The Withdrawal Agreement is a Remainer’s caricature of Brexit

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Jonathan Arnott – unlike Jeremy Corbyn – actually read the Withdrawal Agreement and argues that unless your only concern was our quasi-racist immigration policy, Brexit does not mean Brexit and our sovereignty has not been effectively defended.

There’s been a nice bit of bedtime reading in recent days for anyone involved with anything to do with Brexit. No self-respecting politician could possibly have failed to read all 585 pages of the draft Withdrawal Agreement and the slimline 26-page Political Declaration. You might very well point out that Jeremy Corbyn hadn’t read the Withdrawal Agreement; I submit that my previous statement stands as written.

As a withering aside, I’m shocked on an almost-daily basis by the number of people who don’t bother to do the basics and actually read the things they’re commenting on. Imagine a football commentator who didn’t know until the whistle blew which teams were playing that day, or have the foggiest who’s playing for them. They’d be fired; the final whistle would be the final whistle for their career too.

Yet with politics, which should be significantly more important than a football match, we give these clowns a free pass. We can debate what these documents would actually mean in practice, but debating with someone who hasn’t read them is like arguing with an idiot: they drag you down to their level, then beat you with experience.

The first bit of context that matters is this: the Withdrawal Agreement is legally binding; the Political Agreement is more aspirational. I suppose you could make the argument that the Withdrawal Agreement isn’t legally binding as follows: No UK Parliament can legally bind its successor; therefore, the UK’s membership of the EU is subject to that principle.

Therefore, the UK is only signed up to the Lisbon Treaty to that extent. Consequently, the Withdrawal Agreement only matters to the extent that we can’t rip up the Lisbon Treaty if we want – and therefore, it’ll not be technically binding. As I said, you could make that argument. But good luck finding an international court anywhere to back you up on it.

So this matters. I expected to be writing something about how this 26-page aspirational document isn’t legally binding, whereas the 585-page Withdrawal Agreement is. I expected to be sounding a note of caution, saying that the good stuff should have been put in the Withdrawal Agreement.

We should be aware of the main issues within the Withdrawal Agreement: it’s vague, full of waffle, keeps the UK tied into various EU institutions, rules and regulations, and puts no end date on the so-called ‘transition period’ – leaving the possibility of endless purgatory for the UK, at least until such time as the EU considers sufficient penance has been paid for the ‘crime’ of disobeying EU diktats.

It’s horrendously one-sided and implies ceding of sovereignty even beyond that which we’ve already ceded. It takes aim at the sovereignty of UK military bases and Gibraltar’s tax independence.

The Political Declaration was supposed to be better. It was supposed to be the saccharin, sickly-sweet sugar-coated placebo designed for Theresa May to hand to Parliament. It was intended as the document that hoodwinks the UK into signing on the dotted line. The document that holds out hope of a shining new future for an independent Britain and how the EU will co-operate post-transition.

Instead, it’s a further sell-out. It describes future fishing arrangements which don’t seem much different to the disastrous Common Fisheries Policy. It seeks to interfere in perpetuity with the UK’s right to set its own public procurement policy, allowing the EU to sue the UK if it doesn’t agree with UK decisions.

This matters, but everyone will ignore it – presumably because it’s too arcane to worry about the sovereignty of our own government, and there are other sell-outs to concern ourselves with. Probably the majority of the readers of this article will ignore it to.

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Then there are references to EU courts determining the meaning of EU law. At first reading, that doesn’t seem as bad as it actually is: of course EU courts should interpret EU law, and UK courts should interpret UK law. The kicker, though, is that the UK repeatedly agreed in the Withdrawal Agreement to respecting equivalent standards to EU law.

Therefore, EU courts will be able to test the UK’s compliance and – in effect – EU courts will overrule UK courts. It raises the spectre of the UK participating in EU-led military missions. In such cases, UK forces would operationally report to EU commanders.

Such things might be understandable within NATO, where the UK also takes a leadership role at times, and where a clear pact requires mutual protection. But this is different: this is the UK, as an outsider, potentially contributing to someone else’s military force.

I’m also concerned about the meaning of the wording on development co-operation. Does this mean that the UK is committing to pursuing the same wrong-headed goals with respect to foreign aid that it is doing at present?

Does wording elsewhere make it harder for the UK to actually do the things we should be doing instead, to help lift countries out of poverty through free and fair trade rather than giving handouts with one hand whilst imposing tariffs with the other?

There are many, many more concerns that I have with this document – this is just scratching the surface. Many mentions of UK co-operating with EU bodies are undefined. They could mean almost anything, including continued erosion of our sovereignty.

Remember also that wording on Gibraltar has yet to be agreed, and – tellingly – there is still no sign of a definitive end date for the so-called ‘transitional period’ before this future relationship takes effect.

It’s a nebulous document, with gentle dustings of occasional intermittent sugar-coating. It refers to an ‘independent trade policy’ for the UK repeatedly, for example. I wonder though: under a document such as this, just how independent could our trade policy actually be?

When it comes to Theresa May’s approach towards Brexit, this document would imply that she has been labouring under a misapprehension. It seems that she’s assuming the only reason anyone voted for Brexit was about control over our borders and immigration system.

If there’s been one red line that she’s actually stuck to, it’s that one. That’s the most glaring reminder that May was, in fact, a Remainer. It plays to every Remainer caricature of Brexiteers: that we don’t really care about sovereignty, that somehow democracy is supposed to be little more than a dog-whistle for immigration.

If you are indeed a Brexiteer who cares solely about ending our current quasi-racist immigration system which discriminates in favour of the overwhelmingly-white EU27 and against the ethnically-diverse rest of the world, then you might well find May’s deal to be to your liking. It delivers upon that. The problem is that it delivers upon little, if anything, else.