MPs rightly rejected the worst deal in history last night. It was a deal that would have broken up our precious Union with Northern Ireland, flying in the face of the Good Friday Agreement by enslaving the country in a never-ending backstop. The deal would have kept the UK inside an EU Customs Union indefinitely with no say over the rules and no ability to sign any new free trade deals. Above all, the deal would have prevented the UK from pursuing any legal unilateral exit in the future. It would have been Brexit in name only: putting the UK in a straitjacket while handing the key to the padlock to the EU.
The Prime Minister’s woeful deal is dead. But MPs will show themselves to be the worst negotiators in the world if they commit the cardinal sin of negotiating by not being prepared to walk away. Today, they have the opportunity to vote to keep “no deal” on the table and maintain the UK’s negotiating leverage. Without the threat of no deal, the negotiations would be over: why should the EU lift a finger if MPs continually wreck their own negotiating strategy? I would not be surprised if the EU put a condition on leaving once no deal is off the table of “remaining inside the EU”.
An exit on World Trade Organisation terms (so-called no deal Brexit) is currently the only legal certainty. MPs should be hugely optimistic about a WTO Brexit: it will be a massive boost for business by creating certainty and removing daft EU rules; it will ; and it will restore trust in politics by honouring the result of the 2016 referendum. MPs should be confident in going for no deal on 29 March. The mood of the country is increasingly “Let’s Go WTO”, which is why Leave Means Leave’s March to Leave has proven so popular. A YouGov poll yesterday revealed that 63% of Tory voters want no deal and 37% of the public want no deal compared to just 17% who want to delay Brexit.
Domestic businesses I talk to up and down the country are quite happy with a WTO Brexit. Only 10% of British businesses actually export to the EU and any successful business can quickly adapt. The other 90% of British businesses want to be rid of cumbersome EU rules and regulations and want the UK to sign Free Trade Deals with countries around the world so they can take advantage of the 90% of global growth that is occurring outside the EU. A WTO Brexit also gives the UK the biggest possible negotiating leverage to get the best result from future relationship talks with the EU, setting us up for a brighter, more prosperous future.
Should MPs reject the motion today, they will then have a chance to vote on whether to ask the EU for an extension to Article 50. An extension would come at a huge price, both to business who have to endure more uncertainty and to our politicians, who will have lost any last semblance of trust the people had in them. The divorce bill will likely then double to £80bn and the EU will ask for increased powers in our affairs in return for more time. Failure to leave on 29 March will signal a serious failure in the way our democracy works and likely compel people to take to the streets demanding change.
If MPs have not got the courage that voters and domestic businesses have got and do not believe in Britain’s ability to work hard and prosper, the logical alternative is the Malthouse Compromise. Today, MPs will have the opportunity to vote for this ready-to-go Plan B, which has been endorsed by MPs like Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nicky Morgan alike. The compromise creates a transitional standstill period lasting two years during which the UK and EU agree heads of terms for WTO exit under GATT Article 24 alongside the important future relationship discussions. While the UK would remain a member of the Customs Union and Single Market during this period, we would be leaving on WTO terms once the transition period ends. This option, while suboptimal, will at least provide certainty and set a clear plan for the UK to leave on no deal terms.
Whatever happens, the Prime Minister must go the moment we have left the EU. She is a tenacious but stubborn leader who has been unwilling to listen and never really believed in what she said over the past two years. She has created a shambolic negotiating team, who she refused to fire after they recommended the worst deal in history against the national interest, and overseen the gradual betrayal of a policy with the biggest democratic mandate in history.
But if she votes against a no deal she should resign immediately. She has constantly said “no deal is better than a bad deal” and Parliament has twice said that her deal is a bad deal. While the votes today are merely symbolic (the wording of the motion means that MPs voting against no deal also acknowledge that no deal remains the only legal certainty), we cannot have a PM that says one thing and does another. The Conservatives must promote a new Brexit-believing leader who will establish a professional negotiating team comprised of experienced government negotiators and business people.
MPs must not get bogged down in Parliamentary procedures and lose sight of what Brexit is about. It’s about the people taking back control of our country’s future. It’s about returning law-making, tax-raising and tariff-setting powers back to a sovereign UK Parliament. It’s about regaining a clear voice on international groups, rekindling strong relationships with countries around the world and standing up for British values on the global stage.