Brexit – the Elizabethan settlement is in trouble

10 Dec

Well, this morning I re-read my post from July. My prediction that the EU might play ball with Theresa May’s Chequers Plan was accurate enough, but it now seems as if the ‘Mad Hatter’ Brexiteers are even madder than I thought and the Labour Party are – at least on this subject – behaving as completely duplicitous shits. Perhaps from time to time Theresa May wishes she were back in Elizabethan times and could simply send them all to the Tower instead of facing a Commons vote.

There are both real and imaginary difficulties with the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration – admirably well summarised in No 10’s ‘Explainer’ slide show (see http://bit.ly/2C1rlMk). The apparent difficulties centre on the Northern Ireland ‘backstop’ and the threat this is deemed to pose to the ‘territorial integrity of the United Kingdom’. The real difficulties centre on trade and ‘free movement’, but more of that anon.

So the NI backstop – why all the fuss? OK, it will treat NI differently, but it is treated differently already isn’t it? – think LGBT rights (see http://bit.ly/2G6wBlW), or abortion law, where the UK’s 1967 Act does not apply, and the UK’s Supreme Court (yes, that’s right, the one taking back control) said that the position in NI is incompatible with human rights legislation. Or the rights of citizens in NI to apply for EU passports – quite handy in current circumstances. And how important (dare we ask?) is NI to the UK economy? – I recall in my HM Treasury days, when we only had figures for Great Britain rather than the UK, we had the rule of thumb ‘add 2% for Northern Ireland’. So, in short, f**k Northern Ireland and the backstop.

The real difficulty seems to me to lie with the Political Declaration. The ambition is fair enough – ‘an ambitious, broad, deep and flexible partnership across trade and economic cooperation’ – but it is not clear how the trade deal we want (and, to be fair, which the EU  also wants) will fit with us ‘taking back control of our borders’. Within the PD, there is a commitment by the UK not to discriminate between Member States, so we can forget banning Polish plumbers and welcoming German bankers. But more broadly, the EU has repeatedly emphasised that the ‘four freedoms’ – free movement of goods, services, capital, people – are indivisible. It is not clear how this tension will be resolved – but on the track record so far, a UK cave-in on EU migration (i.e. no real, effective, controls) must be a front runner.

But back to the Elizabethan Settlement. I am glad, at a personal level, that it seems to have at least reconciled the sensible Brexiteers (like my local MP, James Cleverly), and the moderate Remainers (e.g. Vicky Ford, MP for Chelsmford). It will mean Leave, especially over time, but will minimise the economic damage and will keep us in close co-operation with the EU. It is a considerable personal achievement for Theresa May and her unfairly maligned civil service team, and there are no credible alternatives available (there is another piece to be written on this, but not today). All we need is Elizabeth I’s secret police to get it through.

 

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