Let’s not beat about the pumpkin. The United Kingdom’s latest withdrawal agreement with the European Union is a disappointing deal. It fails to deliver Brexit. It is arguably a worse agreement than Prime Minister May’s flawed document. Her successor as premier, Boris Johnson, despite all his avowed “do or die” rhetoric, has failed to deliver on the 2016 referendum mandate for Britain to exit the EU and to regain its independence.
Nor can there be any doubt on the motivations of anti-Brexit sentiment. A contingent of Remainers — in Parliament, the broadcast press, and the political elite — make a mockery of the people’s decision to leave and are willing to employ any excuse to frustrate democracy, preferring to get their marching orders from Brussels.
Mr. Johnson’s agreement went before the House of Commons today for approval, mere hours before he is required by Hilary Benn’s “surrender” act to send a letter to Brussels requesting another delay if Britain did not secure a deal, approved by Parliament, by the end of October 19. Never mind that EU officials ruled out any extension after negotiations ended this week.
Parliament did not approve — ostensibly on the basis that it wanted more time to scrutinize the deal and to ensure that enabling legislation was in place. As required by law, the Prime Minister dispatched a “request for an extension” letter — unsigned — to Brussels. A second signed letter soon followed, to the President of the EU Council, Donald Tusk.
“While it is open to the European Council to accede to the request [for an alternative extension period] mandated by Parliament,” Mr. Johnson explained to Mr. Tusk, “I have made clear since becoming Prime Minister . . . that a further extension would damage the interests of the UK and our EU partners.” To wit: “We must bring this process to a conclusion.”
What is wrong with Mr. Johnson’s “new and improved” agreement? It does remove the vilified “Irish backstop” that set up border checks where the EU (the Republic of Ireland) and the UK (Northern Ireland) meet, feared as resurrecting sectional unrest on the Irish troubles that plagued the region for over a century. Never mind that serious opinion believed that technological means could be found to forgo such border safeguards, as used in other international jurisdictions.
Instead, there will be an invisible border on the Irish Sea. Goods entering Northern Ireland will be allowed to enter the rest of the United Kingdom, while trade travelling in the opposite direction will need to meet European standards. Irish Unionists argue this arrangement effectively allies them with the EU against the UK. Scottish nationalists, meanwhile, fume that Northern Ireland will enjoy an unfair trading advantage with the Continent.
Yet the Irish conundrum is only the tip of the iceberg of Boris’ Brexit betrayal. With respect to key issues in the referendum campaign on migration and the fisheries, embedded in the agreement are commitments to achieve EU-UK compromise, to be adjudicated solely by the European Court of Justice. To add insult to injury, Britain will still be required to send Brussels at least £39 billion, and perhaps more, as finalizing a free trade arrangement is scheduled to last until December 2020 (with a possible extension), while Britain will be subject, without a vote, to EU rules and regulations.
The trade facet, while but one aspect of Boris’s deal, manages to put the whole in perspective. While the draft promises a “Free Trade Agreement” between the UK and EU and acknowledges Britain’s “development of an independent trade policy,” further qualifications undermine this window dressing as camouflage for compliance.
“The Parties should uphold the common high standards applicable in the Union and the United Kingdom at the end of the transition period,” the document states, “in the areas of state aid, competition, social and employment standards, environment, climate change, and relevant tax matters,” providing for “a robust and comprehensive framework for competition and state aid control that prevents undue distortion of trade and competition.”
Furthermore, the Parties shall “commit to the principles of good governance in the area of taxation and to the curbing of harmful tax practices” while maintaining “environmental, social and employment standards at the current high levels provided by the existing common standards.” That would be standards set by the EU and enforced by the so-called European Court.
After Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced concern that an independent UK would join America and China among the EU’s global competitors, is there any doubt the intention is to cripple Britain’s ability to implement regulatory and tax reforms to encourage entrepreneurship and generate economic growth? If such independence was not at the core of the Brexit debate, the whole campaign for freedom is rendered a farce and insult upon the British people.
Will Brussels backtrack and, unwilling to set the UK free, agree to an extension? If not, and Boris’s deal is rejected by Parliament, will Britain achieve a “clean break” Brexit by October 31? Or will MPs pass legislation saying its will to frustrate Brexit must take precedent regardless, aided and abetted by a partisan UK Supreme Court? Nigel Farage believes it is better to seek an extension than become an EU subsidiary. Either way, Boris Johnson and his trusted Brexit lieutenants, notably Jacob Rees-Mogg, managed to lead the Conservative Party into the very trap in which Mrs. May landed.
Brexiteers may be exhausted, but they cannot submit. To bow to a bad deal that makes Britain a vassal state to the EU only emboldens their adversaries. Surely thwarting Remain machinations and securing the democratic vote to leave is worth the present ordeal? Rarely has Thomas Paine’s cry — “the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph” — been so apt. “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: ’tis dearness only that gives everything its value.”