politicians promising what they must know to be undeliverable.

  9. Thanks Richard for this limpid but detailed reminder. We as Group Europe are still interested in listening to you when the time is good. Regards Catherine

  10. No one has ever truthfully explained the benefits of leaving.

    The only clear promise was written on the side of a bus and the day after the referendum the Brexiteers, notably Nigel Farage and Ian Duncan-Smith, queued up to denounce it as a lie.

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