The Brexit side of the media and the internet has gone crazy for Johnson’s deal. There has been a great deal of favourable coverage, and triumphalism over it. ‘They said he couldn’t re-negotiate, and he did’ the headlines yell. ‘They said he couldn’t get a new deal, and he did’, they’re crowing. ‘Farage and the Brexit Party are finished, they’re now egotistical Brexit-blockers, the pundits are saying (even Daniel Hannan, who never quite gets things right). Also, the public, we are told forcefully, overwhelmingly wants Johnson’s deal to pass, so why are we waiting. Pass it!
All this came about rather quickly. On what basis does the public think this is a good deal? Because the Brexit-leaning press told them it is. But how did these pundits know so quickly all the ins and outs of the deal? Answer: they don’t. They’re just assuming it is because Boris said so, and because they buy this myth that Dominic Cummings is a strategic genius, and because they’re terrified that Remain will somehow scupper Brexit altogether.
But it might be a good idea to take a long look at this deal, rather than sign the country over to it before the ink is dry. These are the tactics of shysters. ‘Quick, here’s the deal, you must sign it before the deadline approaches, and here it comes, quick, sign it before it’s too late, don’t worry about reading it, if you read it you miss out’.
You wouldn’t buy a used car on this basis, so why would you want your country’s long-term future decided on the same basis? (Some Brexiteers on Twitter have replied to this point by pointing out that the Lisbon treaty didn’t take long to agree, and nor did the Benn act. But those travesties are further reason not to be bounced into a quick decision. Pointing out that bad decisions have been made in the past too quickly is hardly a reason to make more hasty decisions.)
I was hoping to read the deal, but it’s 537 pages, and I’m not a full-time journalist, nor a lawyer. (It’s also pretty hard to find the full text, but this seems to be it here. There’s also a Commons Library Research Briefing here, which might be worth a look.) So I’ve looked around at what some experts who I respect have said. The key person in that regard is Martin Howe, of Lawyers for Britain. He was apparently involved in helping with the drafting of this deal, so you’d expect him to be keen on it. But he’s not all that keen, it turns out.
He points out that there are some positives:
Under the Theresa May (TM) deal, the UK would have been locked into a scenario where we would have been forced to agree to whatever terms the EU chose to impose for the long term relationship, as the only avenue out of the catastrophically damaging whole-UK backstop.
Under this revised draft agreement, the negotiations are firmly based on achieving an FTA which, unlike a customs union, allows each party to conduct their trade policy with third parties independently of each other. Further, unlike under the TM deal, it becomes realistic for the UK to walk away from the long term negotiations with “no deal” at the end of the transition period. This gives real negotiating leverage to hold out against the unacceptable terms which the EU will surely try to impose.
That sees good, right? We can just walk away if we like next year; the EU can’t keep us tied to them indefinitely (actually things aren’t that simple, but let’s leave that for now). Howe, though, has serious reservations about other aspects of the deal, all because most of it, apart from the sections dealing with the backstop, are the same as they were in Theresa May’s deal. That’s right: the rumours that the rest of May’s WA were left untouched are true. This is just her deal with the backstop removed (as I predicted all along).
Howe is particularly concerned with the ECJ still being able to rule over us:
The most important and damaging feature which remains is the long term subjection of the UK to rulings by the ECJ. At present, the ECJ is a multinational court in which we jointly participate. After we exit the EU, it will become an entirely foreign court. It will be an organ of the opposite treaty party with whom we may be in dispute, owing no loyalty at all to the UK.
It is insane that Johnson agreed any treaty that makes the EU’s own court the arbiter. This is like thinking that having John Bercow as a neutral referee is a good idea. Completely mad:
It is virtually unheard of in international relations for any sovereign independent state to submit the interpretation of its treaty obligations to the courts of the opposite treaty party, allowing them to be effectively re-written for the benefit of that party.
Howe also thinks that it’s a bad idea to accept a transition period in which we are subject to EU law, but we cannot affect it. The EU can easily screw us over in this period:
This situation is highly dangerous for some industries in particular: financial services, who may be subjected to rule changes designed to force business such as Euro derivatives clearing from the City into Continental centres, and our fishing industry who will be vulnerable to further severe damage during the period before they can escape from the Common Fisheries Policy.
He is also concerned that not only are we proposing to give the EU a huge sum of money, but that the actual amount is rather vague, and is ultimately left up to the EU to decide, and they will no doubt decide that the bill is far bigger than anything so far proposed. And there is no linkage between that money and a free trade agreement, or anything else.
Howe concludes that compared to a No Deal Brexit, this is overall a bad deal. Johnson can only have agreed to it because he thinks Parliament is going to prevent a no deal exit, and so this is the best we can get. But that doesn’t mean we have to pretend that this is a good deal. It’s not. In fact, it stinks, and it’s shameful that so many Brexiteers are now pretending that this is Brexit, and pretending that being against it is being against Brexit.
(There are other sources that think this is a bad deal for further reasons, I hope to look at them this week sometime).
Update: The headline on Howe’s article is misleading. It says ‘This flawed deal is a tolerable price to pay for our freedom’, but what he actually concludes is that he
can understand a political judgement that the revised deal is still a bad deal, but is tolerable as a price for the greater prize of the United Kingdom regaining our freedom after Brexit.
That is, he can understand why someone would accept that the deal is tolerable. But he doesn’t say that this is his own view; he’s rather cagey about that. And what he concludes is that the possibility of the House monkeying with things means that:
Amendments could be made – for example either for a second referendum, or requiring the government to go back and negotiate changes to the deal – which might turn a just-tolerable deal into a disastrous one.
Update 2: The Telegraph, with all it’s full-time journalists, seems to have finally woken up to the fact that there will be a transition period with Johnson’s deal in which we stay under EU rules with no say in them.
Update 3: Just to make clear, the power the ECJ would have over us is long-term, not just for the transition period. The Bruges Group say it will be eight years. How can any Leaver support that arrangement?