ALASTAIR CAMPBELL: Failure, lies and false choices on offer

PUBLISHED: 00:00 22 November 2018

Theresa May addresses delegates at the annual Confederation of British Industry (CBI). Photograph: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images.

Theresa May addresses delegates at the annual Confederation of British Industry (CBI). Photograph: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images.

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ALASTAIR CAMPBELL admits that he agrees with the European Research Group’s analysis of Theresa May’s Brexit plan..

I promise I have not taken leave of my senses (though there is plenty of madness in our politics right now). But may I make a little piece of New European history, by opening a column with, as evidence for the case against Brexit, the opening page of the European Research Group’s analysis of Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement.

1. We would hand over £39 billion of taxpayer’s money with nothing guaranteed in return… made up of various elements, including continued EU budget contributions during the transition period (up to December 2020), contributions to unfunded EU commitments and EU pensions. Despite offering this vast sum of British taxpayer’s money the United Kingdom is not guaranteed any future trading arrangements, which are still to be negotiated.

2. The UK will remain a ‘rule taker’ over large areas of EU law. The UK will continue to be bound by EU laws in vital areas such as social policy, environmental policy and employment policy, i.e will obey EU laws, but have no further influence over how they are drafted. We will thus become a ‘rule taker’ and will have surrendered our sovereignty in these critical areas.

3. No exit from a ‘backstop’ customs union. The agreement establishes a ‘joint committee’ which will oversee the UK’s ability to proceed to a future trade relationship. If this relationship cannot be agreed by both parties the UK will enter a so-called ‘backstop’ customs union with the EU, despite many public assurances to the contrary and directly at variance with the Conservative Party’s 2017 general election manifesto. We could only subsequently leave the customs union with the agreement of the EU. While we remain in a customs union we would be unable to strike international trade deals without the EU’s permission.

4. The Agreement creates internal borders within the UK. Northern Ireland would become a ‘rule taker’ in further areas such as goods, agricultural products and VAT compared to the rest of the UK. This threatens the internal integrity of the United Kingdom and is completely unacceptable to the Democratic Unionist Party on whom the Conservative Party now rely for a majority in the House of Commons.

5. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) will remain in control of the agreement and large areas of EU law directly effective in the UK. The ECJ will remain as the final arbiter of the agreement and of the EU laws the UK will be subject to.

Jacob Rees-Mogg and I could have an esoteric argument about whether the apostrophe in “taxpayer’s” is in the right place; and I might not share the ERG view that we should be overly bothered that the DUP, who should be focusing on getting the political institutions in Northern Ireland up and running, are less than happy with Theresa May. That aside, factually, the analysis is right.

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I may disagree with the conclusions they draw from that analysis, the rest of the document seeking to support their argument for the hardest of all Brexits, which they claim, falsely, that 17.4 million people voted for. But those five points – money for nothing, rule-taker not rule-maker, EU veto on the backstop, UK internal borders, ECJ still involved – are inarguable, as is their observation that the agreement leaves us “half in, half out”.

Whenever the BBC are under attack – and my God they have deserved it over Brexit – their defence is usually “well, we’re being attacked on all sides so we must be doing something right”. Comfortingly self-serving for them, perhaps, but wildly missing the point. Right now, May will be trying to persuade herself of something similar, that if she has the ERG saying her deal is hopeless, and the People’s Vote campaign likewise, it must be about right.

No, it is very, very wrong. Whether you voted Leave or you voted Remain, it really is the worst of all worlds. May can only even begin to think she has the remotest chance of getting this through because of two factors. The first is the repeated failure of media and MPs to challenge her over the many changing positions for which she has argued with equal passion – please spare me the ‘sympathy’ angle when this mess has been shaped by a succession of strategic errors from the day she became prime minister and decided to let the ERG run her strategy for her, until she realised that might actually destroy the country.

Her red lines she didn’t need to lay down. Her ridiculous “every vote strengthens my hand” election. Her triggering of Article 50 without a plan. Her failure to prepare the ground with other leaders before the Salzburg summit.

The second factor is Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to do as little on Brexit as he possibly can, and his refusal to show any real fight and leadership for his own party’s policy. OK, he has confirmed Labour will vote against the agreement. However, just as he took a back seat in the referendum, so he has taken a back seat in what is the biggest debate of our times since.

In any event, how, given the six tests Labour set, could he possibly support the agreement? How can any Labour MP support it?

Here are those tests, and my test card analysis for Mrs May’s ‘deal’ alongside.

 Exact same benefits as single market/customs union. FAILED.

 Strong and collaborative future relationship with the EU. FAILED.

 Fair management of migration in the interests of the economy. FAILED.

 Defend rights and protections. FAILED.

 Protect security and capacity to tackle cross-border crime. FAILED.

 Deliver for all regions and nations of the UK. FAILED.

While we are on the left of politics, let’s remind ourselves of the TUC tests, and apply the test card to those: Frictionless trade for goods and services; level playing field for workers’ rights; safeguards for labour, consumer and environmental standards; giving workers a say in the agreement; protecting the Good Friday Agreement. FAILED. FAILED. FAILED. FAILED. FAILED.

Let’s now turn to business. The CBI has been playing its part in May’s ‘it’s not perfect but hey ho let’s give it a go’ communications plan, suggesting they too set their tests for the agreement without meaning them: Barrier-free trade; clarity on regulation; migration system which lets business get the skills and labour it needs; focus on global economic relationships; protection from loss of EU funding; smooth exit. FAILED. FAILED. FAILED. FAILED. FAILED. LET’S SEE.

And now, the government’s own tests:

 Respect the referendum result. You’d have to say FAILED, given Brexiteers say it isn’t Brexit at all, and Remainers agree it is certainly not the Brexit that was promised by those who campaigned for it.

 A lasting accord. FAILED. There is clarity only for the transition period, none over what follows. Indeed some ministers are only staying so they can rip it up once they have got rid of May. Also, one of her many broken promises en route was that the future trade relationship would be part of the agreement. It’s not. So can we please stop calling it a deal? The deal on future trade is some way off, and will be negotiated when we have lost most negotiating leverage. Such is the scale of the EU rout of the UK.

 Protecting jobs and security. FAILED. And FAILED.

 Show the UK as a modern, open, outward-looking, tolerant European democracy. FAILED. And funny if it was not so serious.

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 Strengthen our union of our nations and our people. Er, Scotland anyone? Northern Ireland? FAILED.

This is a failure so abject it is hard to imagine how anyone can vote for it. May’s only argument appears to be that the alternative – no-deal – is worse. No-deal would indeed be worse. But to claim there is no alternative is one of the many lies told on this long and painful journey of national decline and humiliation.

The alternative is the People’s Vote, a referendum on the outcome of these miserable negotiations. The comparison the country should be making is not between her deal and no-deal, but between her deal and what we now have. And that, everyone seems to be agreed, is no contest, which is why May prefers to present the false choice, not the real one.

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